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The journey of an agrifood entrepreneur

05 November 2020

The journey of an agrifood entrepreneur can take many routes. In the lead up to the EIT Food Venture Summit, we take a look at the different obstacles, lessons and successes on their pathways to impact.

Agrifood entrepreneurs and startups play a fundamental role in transforming the food system. Not only are they solving today’s immediate food challenges, but they are also innovating to futureproof the food system.

Faced by a complex range of challenges as the population grows to almost 10 billion by 2050 (1), future solutions for the food industry need to be as varied as the challenges themselves, highlighting the need for a cutting-edge entrepreneurial culture. 

According to David Kahan, a former Agribusiness Development Officer at the FAO, an entrepreneur is someone who produces for the market, is a determined and creative leader, is always looking for opportunities to improve and expand, likes to take calculated risks, assumes responsibility for both profits and losses, and is passionate about growing their business (2). This passion and drive to solving critical problems resonates strongly with EIT Food's agrifood entrepreneurs, and is at the core of our community.

“The thing that excites me most about being an entrepreneur is the fact that one person is able to take a problem into their own hands and do something about it. I came up with an idea that could benefit society and felt it was my duty to make it a reality.”

Solveiga Pakštaitė, Founder of Mimica and part of our RisingFoodStar Association (3)

Becoming an agrifood entrepreneur 

In our Food Fight Podcast, agrifood entrepreneurs discuss the inspirations for creating their startups, how and why they built their business models, and the challenges and successes they experienced along the way. 

In the episode below (4), we hear from Crover, a UK-based startup on a mission to help grain-store keepers reduce losses and maintain storage conditions with its robotic grain monitoring system which can ‘swim’ through bulk solids. Crover’s Founder and Managing Director, Lorenzo Conti, created the startup after a breakthrough scientific discovery and explains that learning how to run a business actually became part of his business plan. After all, you can’t just rely on a brilliant product. 

Crover device

There are also discussions from Ying Shao of Plantik Biosciences, a startup developing new advancements in plant breeding, cutting down the time to create healthy, cost-efficient and healing plant varieties. Ying explains that becoming an entrepreneur was always an aspiration of hers, and describes the journey of merging this with her knowledge and expertise in plant breeding to form her successful startup. 

Coming from a totally different entrepreneurial route is Solveiga Pakštaitė, who discusses her journey from university student to sole-founder of food waste prevention startup Mimica. Solveiga says that she never planned for her idea to become a business, and has had to learn on the job in order to realise the successes she sees today. 

Listen Now:

The challenges of being a entrepreneur 

Whether born off the back of research and studies, or created as a direct solution to challenges  experienced in the agrifood sector, “one of the biggest issues facing any startup is a lack of credibility,” says Brij Sahi, CEO and Co-Founder of startup Swiss DeCode. Brij suggests that no matter how scalable or impactful a startup may be, the main challenge is finding the right contacts in large corporations, making meaningful connections, and expanding their network. This takes time and patience. 

This is supported by Atilla Öztürk of WindAgrotech, who says the challenge of expanding your network comes down to having “self confidence” as a startup. It’s all about truly believing in your business proposition and understanding your market - something acquired through partnerships and tailored mentoring. WindAgrotech originally had a target market of greenhouses for its localised, affordable electricity solution, but discovered potential in the agricultural market after gaining insights from industry peers and connections, and adapted its target market to the 2,500 dairy farms in Turkey as a result.

 

In order to realise scalable food innovation and technology, Co-Founder of food tech business accelerator ShakeUpFactory, Kevin Camphus, says that startups need to be connected with people who have experience in growing smaller companies to large companies and understand what it means to be an entrepreneur.

He said that “startups need access to customers, technologies and industrial capabilities,” noting that it is crucial for new ideas and innovations to be supported with these in order for them to succeed, scale and have real impact. 

Support for success

When this support network is in place, and startups have sufficient access to knowledge, insights and funding, great things can happen. 

For example, Spoontainable, which creates edible cutlery as plastic alternatives for the catering industry, has seen huge growth and market exposure after a successful crowdfunding campaign and receiving support and feedback from food manufacturers. The startup optimised its recipes and started its first production line in 2018, and is now able to produce half a million edible spoons everyday.  

