We did it! With all of you visiting Wageningen Campus last week, we made F&A Next the place to be. F&A Next makes it possible to be in the same room with some of today’s food & agtech rockstars. More than 550 visitors packed the seats across two days to follow and participate in presentations and panel discussions about robotics, transforming food tech, protein alternatives, and agtech and more. F&A startups, investors and experts took the stage and networked with the crowd.
Meeting heroes and investors
Networking with confidence isn’t easy. Some people make their own luck and grab their chances. Passionate young entrepreneur James Williams flew in from the US and was determined to meet speaker Tony Fadell who is best known for his work with Apple and the iPod. James is part of the startup team Context Insights who just won the Rabobank-MIT Food and Agribusiness Innovation competition. A perk of winning was the prize ticket to F&A Next.
“I was hoping to meet someone important who could give us some insight and some adult pointers. I just met Tony Fadell and his business partner David. Yes, I was lurking aggressively and stalking, but in a respectful way. You have to do what you have to do. They have connections to help our startup in Kenya and we had a great conversation. This has been super valuable, I’m learning and connecting in ways that I didn’t think I was capable of. I’m grateful and it’s a great day,” said James Williams.
Startup companies often have one thing in common and one goal for the two days: find new investors and corporate partners The chances are real. Approximately the same number of investors are searching for that new idea that will put their money to work in a profitable way. Larger companies also show up to partner with new startups and connect with fresh brains and bright ideas coming out of F&A Next.
Corporate innovation perspective
For smaller companies and startups trying to innovate for or with the large corporates, it’s difficult because of different markets, different customization per market and additional requirements for the market. Ellen De Brabander, Senior Vice President for Pepsico brought the corporate innovation perspective to the F&A Next discussions.
“In the past we had a list of requirements for innovations. Let’s make sure it tastes good, is safe, it’s the right quality, it’s legal, it’s available every day and it’s affordable. Now we have extra requirements: what about nutrition, what about sustainability, what about authenticity, such as is it organic or non-GMO or gluten-free? More requirements trigger more costs and complexity. So you have to be able to adjust your ways of working to be sustainable and profitable,” said Ellen De Brabander.
“Agriculture is one of the least digitalized industries and is ripe for investment. In 2017, global VC investment for food and agriculture was over USD 10 billion. In 2010, it was less than half a billion. In seven years, it grew 20 times,” says Dr. Jaleh Daie, Angel Investor and Partner of Aurora Equity out of Silicon Valley. “That’s exponential growth in investment. Globally, US remains in the lead, but other regions especially China are catching up. 2017 saw 29% increase in global investment along the entire food and ag value chain—from farm tech to e-grocery. The big disruptors we are seeing on the upstream side are precision ag, biotech, farm robotics, indoor farming and alternative proteins. On the downstream, e-groceries and food delivery and novel CPGs remained in the lead. Innovation and disruption are coming from all sides–it’s hard to keep up, but very exciting” says Jaleh Daie. In 2016 there was a concern about a shrinking pipeline (declining number or early stage deals). But currently, angel investing is strong and I am not concerned yet. For the overall health of the ecosystem we need to make sure seed and early rounds are well funded.”
Finding inspiration across the whole food supply chain
Innovation is everywhere and is happening across the whole food value chain and in every subsegment, says Founder and Director Severine Balick of Matador Ventures, a London-based consulting & investment boutique.
“After investing in urban farming (Infarm), I am looking closely at food safety, plant-based food, and microbiome which is also something I am passionate about. Consumers are starting to look beyond diets and personalized nutrition to see how new research around the gut and microbiome can encourage them to switch diets and improve their health from a more holistic point of view,” said Severine Balick.
From a global perspective, many of the investors agree that investments are not just happening in Silicon Valley. “I have been quite focused on investing in European companies, but was I was recently so blown away by the Food and Agrivest conferences in Israel hosted by Strauss and others, that we now have decided to enlarge our scope to include Israel start-ups, as they’re more and more great companies, who also have a positive impact. I went last year to a Rabobank FoodBytes! event in New York and was impressed by the quality of the startups and the fantastic community of start-ups, investors, Corporates, and activists they built. I would like to be part of building that same level of engagement and community in Europe.”
Hatching early stage startups
Startups are focused on building a company and are driven by a dream to have an impact on society. “Often FoodTech and AgTech startups need a corporate partner and/or an investor with the market know-how to scale up their solutions quicker or to be successful at all. F&A Next enables startups to connect with corporates and investors. Even very early stage startups can benefit from new connections in the network,” said Marloes Groenewegen, Director of Operations from StartLife.
“Any person with an innovative food or agri idea can come to StartLife. As an early stage startup incubator, we help turn that idea into a business plan, a company, a startup. This event is important to us because it helps our startups connect with relevant corporates and investors.”
Evolving and transforming with innovation
In the past three years, F&A Next has evolved pretty similarly to Food & Ag Innovation in Europe, says Jeroen Leffelaar, Managing Director Food & Agri Innovation at Rabobank and Co-Founder of F&A Next.
“What started off as a very entrepreneurial event is gradually transforming into a more structured approach to thought leadership on innovation in the Food & Agriculture ecosystem including showcasing the very best startups and scale-ups. A growing interest from global food & ag corporates and investors is encouraging us to step up for a next edition including a bigger share for science and the buzz on Wageningen Campus.”