The goal of making a global impact and transforming the food system is shared by so many food-tech start-ups but achieving this is a tough challenge.
To find out some of the recipes for success and the journey innovators have been on so far, the organisers of Future Food-Tech spoke to four pioneers who each previously presented as early-stage start-ups at the summit and are now achieving remarkable successes and extensive investments.
The CEOs of Aromyx, Chinova Bioworks, NutriLeads and Spoonshot share their key milestones and advice for early-stage entrepreneurs and reveal what’s next for their companies as they navigate scale-up and global expansion.
Can you tell us about your journey from an early-stage start-up to the success you have achieved today? What have been the key milestones?
Erik Dam, CEO, NutriLeads: NutriLeads started in 2012 as a health ingredient innovator, focussing on the development of one immune-supporting ingredient. A few years later, we expanded our development pipeline with new ingredients and wider health benefits, all based on our proprietary plant-derived RG-I platform. Now, we are a commercial-stage B2B health ingredients company, harnessing health-giving power of plant-derived RG-I to strengthen human health through nutrition.
Josh Silverman, CEO, Aromyx: In 2019 we won the Radicle Challenge at the World Agri-Tech Pitch Day and shortly thereafter announced our $3m seed round of financing. From there we moved from R&D to commercial application of our technology. We have since moved from a physical product to a data science company and are focused on the industries that benefit from the value of data insights (like food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, and many others). We just announced our series A round of financing last month and will be scaling our automation, hiring, and driving new customers and applications of our technology. We are excited for the next phase in our growth story and to meet the tremendous demand for the data insights we can provide to help companies shape their product roadmaps and make product recommendations to their customers and prospective customers.
Natasha Dhayagude, CEO, Chinova Bioworks: Chinova Bioworks is an ingredient supplier with a long sales cycle, regulatory hurdles and high upfront capital costs to even enter the market. The biggest milestone for us has been having a brand believe in our product as much as we do and taking the time to incorporate our ingredient into their production and even on their labels – it’s an incredible feeling that we celebrate every day. It also serves as a great motivator internally to make sure we meet the highest standards of quality as a clean-label ingredient, to uphold the integrity and reputation of the amazing brands we work with!
Kishan Vasani, Co-Founder and CEO, Spoonshot: Looking back over the last 3 years, there have been several key moments that helped shape Spoonshot:
2018: Being accepted into the Techstars Farm to Fork start-up accelerator. This gave us access to a powerful network of food industry professionals who helped us validate our idea, plan, and technology. Cargill in particular was extremely supportive.
2019: Early customers, like Primo Foods, played a critical feedback role which allowed us to quickly iterate and optimize our research platform.
2020: Venture capitalists, like SRI Capital, backed our vision and provided us with the resources to scale our team and get our brand to the market.
What role do partnerships and collaboration play in your business strategy? Can you share any success stories as a result of joining us at a past Future Food-Tech summit?
ED: NutriLeads has a small team and selects the best companies for strategic partnerships and collaborations to support us with the development, manufacturing, and commercialization of BeniCaros. We have been attending the Future Food-Tech summits since 2017, initially in London and later also in San Francisco. Future Food-Tech summits are global food-tech innovation hubs with amazing networking opportunities. We are currently discussing the application of BeniCaros with several food and beverage companies. Often the initial contacts have been made during these summits. The same is true for investors – I met ICOS Capital at the last face to face Future Food-Tech summit in London – and they became the lead investor of our Series B funding round in July 2020!
ND: Chinova has been an active participant in Future Food-Tech since the company was founded in 2016. We met our first strategic partner – DSM – at one of the events, and they have since invested in our company.
We also connected with both SME’s and multinational food and beverage brands at this event, who are now a part of our customer list. Being a part of this summit has allowed us to network and gain valuable knowledge and insights from the right partners within the food and beverage industry.
KV: Future Food-Tech has been a hit for Spoonshot in terms of business development. We’ve closed new business within weeks of the Future Food-Tech events. Thanks to this event series, we’re working with industry titans.
What motivates you as an innovator to drive forward change within the food industry?
ED: Helping people to strengthen their health really motivates me, and at NutriLeads, we do this by developing natural ingredients with clinically proven health benefits. By combining innovation with strategic partnerships and investments, we are able to take on risky, costly and long-term developments that will make a positive impact on people’s health.
JS: COVID shone a spotlight on a lot of the existing issues to faster and more accurate innovations, from the limitations of food tasting panels (and the fact that unreliable, subjective data results that are not reproducible), to food and beverage companies and others looking for online recommendation engines to help hesitant consumers confidently buy something they can’t taste or smell before purchase. The need for companies to have reliable data and insights that they can use to make product innovation decisions is enormous and we work every day to solve it. Our technology, with its ability to understand consumer preferences from a geographic to individual level, and map perception across products, uniquely positions us to make a dramatic impact on the speed at which sustainable and healthier food products reach the market. That motivates us every day to expand our capacity and produce more data.
