Venture Summit 2022: accelerating agrifood entrepreneurship in Europe
The EIT Food Venture Summit 2022 brought together agrifood entrepreneurs, investors and corporates for another year of debate, partnerships and pitching. Here we highlight the key takeaways from across the European entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“We can heal the future through food.” These were the opening remarks from Analisa Winther of Nordic Foodtech VC at the EIT Food Venture Summit 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal. Kicking off the annual European entrepreneur event, Analisa shared words of optimism, hope and collective action, celebrating being “surrounded by people who want to accelerate innovation in the food system through partnership and community.”
As we work to create a healthier, more transparent and net zero food system, the EIT Food Venture Summit 2022 brought together over 300 agrifood entrepreneurs, investors and corporate representatives to share food system ideas and innovations, create valuable connections and partnerships, and to meet with like-minded industry professionals. The CEO of EIT Food, Dr. Andy Zynga, reaffirmed this in his opening statements at the event, explaining that the event is all about “connecting people and sparking relationships which benefit us all.”
A journey across Europe: key food innovation challenges and solutions
Across Europe we are confronted with a diverse range of climate and health challenges, all of which are putting pressure on both industry and consumers to implement change. Despite differences in regional challenges across Europe, the EIT Food community is united by the common cause of creating a better food system. Sharing ideas and solutions at events such as the Venture Summit means we can tackle challenges together more holistically. Many of the solutions already exist but they are in urgent need of support and investment to scale. At the Venture Summit 2022, we were taken on a journey across Europe to hear about these challenges on a regional level and the innovative solutions and strategies that hold promise to tackle them and accelerate positive change.
In the Nordic region, Mirva Lampinnen, Co-creation Manager at VTT and EIT Food Accelerator Network Hub Helsinki, explained that one of the key bottlenecks to scaling solutions is speed. Mirva said, “speed is everything when it comes to tackling challenges in the food system, so how can we speed up innovation in food?” Ecosystems such as the EIT Food community are the solution, responded Stella Spanou, Innovation Advisor at Aarhus University. Stella discussed how it is crucial for countries to come together to learn about regional solutions and techniques for scaling innovation, and how these can potentially be implemented on a wider scale across Europe and the world.
Another solution is harnessing the drive and optimism of young people, added Kristina Šermukšnytė Alešiūnienė, Director at Agrifood Lithuania DIH. Kiristina stated that in Baltic regional countries, for instance Lithuania, there are more and more young people entering the sector as they seek to solve global challenges, and this should form part of all innovation strategies.
Innovation strategies were also discussed during a spotlight on Southern European countries including Spain, Italy and Portugal. Amaia Egia, New Business Development Manager at Mondragon Business Development Centre, suggested that although innovation strategies need to consider long-term impact, they also need to deliver immediate results. To do this, Amaia emphasised the importance of creating synergies between companies, investors and startups, to ensure a diverse collection of perspectives and to enable inclusive systems thinking.
A key challenge for Italy, however, extends beyond creating strategies. “There hasn’t been the urge for innovation in Italy yet,” said Peter Krüger, Founder and Chairman of Agrifood-tech Italia, citing a lack of capital to support innovation as one of the key reasons. He also stressed that climate change and drought are already having catastrophic impacts on food production and agriculture in Italy, and investment is urgently needed in order to implement and scale solutions.
Spain-based Bio2Coat was the winner of the net zero food system impact award at the Venture Summit 2022. Bio2Coat is a technological solution able to reduce food waste and single plastic use through a 100% natural and edible coating that extends the shelf-life of fruit and vegetables and a 100% natural, edible packaging material that replaces single use plastic in multiple applications. Congratulations to the Bio2Coat team!
Challenges related to agriculture are also becoming more prevalent in the Benelux region of Europe. Loet Rammelsberg, Program Director at StartLife, explained that the Netherlands is currently experiencing a “revolution” in farming. Loet shared that farmers are in need of support as they seek to find a balance between remaining competitive while also being sustainable and respecting wildlife. Although there is “friction in the Dutch agriculture system at the moment,” Loet stressed that this is also an opportunity for investment in innovation to create nature-friendly farming solutions and an evidence-based system for measuring and improving biodiversity.
Similarly, while also focusing on increasing sustainable agricultural practices, France was described as pushing for a greater uptake of plant-based diets across the country. Although this has been challenging, Marie Breysse, Head of Innovation at ShakeUp Factory, said that startups are pushing beyond these barriers, with the likes of La Vie and Umiami creating affordable, attractive and healthy plant-based meat alternatives.
The plant-based movement was also described as making its way through Belgium. However, Philippe Vanrie, European Affairs Manager at Wagralim Food Cluster, highlighted that because many SMEs in Belgium are wealthy and family-owned, approaches to innovation are often more “traditional” and internalised. This sometimes makes it difficult for disruptive technologies and innovations to break through into market, Philippe said. However, Philippe also emphasised that as the children of these family-owned SMEs are entering the sector, they are bringing fresh, new ideas along with them.
The winner of the healthier lives through food impact award, Vini Mini, was also from the Benelux region. Based in the Netherlands, Vini Mini is a startup that aims to stop the rising trend of the number of food allergies. Its innovative products offer a healthy, easy and safe way of introducing allergens to babies, helping to reduce food allergies.
Based in France, Toopi Organics won the fully transparent, resilient and fair food system award. Toopi Organics is a circular and affordable solution for agriculture that uses urine instead of expensive chemical fertilisers.
Congratulations to the Vini Mini and Toopi Organics teams!
DACH region (Germany, Austria, Switzerland)
“Technology” was the word on everybody’s lips when discussing the DACH region at the Venture Summit 2022. Berlin was described as the “startup hub of Europe” and Jean-Gabriel Tarnaud, Venture Manager at Doehler Ventures, explained that more and more agrifood companies are delving into technological solutions in Germany.
Katelijne Bekers, Co-founder and CEO at MicroHarvest, attributed this to Germany having a high number of universities, meaning deeptech companies have access to facilities and technologies to carry out their research and development.
The final stop of the journey through Europe was the North-western islands of Iceland, Ireland and the UK which included a panel of experts such as Rebecca Lewis of Agri-EPI Centre, Simon Baty of Innovate UK KTN and Justine Vanhalst of Matís. The panel discussed the support system needed for SMEs and different funding mechanisms that have been set up in the area.
This included a UK government system that Simon said allows startups to receive funding from both the UK government and an investor group, showcasing the need for more cross-sectoral partnership programmes that can benefit multiple stakeholders. The scheme has so far supported 12 startups in sectors such as cultivated meat, biopesticides and vertical farming.
Cultivated meat was a key topic of discussion at the Venture Summit 2022, with four startups winning €100,000 as part of the Prize-Based Challenges, launched by EIT Food in partnership with GFI Europe. These startups hail from across Europe and each address at least one of two approaches: developing media recycling technologies or developing a low-cost cell culture media for species-relevant cells. Learn more about the winners here.
Making meaningful connections
The Venture Summit 2022 emphasised the power of collective action as we look to create a future-proof food system. By connecting entrepreneurs, investors, corporates and other agrifood stakeholders, we can tackle challenges with greater impact and speed.