Over the last two years of Techstars Farm to Fork, in partnership with Cargill and Ecolab, my team and I have had the privilege to meet with more than 1500 founders, work with thought leaders and investors in cities all over the world, and invest in 19 amazing teams tackling major issues in the food system.
And believe me, challenges in the food system seem to become more and more pronounced every day. We need to become ever more innovative if we are to safely feed the world’s growing population.These challenges have serious implications for the planet and everyone on it. Rather than letting these issues bring me down, I let them fuel our work and drive my excitement for the opportunity to work with founders that are tackling some of the globe’s biggest challenges.
On that note, here are some themes across the food system that I am watching closely in 2020:
Robotics & Automation
From farms to restaurants, it is consistently becoming more difficult for operators to find and retain employees. In the food space robots can fill this labor void, increase automation and drive efficiency. Additionally, the further adoption of smart robots will drive consistency in the ability to capture and record data. This in turn will have a positive effect on the food safety and traceability movements.
Employee Safety, Compliance & Efficiency
As I implied above, labor is top of mind for any operator in the food chain. I am specifically interested in entrepreneurs that are solving big issues in the areas of compliance and employee safety and driving efficiency across broader work forces. These innovations do not need to be specific to food & ag for us to be interested. But innovators in this space should be thinking about the food supply chain if they aren’t already.
This has been a common theme throughout the first two years of our accelerator. We continue to be interested in companies working to make the food we eat safer. From diagnostics and testing to prevention to shelf life extension, there are a variety of ways to make an impact in food safety and we want to help these entrepreneurs go faster.
Biotech is a new focus for us in 2020. For the first two years of the program, we were largely focused on the digital transformation of the food system. This year we will expand into an arena that is new to our program but is a segment that has exploded over the last several years. While there have been many leaps made by food-focused biotech startups over the last few years there is room for more. We are interested in the more obvious areas of biotech & food: proteins, lipids, food enhancements, etc. However, I am even more interested in the suppliers that will help drive the already exploding food-biotech industry forward sustainably, safely and efficiently. If you equate the biotech movement to the gold rush, I want to invest in Levi’s, not just the miners.
“Farm to Fork” is broad. In 2020, I want to drill down and focus on what I refer to as the “messy middle,” essentially everything that lives between the farm and the retailer. The “middle” is historically fragmented but now with many players and interests converging, new cost and complexity are entering the system. Innovations could include developing logistical efficiency, creating new ways to finance the supply chain, or making manufacturing more sustainable. I am excited to meet with founders working on efficiency, sustainability, and traceability in the “messy middle.”
Every startup pitches a data play these days! In food it is no different. If you are a data company we are interested if you have a unique way to collect data, democratize data, or leverage data to create differentiated products; or if you are collecting/utilizing data for edge computing. Raw data is quickly becoming commoditized in the space. We are specifically interested in companies that are coming up with unique ways to productize data.
While these are six core areas of our 2020 thesis, it is impossible for me to cram everything of interest into one short document. I anticipate several investments will be vertical agnostic platforms that have a market opportunity in food and I will certainly invest in phenomenal entrepreneurs disrupting things in categories that don’t fall into one of these core areas. Just to list a few additional themes I am watching:
- Water Tech
- B2B2C – Adding Value to Customers
- Trading/Fintech Innovation
- Pest & Rodent Control
- Packaging Innovation, with an emphasis on the role of plastics
- Animal Wellbeing
One of the benefits of investing in food tech is that many of the startups have a natural positive impact on the planet. We will continue to lean in with and intentionally invest in impact & sustainability focused founders.
Entrepreneurship is borderless. We have worked with diverse founders from all over the world that are solving global challenges, and we will continue to look for companies that are innovating across the globe and solving problems for diverse regions.
We’re looking for world changers, teams that can affect that future of our food system. I am excited to get to work with the next class of Techstars Farm to Fork Founders. If you are tackling these challenges or know someone who is, let us know about it by applying today!
The 2019 Techstars Farm to Fork class is composed of an incredibly diverse set of amazing people and ideas. Founders will be joining us in Saint Paul, Minnesota from all over the world including companies from Australia, Canada, India, Israel and the United States!
Agri-food, food tech, farm to fork – as more and more people take notice of this vertical more names for it are created. Regardless of how you refer to the space, our focus for the program continues to be tech-enabled startups, software, hardware & IoT, that want to solve big problems in the food world. This year’s class truly represents technology that will impact the industry from farms all the way to the fork.
Our mentors from Cargill, Ecolab, and our broader startup community look forward to diving in to help these founders build big companies that will change the world. Personally, I am excited to work with these founders, not just for the next three months, but for the rest of their entrepreneurial careers. They are passionate, hardworking and smart.