ND: The ingredient manufacturing industry is very rooted in tradition. Brands and co-packers have been using the same artificial ingredients for years. Now as consumers are demanding more transparency and are increasingly aware of the ingredients in their products, producers have to keep up and are under a lot of pressure to reformulate the artificial ingredients they use and keep up with consumer demand.
Mushrooms are on the rise, as within the food industry and both brands and consumers are starting to recognize the health benefits that they offer. Mushrooms are often overlooked and under-utilized in the food industry. They are great food sources to lean on with our ever-growing population, extremely healthy and a great source of macronutrients.
We took that one step further. We are at the forefront of mushroom innovation by realizing the potential of a fiber extracted from the most commonly produced white button mushroom and the impact it can have to improve the freshness, quality and shelf-life of food and beverages naturally. We are going back to the basics – using nature to protect food.
Our innovative technology really helps fill the gap that producers are facing by offering them with a healthy, clean-label solution to improve the quality, freshness, and shelf-life of many products.
KV: Spoonshot’s motivation to succeed comes from the knowledge that there’s a real problem in the industry: up to 85% of new food products fail commercially. We believe that we have the team and technology that will help solve this. The number 1 reason for new product failure is that the consumer and market needs were not properly understood. This is often caused by data blind spots that lead to strategic innovation decisions based upon false conclusions. We’re happiest when a customer uses our intelligence to course correct or makes a discovery.
What advice would you give to aspiring food-tech innovators who, like you are focused on accelerating change and transforming the future of food?
JS: Understanding consumer preferences is paramount. A lot of people are trying to cut back or cut out meat from their diet, and entirely new categories of food like alternative proteins are emerging. It is critical that as we innovate, that we understand the emotional aspects of food and flavour. At the end of the day, consumers won’t buy things they don’t like the taste and smell of. We are helping our clients unlock the challenge of making things healthier while maintaining taste (like ensuring that plant-based alternatives taste like the real thing).
ND: Early success is a terrible teacher. If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moments count, you’re setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time. I have really learned that nothing of value comes easily. In fact, anything of value takes time, whether it’s a matter of developing a skill, building a relationship, or launching a business initiative. It’s very relevant to my personal experience – especially since I’m running a food manufacturing company. Long timelines are a natural part of this type of business: long sales cycles, long regulatory timelines and extensive research and development timelines to get to a final commercially viable product. This is why embracing my failures and practising patience has become key for me, as Chinova continues to grow and become even more complex in structure to navigate.
KV: Firstly, ensure your solution is a painkiller, not a vitamin! If you’re an industry insider, delete everything you know, force yourself to think like an outsider, and research your market in the most granular detail. It will save you a ton of time and head/heartache later on. Finally, hire people smarter than you. The journey should humble you.
ED: Our primary focus now is to build strategic partnerships with food & beverage and food supplement companies to incorporate BeniCaros, our immune health ingredient, in their products and hence make the health benefits of BeniCaros available to their consumers.
In addition to commercialising BeniCaros, we continue to strengthen the body of evidence for BeniCaros and develop other RG-I based ingredients. For example, our NL-02 ingredient aims to support gut health by helping to protect the gut barrier.
JS: We just secured a $10 Million Series A round of financing that will be used to help us increase capacity and automation capabilities, generate more data, improve AI algorithms, and expand our lab and software teams to meet the explosion of demand for data generation and insights. Aromyx tested over 100 products for customers in 2020 and is on track to more than triple that number in 2021 as capacity ramps up.
ND: We have just moved into a brand new, 6,000-square-foot, office and R&D lab space.
Our next big move is for our manufacturing in PEI, to further scale up to meet volume demand from clients. So we are heavily focused on scale up.
At this stage, Chinova currently employs 30 people with 90% being women from STEM
fields. To date we have raised $4.5M in investment from major food tech VC’s including DSM Venturing, Rhapsody Ventures, and AgFunder. We have really been focused on expanding the team, scaling up manufacturing operations and launching additional product lines and categories. And we are in the process of raising our Series A to do all this!
Entrepreneurs, over to you! Are you ready to kickstart your start-up journey and connect with the food-tech innovation ecosystem?
Join over 700 global food system leaders at the Future Food-Tech summit on September 31 – October 1 as we unite food innovators, brands, ingredient providers, chefs, investors, and technology developers to drive forward a collaborative, science-based approach to nutrition innovation.
Full conference agenda, speakers and delegate registration are available at www.futurefoodtechlondon.com/register
The early bird offer ends August 13.