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FoodHack aims to put Switzerland on the foodtech startup map

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Despite high costs, Switzerland has many of the right ingredients to become a foodtech hub, says startup platform FoodHack, which is working to promote the country’s innovation ecosystem.

FoodHack describes itself as a community-driven platform for investors and startups operating in the area of foodtech. It hosts regular meet-ups online and around the world, and support founders from stealth to series A to get funding.

On 12 and 13 May, it will host the FoodHack Summit, bringing together some of the brightest minds of the global foodtech scene in Lausanne, Switzerland to discuss the pressures on our food system and the most promising solutions. The line-up of speakers includes Oatly co-founder Björn Öste; Apeel founder and CEO James Rogers; Biomilq CEO and co-founder Michelle Egger; and Kees Arts, CEO of Protix.

Switzerland has the right ingredients to become a foodtech hub

While Switzerland may not be the first country that springs to mind when thinking of food startups and innovation, the country does boast some innovative companies such as Embion Technologies, which extracts naturally-derived prebiotics for microbiome nutrition, and Zürich-headquartered Farmy, which has launched an online marketplace for food from local farmers and producers.

SwissDeCode, meanwhile, offers manufacturers real-time certification to provide assurances on food authenticity and quality, while startup Galventa, based in St Gallen in northeast Switzerland, produces nutraceuticals. It recently launched a natural ‘waking up’ aid designed to help people naturally and gently wake up without feeling groggy.  

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According to Arman Anatürk, co-founder and CEO of FoodHack, the Swiss startup ecosystem has “a lot of potential but not a lot to show for it”.

“In recent years, it's been great to see the foodtech ecosystem grow, largely driven by the success stories of companies like Planted, a Zurich based alt-meat producer, and the work of initiatives like the Swiss Food & Nutrition Valley and Agropole to grow the agri-food industry,” Anatürk told Fi Global Insights. “Switzerland is also home to large multinationals like Nestlé and Givaudan, quality universities like EPFL and ETHZ, and technical talent from around the globe.

“That said, the Swiss system does not make things easy for entrepreneurs – far from it. High costs – salaries for talent, production space, R&D expenses, and so on – all make it unfavourable for early ventures and the lack of a real foodtech ecosystem can be off-putting for founders just starting out. 

“Still, I'm hopeful things are moving in the right direction as the country has many of the ingredients needed to become a foodtech hub,” he added.

Europe now counts 15 foodtech unicorns

Asked if enough innovation was happening in Europe to meet global challenges, Anatürk said the European foodtech ecosystem has enjoyed “a great few years” recently.

Investment in European tech-driven food startups doubled last year compared to 2020, according to AgFunder data and the region now counts 15 foodtech unicorns, he said.

“Whilst that might not sound like much [...] more homegrown and international investors are taking a closer look here, the sector is maturing with more support available to help companies start and grow, plus there's a great pool of startups in Europe working on some of the exciting and important segments of foodtech.

“Still, there are challenges here, mainly the painful Novel Food regulations that are a huge bottleneck for startups working on innovative ingredients and foods. And the biggest threat is that even still today, we hear of founders moving to the US as they see more opportunity, talent and funding available to grow their business.”
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