Innovation is essential in driving productivity, technological advancement, and economic growth across the globe. In an increasingly globalised and competitive world, brands that are able to innovate and quickly bring new ideas to market hold a strong advantage against their competitors.
For businesses operating in the agrifood space, the European Union’s (EU) largest manufacturing sector generating more than €28 billion worth of trade per year, innovation is especially important.
Innovation is essential in securing future food security
Responsible for a significant amount of EU trade and employment, the agrifood sector is a key contributor to the EU’s economy and positioning on the world stage. Despite being valued at over €200bn across Europe, innovation in the agrifood industry has traditionally lagged behind other sectors, with less than 4% of EU startups innovating in this space.
To meet the challenge currently facing the global food system of feeding a rapidly growing population without destroying the planet, a strong network of innovators offering new, effective, and sustainable solutions is required.
EIT Food, a pan-European organisation co-funded by the EU, seeks to unite Europe’s agrifood entrepreneurs and leading corporates to bring new innovations and technologies to market. Through its network of over 30 training programmes, pilot projects, and community building and networking opportunities, EIT Food is working to bridge the gap between agrifood stakeholders by fostering innovation and collaboration at different stages of the food value chain.
“For us, startups and obviously the entrepreneurs behind the startups, are really the key stakeholders in the community to ensure that we can accelerate the transformation of our food systems through innovation,” said Benoit Buntinx, director of new business creation and seed & early-stage investment at EIT Food.
“Today in Europe, we are convinced that collaboration is probably one of the most important competitive advantages you can have […]. We believe that what we can do through this network is accelerate the development of startups by implementing pilot projects and facilitating collaborations between startups, corporates, investors.”
EIT Food: Driving collaboration and innovation in Europe
Across its three programmes, the organisation supports over 120 of the most promising European startups each year. In 2021 alone, EIT Food’s startups attracted investment in excess of €400 million in a diversity of markets ranging from microalgae to truffle oil to probiotics.
Focussing on concept validation, EIT Food’s Seedbed Incubator is a six-month programme that supports in transforming science and technology-based innovations into market-validated businesses. Incorporating practical workshops led by industry experts, personalised coaching from startup mentors, and access to an extensive network of industry partners, the programme helps 40 teams bring their ideas to market each year. Cano-ela, a Dutch food tech startup that aims to remove refined ingredients from the food supply chain by extracting ingredients from oil-rich seeds, is one company participating in this programme and attending EIT Food’s Demo Day, in collaboration with the Fi Global Startup Innovation Challenge, in Paris on 5 December 2022.
The EIT Food Accelerator Network Programme (EIT FAN) is a four-month equity-free grant funded programme supporting innovations that help solve global food system challenges by providing startups with market and capital access. The programme is delivered by EIT Food partner organisations, operating from six different European locations as well as the UK and Israel, and incorporating up to 60 startups per year.
Finally, aimed at early scaleups that already have paying customers or a pilot project, the RisingFoodStars programme helps companies to scale and break into international markets. Fostering collaboration between programme participants and EIT’s network of over 250 partners including Danone, PepsiCo, and Kerry, the programme supports in raising investment, establishing connections, and scaling businesses.
“The role of EIT Food is to play as an intermediary between the startup and the corporate, so that we can make sure the collaboration optimises the chances of success. The pan-European coverage and power of the network […] definitely gives an added value to the startups we support,” Benoit said.
The Fi Global Startup Innovation Challenge: A springboard for startups
Celebrating its seventh edition, the Fi Global Startup Innovation Challenge offers startups targeting the food and beverages sector an opportunity to develop their innovative projects through a specialised support programme. The programme is free of charge to enter, and winning startups can choose from one of three exclusive prizes including a digital marketing package, an exhibitor package at Fi Europe, and mentoring and support from a panel of leading industry experts.
In an in-person event held on 5 December 2022 in Europe’s biggest startup campus, Station F, the Challenge will give startups the opportunity to pitch their food innovations to a jury of R&D experts, investors, and major F&B industry company representatives.