Alessio D’Antino is the founder and CEO of Forward Fooding, a collaborative platform that brings together start-ups and established industry players from the food and beverage industry.
FoodNavigator caught up with D’Antino to talk about accessing finance, scaling up and the food entrepreneur scene in Europe.
Firstly, D'Antino said, there is no one-size-fits-all model for access to capital.
“I believe it very much varies depending on the stage of development of the company. For example, early-stage companies might be looking at raising capital from FFF – friends, family and fools – or crowdfunding.
Crowdfunding could be approached from a ‘reward-based’ angle if looking at originating pre-sales or equity-based for growth capital, he added.
“There are many more options for raising capital such as business angels, venture capitalists, investors network, mini-bonds, peer-to-peer (P2P) lending but I think the best way to raise capital is from investors with relevant experience in the industry that look to actively support and open doors for the businesses they decide to invest in.”
“Building a food business is a daunting endeavour itself, thus having experienced people's support – including financiers – can be a valuable asset,” said D’Antino, while industry-specific accelerators and incubators can be highly beneficial.
‘Europe is a fertile ground for entrepreneurship’
According to the Forward Fooding founder Europe is a fertile ground for food entrepreneurship.
“Although the European market is more fragmented than the US one, it does enjoy a rather big size,” he said.
“The European Commission has a number of grant schemes in place to promote entrepreneurship […] such as Start-up Europe partnership, Horizon 2020 and all the EIT funding schemes, but I believe there is always room for developing more 'hybrid' models or programmes that blend public funding with private ones, like EIT.”
"There is also a thriving ecosystem of food start-ups, university incubators and accelerators and private investor groups that I believe are paving the way to reposition Europe as a fertile ground to spur food innovation.
That said, there is never enough, D’Antino added – “especially considering how competitive international markets have become in the last two decades or so”.
Explore direct-to-consumer models
One final piece of advice for all budding food entrepreneurs:
“Build your own tribe early on and be smart and creative about finding unique ways to engage with your customers.
“I'm a big fan of direct-to-consumer (D2C) models, especially for food and drink products. I think these days there is a real opportunity for building a more direct and long-lasting relationship with customers using the internet.”