Please join us in welcoming the Techstars Farm to Fork Class of 2019!
Transparent Kitchen (Ottawa, CA)
Transparent Kitchen is transforming the future of dining and sustainability by helping restaurants use data to create personalized experiences for their customers. Their first product turns a restaurant’s PDF menu into an interactive digital experience to optimize a customer’s experience and help the restaurant better understand how to act on predictive insights into their customer base.
Trackter (Atlanta, GA)
Trackter is a total fresh produce supply chain management solution. They allow companies to connect buyers, shippers, and logistics partners in a system that automates communications between these stakeholders in order to reduce phone calls, emails, and repetitive data entry – to ultimately enable all parties to generate higher profit margins.
Purpics (Austin, TX)
Founded on the idea “pictures with purpose,” PurPics connects brands to everyday consumers over a cause. The platform drives 10x higher engagement for brands, enabling businesses to better engage and understand the next generation of consumers. For users, PurPics empowers them to promote the brands they love to raise funds for the causes they care about.
Phood (Boston, MA)
Commercial food waste prevention through AI. Phood is helping food service establishments understand, evaluate, and control their food waste with the power of machine vision.
Otrafy (Vancouver, CA)
Otrafy is a supply-chain management platform that runs on a track and trace model with a focus on data sharing and product history. They provide digital integration between farm, manufacturing and retail supply chain for ongoing tracking of relevant production information.
Imago AI (Gurgaon, India)
ImagoAI is building a new standard of food quality. It helps companies increase their revenue by providing superior food quality and reducing food wastage in the supply chain. It’s artificial intelligence platform analyse food quality parameters in real time at production grade speed and also detect foreign object contamination.
Food For All (Boston, MA)
Food For All believes that food should be tasted, not wasted. With their app, consumers can find and enjoy meals from restaurants for at least 50% of their original cost. For restaurants, this means an extra revenue stream and a great story surrounding the prevention of food waste.
EcoPlant (Kibbutz Gevim, Israel)
EcoPlant provides Industrial IoT energy efficiency as a service. EcoPlant has developed a SaaS solution that connects to air compressors’ controllers and pipeline sensors to continuously monitor, control, and optimize the entire system. Using predictive AI algorithms, EcoPlant conducts ongoing energy surveys and dynamically controls each compressor, as well as the entire system, to significantly reduce energy waste and optimize maintenance.
ConverSight.ai (Indianapolis, IN)
ConverSight.ai is providing business insights through natural interaction and conversation. The platform creates and aggregates actionable data to help business leaders to make informed decisions without having to manually create reports or spend money on developing additional digital infrastructure.
Contain (Reno, NV)
Contain Inc is a fintech platform dedicated to indoor growers, those farming in warehouses, greenhouses and container farms. Our platform solves indoor growers’ largest issue, finding funding, through data-driven leasing and insurance products.
2018 – The Results
Our first Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator Class, in partnership with Cargill and Ecolab, completed our first program this past October.
Applications poured in from 40+ countries resulting in the selection of nine amazing companies from all over the world. More than 100 mentors participated over the course of the program and over 40 venture capital firms met with the companies during 13 weeks of Techstars Farm to Fork.
The nine companies that attended the program represented an incredible breadth of concepts: from restaurant tech to supply chain to manufacturing and digital solutions for farms. Our corporate partners Cargill & Ecolab were both highly engaged in the program, providing invaluable access to subject matter experts and industry executives. This engagement led to POC’s, investment, and ongoing talks with seven of the companies that went through the program, and two of the nine companies are staying in the St. Paul area to further build their businesses and brands within the twin cities ecosystem.
We are excited to continue to support and work with the 2018 class as they move onto the next phase of their entrepreneurial journey. Check out this documentary on the first class of Techstars Farm to Fork to learn more about their journey.
Looking to 2019
We are thrilled for year two of Techstars Farm to Fork and have already begun meeting companies that are interested in our 2019 class. Applications open January 7th!
In year two of program, we are excited to work with companies building tech enabled businesses, software, or hardware focused on solving global problems in the food world. This includes US-based businesses as well as businesses from other developed nations and emerging markets.
We have a broad scope in focus: on farm, supply chain and logistics, processing and manufacturing, water tech and restaurants, and even companies building platforms for large enterprises! Ultimately, we want to work with great entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds that are working on world-changing ideas. While not a complete list, here are four broad areas of focus for our 2019 Techstars Farm to Fork program:
Robotics and Automation
Labor shortages, safety and the state of technology have all created an environment ripe for robotics and automation across the entire food value chain. Manufacturing, cleaning, pest control, warehouse management, supply chain, restaurants and food production are all arenas where we are interested in exploring solutions.
