‘We see them as survivors’: EIT Food allocates €5 million COVID support package for agri-food start-ups

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/Smederevac
Image: Getty/Smederevac

Related tags start-ups EIT Food EIT

The European Institute of Innovation & Technology’s food arm received 106 applications to its COVID-19 support fund from different start-ups across Europe. The number was eventually whittled down to just 13.

EIT Food will invest €5.4 million in 13 agri-food start-ups during the COVID-19 crisis, it has announced.

EIT was set up by the EU 2008 to drive innovation and entrepreneurship across Europe. A total of €4.088 million of the EIT Food funds will come from the EIT’s Crisis Response Initiative​, itself part of European Union’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic which totalled €60 million.

EIT Food said the funds will help the start-ups adapt to the challenges presented by COVID-19, allowing them to continue critical research and development activities, find work with potential partners and customers, and to prepare for their next round of investment.

Dr. Andy Zynga, CEO of EIT Food, said: “Start-ups will play a critical role in the European post-COVID recovery effort, and could provide the solution to the future challenges we will face as a society.

These new investments will be a vital lifeline to many game-changing innovators and reflects EIT Food’s ongoing commitment to delivering sustainable, healthy and trusted food systems. Today, more than ever, we are focused on supporting our greatest entrepreneurial minds to help them overcome the impact of the pandemic and embed resilience in the agri-food sector.”

Why were the 13 chosen?

The 13 chosen start-ups all offer service and products that are aligned with EIT Food’s goals, explained Zynga. 

"We are interested in supporting companies whose technologies, systems and services are aligned with our longer-term impact goals​," he told FoodNavigator.

"We are looking to do things that improve the health of both people and the planet. We're very interested in reducing obesity in Europe. Today around 7% of all national health budgets in the EU are currently spent on diseases that are linked to obesity. Furthermore, a lot of Greenhouse Gas emissions are due to activities in the food chain. We're also interested in reducing food waste and food loss.

"When we see start-ups that have a high likelihood of helping us get there, that's when we get excited and that's what the start-ups we've identified are hopefully able to do."

The start-ups all offer products that are near to market launch, but which have been hindered by the cash shortages and drop in market demand caused by COVID.

EIT Food hopes the cash injection can assist the start-ups overcome issues such as getting to market, research and development and contacts. "As the world's largest innovation ecosystem with a network of around 120 partner organisations we can introduce them to potential buyers of their product when they work with us,"​ said Zynga.

He added the funding will give the start-ups better access to market and make them more resilient in the longer-term. "We see them as the survivors. We see them as the ones that are going to do well,​” he said. “We want them to be healthy, going to market, and looking to be the winners in the market."

Covid-19 Bridge Fund recipients

  • Agritask​ (€500K) helps farmers and agribusiness consolidate data and make better decisions for more efficient and sustainable farming. Used already in 30+ countries and on 50+ crops
  • Alberts​ (€360K) is a food robotic company with a unique 1m2 ​smoothie & soup station that uses AI for personalised healthy food solutions
  • Antoféno​l (€476.3K) is a biotechnology company dedicated to the development of a sustainable, low cost, chemical-free solution that preserves the shelf life and quality of fruit and vegetables. It replaces toxic chemicals and is made from agricultural waste from vineyards
  • Consentio​ (€340K) is an end-to-end food supply chain transaction platform. Their marketplace aims at improving ordering efficiency for all the players of the food supply chain - producers, cooperatives, whole sellers and supermarkets - meaning less food waste and greater levels of transparency
  • Eatch​ (€500K) is developing the world's first fully automated kitchen, including the complete cooking process from loose ingredients to the final product, enabling healthier, more personalised ready-to-eat meals
  • Epinutra​ (€212.5K) develops natural nutraceutical solutions. Their first product is Benesco TM, which acts directly on the root cause of heartburn pain
  • Feltwood​ (€391.5K) produces low-cost, biodegradable, mouldable, recyclable and compostable alternatives to plastic materials and products, developed from vegetal waste
  • Foodpairing​ (€499.9K) is using AI to develop digital flavour models for smart recipes. This will help consumer packaged goods companies improve product development and flavour development and encourage innovation
  • Food Sourcing Specialists​ (€400K) create compostable packaging for long-life semi-liquids and healthy sports nutrition
  • Mimica Touch​ (€404.5K) is a temperature-sensitive indicator cap or label for food freshness. It helps reduce food waste by taking the guesswork out of food expiry labels
  • NapiFeryn​ (€466.2K) extracts protein from rapeseed oil production waste streams for functional, nutritional and cost-effective protein isolates and concentrates. These ingredients are a sustainable alternative to animal-derived proteins, are nutritional, and can be used in a wide variety of applications
  • Phytolon​ (€393.6K) uses an environmentally friendly fermentation-based technology to produce natural food colours that are GMO-free, high-quality and sustainable
  • Sencrop​ (€469.3K) designs and sells connected weather forecast solutions for farmers to measure rain, hygrometry and wind speed. The sensors are cheap, robust, movable and easy to use, making more efficient and sustainable farming possible.

The selected start-ups cover a range of sectors with vast potential to create positive change, including alternative proteins, sustainable agriculture, targeted nutrition and circular food systems. A pipeline of 74 companies from 19 countries - including Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Israel, the UK and Poland – were closely analysed, of which 13 were chosen to be part of EIT Food’s investment portfolio.

One of the selected ventures is NapiFeryn – a Polish biotech startup which extracts protein from rapeseed oil production waste streams, providing a sustainable alternative to animal-derived proteins. The protein is as nutritional as plant-based market leader soy, creating a product that is more sustainable and affordable for consumers. The investment provided by the COVID-19 Bridge Fund will help to execute its ongoing research and development activities, leading to commercialisation of novel, plant-based, functional food ingredients derived from rapeseed.

Co-founder Magdalena Kozłowska of NapiFeryn, said: “Our technology to extract protein from rapeseed has the potential to transform the protein market by reducing food insecurity and increasing plant-based eating habits of consumers around the world. This funding is vital, enabling us to continue our research and bring us closer to the introduction of rapeseed proteins to global markets.” 

Antofénol, another beneficiary of the COVID-19 Bridge Fund, is a French biotechnology company dedicated to the development of a sustainable and healthy replacement for chemical preservatives on fruit and vegetables, which are used to extend shelf life and preserve quality. 

Fanny Rolet, Founder of Antofénol said: “Our innovative technology allows us to extract agricultural waste from vineyards and transform it into a chemical-free product capable of replacing toxic substances that sit on our fruit and vegetables. The benefit is twofold – we replace molecules which could be harmful for the environment and health, whilst also recycling waste by transforming it into a product that can be used by the agricultural sector. This bridge funding from EIT Food will enable us to enhance our product portfolio and help us to work towards our vision of a circular economy model.”

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