Can We Scale all These Big Plant-Based and Cell-Based Food Ideas?

 
 

After talking to hundreds of food entrepreneurs and industry experts over the years, there’s one thing I can say with certainty about the food industry… it’s a very tough space to scale a new business in.

You can put in years of research, identify the perfect white space, brainstorm a world-changing idea, develop a groundbreaking prototype product, dream up the coolest brand name and story, and even start selling your product. Those are all really good steps to take, but you are eventually going to reach a point where you will find yourself in a very tough spot. You’ll be running around struggling to do the production and distribution dance while you juggle a hundred other competing priorities. And if you drop even one ball, you run the risk of bringing your entire operation to a screeching halt. Access to more capital isn’t going to solve all your problems either, especially if you don’t know how to spend it. Eventually you will have to face the harsh reality that you have no idea how to take the next step and scale your business.

That’s where business accelerators come in.

Accelerators provide a solution for companies that are past the crawling phase, have tested the market with some sales and are ready to scale, but just can’t seem to make the leap into the next phase. Accelerators in the food space provide support, mentorship and connections to a network of experts, investors, and partners, including co-manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and more.

And now we finally have a food accelerator dedicated to the growing plant-based and cell-based food space. Big Idea Ventures recently launched a venture fund (the New Protein Fund) and the BIV Food Accelerator to accelerate the much needed shift in our food system.

But accelerators in the food space are not a new phenomena. Food-X is probably one of the most successful ones, but there are several others, including TERRA , The Food Foundry, WeWork Food Labs, Plug and Play Food and Beverage, etc. In addition, the most successful technology accelerator on the planet, Y Combinator, also accepts food startups and a handful of plant-based and cell-based ones have recently gone through Y Combinator (Spero Foods, Eclipse Foods, and Shiok Meats). The Good Food Institute (not a food startup, but still relevant for this space) also participated in the program as part of Y Combinator’s Summer 2018 batch of startups.

So do we really need another accelerator?

It’s probably too early to answer that question because Big idea Ventures hasn’t launched its first cohort yet, so it is hard to judge how good the program is. That being said, here are some reasons I find the BIV Food Accelerator very interesting.

First, the basics, which are pretty standard in most accelerator programs. If you get into the program, BIV Food Accelerator invests USD$125K in your company in exchange for 8% equity. What you also get is 5 months of office space, access to a test kitchen facility, experts, mentors, investors, discounted professional services, potential partners, media exposure, and more. While it is easy to celebrate the fact that we now have an accelerator dedicated to the plant-based and cell-based food space bringing world-class professional support and connections to help various startups scale their businesses, it’s not the most interesting part of this new food accelerator.

What sets Big Idea Ventures apart clearly is that it is founded and led by Andrew Ive. Remember Food-X, the most successful food accelerator I mentioned above? Andrew led and grew Food-X for 3 years. To make things even more interesting, Andrew has assembled an impressive advisory team that’s passionate about changing the food system, including Ryan Bethencourt (IndieBio/Wild Earth), Bruce Friedrich (The Good Food Institute), Prince Khaled Bin Alwaleed (KBW Ventures), and the fund is backed by Tyson Ventures, the venture arm of Tyson Foods, and Temasek, the venture arm of the Singaporean government. And the BIV Food Accelerator will be global, launching cohorts initially in New York (Q3 of 2019) and Singapore (Q4 of 2019).

Is it guaranteed to succeed and produce world-changing companies in the plant-based and cell-based food space?

Nothing is ever guaranteed, and a lot will depend on how the food accelerator is run and which startups go through the program. But I do believe that this is needed and I do hope the BIV Food Accelerator succeeds at giving its startups the tools, training, and partners needed to scale more efficiently. Because, without it, I fear that a mad rush to encourage big ideas and launch new plant-based and cell-based food startups – however well intentioned – is destined to end badly for many.


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Nil Zacharias: Founder, Eat For The Planet

 
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