The ‘FUN&FAN’ event, organised by the European EIT Food Consortium, has brought large companies together with innovative startups and investors and other key agents in the agrifood sector over two days: the 16th and 17th of September. They have all explored new methods of collaboration, better ways of interacting with each other to find solutions to the huge challenges that the food sector faces and the revolution that is taking place in this field.
The two days held in San Sebastian hosted a flood of new innovative projects: a startup that leverages probiotics to prevent diabetes (Genbioma), another that prepares smart labels that help manufacturers reduce food waste (ColorSensing), and another that also uses smart labels to show the freshness of food (Oscillum), a company devoted to wireless sensors to save water in irrigation and gardening (Plantae), another that uses artificial intelligence and robotics to kill weeds and extract information from the crops (Earth Rover),and other projects related to sustainable fertilizers (AgriStarBio), food supplements (Epinutra), microalgae as a source of proteins (Kyanos), feed obtained from the vertical cultivation of microalgae (Solmeyea), an interface to manage agricultural businesses (Wisecrop), etc.
The Swedish firm, Ecobloom, is opening in Bilbao
Our company would not be understood without the support we have received from the accelerator. It gave us a lot of ideas. It seeks to help startups grow says Hamza Qadoumi, CEO of Ecobloom
They have all participated in this year’s EIT FAN accelerator at its Bilbao site, which empowers entrepreneurs in the agrifood sector. They all have good examples to look at. This is the case of Ecobloom, a Swedish firm that participated in the 2019 edition. It is devoted to digitalising greenhouses and vertical farms. In recent years, it has expanded and its CEO, Hamza Qadoumi, announced the imminent opening of a branch in Bilbao during the FUN&FAN event: “Our company would not be understood without the support we have received from the accelerator. It gave us a lot of ideas. It seeks to help startups grow”, he said. “I hope to open the branch before the end of the year as 6% of the lettuces eaten in Europe come from Spain. It is a big market for us”.
The ‘FUN&FAN’ event, which is part of the Basque Government’s entrepreneurship strategy, has connected startups with the market, investors and even institutions. The host, Begoña Pérez Villarreal, Director of EIT Food CLC South (the EIT Food Innovation Hub for Southern Europe), pointed out that the sector “is undergoing huge changes, which forces us to pay careful attention”. Therefore, the opportunity arose to organise this event, which included “around 30 startups from the FAN accelerator, the Seedbed incubator, the EWA female entrepreneurs programme and their mentors”.
Javier Plasencia, the Basque Government’s Director of Quality and Food Industries classified food “innovation and entrepreneurship as essential” which “ranges from the primary to the tertiary sector”.
The international head of EIT Food, Andy Zynga, shared his experience in the field of innovation, which he defined as “the ability to create and capture economic value as a result of inventions”. He opted for using the results-based innovation methodology and recommended that startups should: “First of all, understand whether they wish to compete or collaborate with those already present in the market. They should also bear in mind four factors: intellectual property, the value chain, an architectural approach and disruption”.
First of all, understand whether they wish to compete or collaborate with those already present in the market. They should also bear in mind four factors: intellectual property, the value chain, an architectural approach and disruption explains Andy Zynga, the international head of EIT Food
A round table discussed the size of companies exercising open innovation. Regardless of size, it is possible to collaborate with startups, according to Sejal Rajvi (Pascual Innoventure), Javier de la Llave (Aquaservice) and Pedro Irujo (Gellify). They argued that “challenges are common for all and it is a matter of working together to transform the food system into something better. The model should be flexible”. To do so, “it is necessary to be increasingly creative and observe the tendencies”. According to Irujo, “three quarters of the world’s consumers want to change their habits. For this reason, we need to find startups that can help us. There are elephants (large corporations) and gazelles (startups) that can collaborate perfectly with each other”.
For Artem Khlebnikov (Danone) “it is important to be involved in the food revolution that is currently taking place. We therefore need partners to accompany us in this revolution. Simple, sustainable and local solutions are sought”. He also left an important message: “It is necessary to have a margin to fail. We should not be afraid”.
In addition to finding out more about the success stories of two entrepreneurs, Pablo Pérez (Aquacorp) and Hamza Qadoumi (Ecobloom), on the first day of ‘FUN&FAN’, Kaloyan Andronov (Global Corporate Venturing Network) showed how venture capital works to support startups, stating that “the tendency towards corporations investing in venture capital has accelerated” in recent months.
Female entrepreneurs in this field currently receive less than 1% of the available funding points out Lina Gálvez, the European MP
Some tips were also offered on how to boost female talent. Laia Arcones encouraged the audience to outline the “virtuous cycle” through “increased confidence, as women will therefore dare to have greater visibility, generating more opportunities and hence they will become more important”. The European MP, Lina Gálvez, pointed out that “female entrepreneurs in this field currently receive less than 1% of the available funding”. Therefore, “we need talent and women need to be more involved in projects”.
At a round table, Andrea Martinelli (S&E Partners), Margarita Astrálaga (CSAYN), Dara Nikolova (European Investment Bank) and Verónica Robredo (Greenfoodsco) highlighted how diversity can be crucial to enable major innovation in the sector.
Furthermore, Sasha Correa showed how to use creativity as a formula to increase the ability to resolve a problem. Lucía Velasco, livestock farmer and influencer from Asturias, explained her case as an example of women at the helm of a small business.
On Friday, a round table brought together investors, such as Thomas van den Boezem (Senior Partner at PeakBridge), Patricia Casado (BerriUp), Eduardo Cotillas (FIAB), Eduardo Quemada (SOMAprobes) and Jon Etxeberria (Investor).