In light of COVID-19, the FoodBytes! face-to-face networking events and pitch slams - which Rabobank has been running for five years in multiple cities - recently transitioned to FoodBytes! Pitch, a startup discovery platform that gives corporate leaders and investors exposure to a larger group of startups, with opportunities for deeper interaction and networking throughout the year.
The 45 shortlisted companies – chosen from nearly 340 applicants across the globe – will attend a series of virtual mentoring sessions in mid-October on everything from deal structuring to legal, financing, recruitment, and go to market strategies.
They will also get the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with mentors to secure direct feedback on products, technologies and pitches.
Each will then submit a three-minute pre-recorded video for consideration, explained Anne Greven, global head of food and ag innovation at Rabobank, who said a great pitch required energy and passion, a well-thought out go to market strategy, an innovative and differentiated product or business model, some evidence of market validation and traction, and above all, a clearly articulated business case (why does the world need your product?).
What problem are you solving... and why are you best-placed to solve it?
At the most basic level, said Greven, entrepreneurs need to identify up front the problem they are addressing, spell out what the market opportunity is (high-growth? high barrier to entry?), and explain why they are best-placed to solve it (a management team with the right experience, and a clear understanding of their costs and margin structures, competitors, and ability to scale).
Rabobank is also looking at environmental factors, said Greven: "Is it sustainable, does it have a social impact?"
Of the 45 participating startups, 15 finalists will be selected to participate in a public pitch event, live-streamed on December 2 in front of a virtual panel of judges, who will select one winner in each vertical: CPG, food tech, and agtech.
The 45 shortlisted startups:
The 45 selected startups hail from 15 countries, including the US, Australia, Canada, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, India, Israel, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Singapore, South Korea and Switzerland.
Consumer food and beverage (CPG):
Food and beverage products made with upcycled ingredients are a top trend among FoodBytes! 2020 CPG startups, who are also pioneering innovations including edible spoons to reduce plastic waste, a distilled spirit made from upcycled whey byproduct, and plant-based cheese and egg products.
- Plant-Based Protein & Dairy: Evo Foods, Pleese Foods
- Gluten-free Frozen Snacks: COCINA 54
- Upcycled Foods: Agricycle Global, I Am Grounded, Outcast Foods
- Upcycled Beverages:, Agua Bonita, Riff Cold Brewed, Wheyward Spirit, Willa's, Wize Coffee Leaf
- Wellness Beverages: H2OPS, Moment, Wildwonder
- Plastic Reduction: Planeteer
The shortlisted foodtech startups have developed technologies for cell-based meat production, natural coatings that extend produce shelf life, and sustainable, antimicrobial packaging made from crustacean shells to replace plastic. Food safety technologies, advanced nutrition products and online marketplaces also address relevant needs in the wake of COVID-19.
- Cultured Meat & Fermented Protein: CellulaREvolution, Future Meat Technologies, NovoNutrients
- Advanced Nutrition: Alchemy Foodtech, Envara Health
- Produce Shelf-Life Extension: Lightning Water, PolyNatural
- Food Safety & Traceability: InSight Labs, NanoGuard Technologies, ThisFish
- Sustainable Packaging: Carapac, Mi Terro
- Clean Food Colorant: michroma
- Online Marketplace for Sustainable Groceries: Good Club
- B2B Marketplace for Suppliers: Fieldcraft
The shortlisted ag tech startups have developed solutions that address soil and water sustainability, farm efficiency and labor needs. Their innovations include technology that transforms air pollution into fertilizer, animal feed that reduces methane emissions, a method of growing rice out of water and on-farm robotics to combat labor shortages and worker safety concerns.
- Regenerative Farming to Reduce Water Use: Deep Planet, Green and Seed, SWAN Systems
- Regenerative Farming to Improve Soil Health: AgriCORE, BPS Agriculture, Phospholutions
- On-Farm Robotics & AI: Agerris
- Precision Agriculture & Digitization: agryo, Farmforce, Space AG
- Animal Health & Greenhouse Gas Reduction: Locus Animal Nutrition, Mazen Animal Health, ProAgni
- Social Impact Farming: ColdHubs, Koa
Each of the three winners (CPG, food tech, and agtech) will receive a $10,000 prize, while FoodBytes! Pitch corporate members will also offer additional consulting to support winning startups, including:
- ADM: An hour of consulting services with a relevant ADM expert for the winners.
- Holland & Hart: A chat to talk through general company state and strategy for winners, plus for the CPG winner a chat about their packaging/claims/labels if needed.
- TIG: Full scholarship to eTardigrade e-learning program for early-stage CPG brands for winner; 50% discount for 2nd place and 25% discount for 3rd place.
- Propeller Industries: Three one-hour sessions on financial consulting per winner.
COVID-19 and the food investment landscape
Asked how the food & ag investment landscape had changed since COVID-19 struck, Greven said money is still available for promising startups, especially those with technologies or products that address critical food system challenges, citing a recent flurry of investments in alternative proteins from cell-cultured meat to proteins produced via microbial fermentation.
However, raising capital is taking longer "across the board" and investors are being more circumspect as they go through the due diligence process, with some tightening their criteria and lowering their tolerance for risk, especially in the CPG space, she said.
But she added: "CPG has always been crowded, so you have to make sure your product is addressing a real need. If it just seems like something trendy, it probably won't get supported."
'You have to make sure your product is addressing a real need'
Big CPG companies are still interested in investing in emerging brands, she added, although some may "not be jumping in as early, and may be looking for a stronger track record of sales and market validation than before. However, we're also seeing more companies set up investment funds so that they can be watching and getting that market intelligence [on emerging trends]."
They are also interested in learning from startups that have developed successful direct to consumer operations given that this is a capability many large CPG companies are now trying to master, she added.
When it comes to check sizes, you might see more CPG rounds with "slightly smaller checks and more investors," she said, whereas in the food tech space, checks are in some cases "getting bigger."
- Find more information on each of the 45 FoodBytes! Pitch 2020 startups here.
- For a high-level look at the Mentor Week (Oct 19 - 22) agenda, click here.
- FoodBytes! Pitch is part of the redesigned FoodBytes! innovation platform, which contributes solutions to food system challenges through collaboration between startups, large companies and investors.
- FoodBytes! Pitch 2020 members include presenting partner ADM; corporate leaders Albaugh, Barilla’s Blu1877, Beta San Miguel, Dole, Fonterra, PepsiCo and Tate & Lyle; investors BFG Partners, Continental Grain Company, Germin8 Ventures and Rabobank Food and Agri Innovation Fund; and service providers DLL Group, Holland & Hart, Morrison & Foerster, Propeller Industries and TIG Brands.