Spoontainable edible spoon

“Last Summer, I went to have an ice cream when shopping in the city and I saw our spoons for the first time,” said Julia Piechotta, Founder of Spoontainable. “This was a really incredible feeling and it showed that we are moving in the right direction.”

“I don’t think our spoons will change the world, but they show how easy it is to change your lifestyle and look to sustainable alternatives to save the environment. We wanted to show how you can make big steps with really small changes.” 

What is the market opportunity for agrifood entrepreneurs?

Not only can entrepreneurs scale and make positive change given the right support, but it is estimated that business opportunities in the implementation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to food could be worth over US$2.3 trillion annually for the private sector by 2030 (5). This includes innovation opportunities worth US$200 billion for the European business sector in agrifood.

However, despite these opportunities, only 3.4% of startups in Europe categorise themselves within the food space (6), with the largest proportion in IT or software development (15%). This suggests that, although the financial prospects may exist, some startups are either reluctant to innovate in food or simply fail before scaling. 

This is backed up by data that indicates approximately 90% of all startups fail (7) due to factors ranging from a lack of market need, not meeting customer demands, or a misalignment between founders and investors - something that can be rectified through tailored support, mentoring and a real understanding of the market. 

The journey of an agrifood entrepreneur with EIT Food

Launch, accelerate, scale 

EIT Food supports agrifood entrepreneurs to enable knowledge sharing across the food value chain, and to fast track innovation as we work to transform the food system in line with the EU Farm to Fork Strategy. 

These are integrated into EIT Food’s support for agrifood entrepreneurs, and are represented in our Business Creation programmes:

  • Launch - EIT Food Seedbed: The EIT Food Seedbed programme is a six-month pre-accelerator where participants can access financial support and expert training and mentoring to develop tailored roadmaps which are then validated with stakeholders. 
  • Accelerate - Food Accelerator Network: The Food Accelerator Network is a four-month programme delivered at six innovation hubs across Europe. By participating, registered startups build skills and gain exposure to their relevant markets, customers, investors and media. The programme provides access to experts and partners with facilities such as labs, agricultural land and pilot sites. 
  • Scale - RisingFoodStars Association: Designed for early scaleups, this programme introduces participants to world-leading corporates, research organisations and academics, increasing visibility and scaleup potential. Partners also benefit from joining the EIT Food community by gaining access to a network of over 100 of Europe’s leading agrifood businesses, startups, universities and research organisations. 

EIT Food entrepreneur infographic

For new startups and agrifood businesses, we created the free-to-download EIT Food Startup Manual. The manual is split into nine startup topics with each chapter including theories, case studies, testimonials and tips from entrepreneurs. 

Save the date for Venture Summit 2020

Do you want to kickstart your journey as an agrifood entrepreneur with EIT Food? Or learn about some of the high-impact ideas that are being scaled across Europe in the agrifood sector? Our entrepreneurs and startups are showcasing their solutions and services at our virtual Venture Summit on 17-18 November, 2020.

At the Summit there will be opportunities to engage with over 130 high-impact startups, hear pitches from some of EIT Food’s leading entrepreneurs and connect with 500 agrifood industry leaders including investors and corporates. You can also visit our new virtual expo where you can venture through our marketplace and explore opportunities in our focus areas, from alternative proteins to sustainable agriculture and more.

We hope to see you there! Register now.

Further reading

Sources

  1. United Nations: World population predicted to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, and 11 billion in 2100
  2. FAO: Entrepreneurship in farming
  3. EIT Food: Startup Manual
  4. EIT Food: The Food Fight: From seed to scale: the journey of an agrifood entrepreneur 
  5. Business and Sustainable Development Commission: Valuing the SDG prize in food and agriculture
  6. European Startup Monitor, 2016
  7. Munich Business School: 9 out of 10 Start-ups Fail – How can the Lean Startup Method Help to Found Businesses More Successfully?
EIT Food

About The Author: EIT Food

EIT Food is Europe’s leading food innovation initiative, working to make the food system more sustainable, healthy and trusted.

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