The name Grey Silo harks back to the stainless-steel storage facility Mauro Fanin built in the 1980s to house grains from local farmers in Vicenza, a town between Verona and Venice.
Today, Fanin is CEO of that same business – Cereal Docks – which has since expanded into a €1.1bn agribusiness and food ingredients company. The business processes raw materials, predominantly oil seeds and grain, into products and ingredients for food, feed, and petfood industries.
In 2017, Cereal Docks kickstarted its first initiatives with start-ups through the co-creation of a food tech accelerator in Milan. The company is further cementing its commitment to ‘open innovation’ food tech with the establishment of a corporate VC: Grey Silo Ventures.
The venture arms wants to support food tech start-ups working with B2B ingredients that bring ‘more genuinity and sustainability’ to animal-free food categories.
Key focus areas
Grey Silo has set out four areas of interest within the food tech realm. The VC is welcoming start-ups enabling ingredients and technologies for non-animal based food products, for example alternative fats, functional proteins, textured improvers and scaffolds tech, and specialty fibres.
In fermentation-based ingredients and technologies, Grey Silo is interested in traditional fermentation, biomass fermentation, and precision fermentation. Another ‘critical’ area for the company is cellular agriculture, ranging from cell-based meats to cell-based dairy and plant molecular farming.
And lastly, slightly outside of the B2B ingredients sphere, the VC is looking to support ag tech solutions, from farming digital tools to ag robotics and ag biotech.
Why the focus on agricultural solutions? “Because at Cereal Docks, we work in Italy with more than 11,000 farmers in our supply chain. We have a very strong relationship with them and want to help develop solutions that can improve their activities and also improve our relationship,” Mauro’s son, Giacomo Fanin, business development manager at Cereal Docks, explained.
Focus on Europe and Israel
Grey Silo Ventures is looking to invest in food tech starts up from two main geographies: Europe and Israel.
Being located in Italy, its desire to invest in Europe (predominantly outside of Italy, where Fanin suggested the food tech scene is stronger) is not a big surprise.
Israel, on the other hand, is further afield. “Israel is an important hub for technology and innovation related to ag- and food tech,” the business development manager told FoodNavigator. “But I think the first investment we will make will be in Europe.”
Indeed, Grey Silo already has its eyes on two food tech start-ups for potential investments. Fanin hopes to have made both investments in the coming months, with 100% of funding coming directly from Cereal Docks.
The VC is looking to make between two and four investments per year in Seed or Series A rounds, with an average investment size of between €300,000 and €500,000 per business
A ‘strategic’ investor
Finances aside, FoodNavigator asked Fanin what Grey Silo Ventures can offer food tech start-ups in their early years of development.
“Corporates have to go behind the money. For us, that means offering different facilities to help with R&D, and we have a full-scale application lab for testing ingredients with different functionalities. We also have experts and a professional chef who are often involved with our activities.”
On the engineering side of things, the business development manager suggested Grey Silo can help support start-ups while they scale their processes – from lab to pilot and industrial scale.