Food is the largest industry on the planet, estimated at about 10% of the world’s GDP. There are a variety of platforms that may not be “food” specific but can be leveraged by enterprises in food, like Cargill, Ecolab, and their food industry partners. If you are building a tech platform and food companies are an interesting market, you could be a good fit. A few specific examples:
- Workforce Management
- Employee Safety
- Data Acquisition
- Computer Vision/ML
- Predictive Modeling
Food Safety, Quality Assurance, and Security
Food safety is a worldwide issue and continues to be a focus for our program. We are interested in digital solutions anywhere in the food value chain from real time pathogen and allergen detection to predictive risk assessments. We continue to be interested in the traceability of food throughout the supply chain, including real-time sensing and monitoring. The utilization of different computer vision and imaging technologies for things like QA, safety checks, and the monitoring of food could have a major impact on food safety and security. We are also interested in the management and reduction of food waste as it impacts food safety, quality, and security.
Water tech is a new area of interest for us in 2019. The food industry uses approximately 70% of the fresh water consumed on an annual basis, so this focus is a natural fit for our program. Specifically, we are interested in technologies that help ensure access to sufficient clean water for those that need it. This could include, but is not limited to, a variety of concepts, including non-invasive contamination monitoring and detection, new methods of conservation, and smart water usage.
Join us for 2019
From farms to restaurants and retailers, we want to help entrepreneurs build technology with the potential to have a significant impact on the food world. These four buckets are just a starting point, and this is not an all-inclusive list. Check out last year’s thesis, as there are more concepts there that continue to interest us. We will inevitably be blown away by unique concepts we haven’t thought of, so if you have a great team and a big vision we want to hear from you.
We are thrilled to announce Techstars Class 136 – the 2018 Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator Class. Today, in St. Paul, Minn., these companies begin their work solving real problems across the entire food value chain, from food safety to supply chain management and restaurant efficiencies to the upcycling of food waste. The companies join the Techstars worldwide network, which includes more than 1,200 companies across the globe.
In December, we announced our partnership with Cargill and Ecolab. Our goal is to build a world-class Techstars mentorship-driven Accelerator program focused on helping entrepreneurs solve some of the world’s biggest food challenges. The last six months have been a whirlwind of travel, scouting and meeting with hundreds of exceptional entrepreneurs from across the globe.
The entrepreneurs powering these companies traveled to St. Paul from several states across the U.S., India, Canada and Brazil. While in Minnesota, the companies will have access to more than a hundred mentors, including business leaders and subject matter experts from Cargill, Ecolab and our amazing entrepreneurial community.
Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and I am excited to jump in to help this outstanding group take their businesses to the next level.
The Techstars Farm to Fork 2018 Class:
‘Farm to Fork’ – almost everyone has an immediate reaction or assumption when they hear this phrase. We are excited to partner with Cargill and Ecolab and I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know what we are thinking about for the first Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator.
Broadly speaking, the digital side of the food value chain is of most interest to us. This could be companies building smart devices, working with big data, artificial intelligence or creating a new software solution. Challenges to food are not limited by geography nor rural or urban settings.
The space is incredibly broad and there is no way we could put together an exhaustive list of opportunities that may catch our eye, but here are a few specific areas of interest to get us started:
Two easy questions to ask when defining this bucket: Does it make a farmer’s life better, more sustainable or more productive? How can we help farmers do more with less? From weather and climate to animal health and productivity to computer vision, this bucket alone is big. Here are a few more areas of interest:
- Smart Water Usage
- Ag Finance
- Payment Systems
- Yield Management/Prediction
- Risk Management
- Animal Health / Animal Productivity
- Weather/Climate Systems
- Computer Vision
Food & Safety
A very popular topic in 2017, food & safety will continue to be a hot topic into the foreseeable future. When we think about food safety, we think about it across the entire value chain. This includes the safety of employees working in the space, the safety of the end consumer – anyone that eats, pest control and animal health and safety. Big data, machine vision, blockchain, and new software systems are all tools entrepreneurs are using to tackle these problems and we are excited to see what’s out there. For us food safety goes beyond just “safe food.”
Food Retail & Restaurants
How and where consumers find and eat their food is changing. Is technology going to have the same effect on brick and mortar grocers or restaurants that it has had on traditional retailers? We have already seen several trends begin to take off that are driven by technology including food with a story, farm to consumer, food ecommerce, and food delivery all of which are interesting. Beyond these how entrepreneurs tackle prepackaged foods, restaurant management and health and nutrition could all be interesting. I am excited to see how entrepreneurs are innovating in this space.
Food Manufacturing & Supply Chain
Another really large bucket, it’s everything between the farm and the fork! I have always loved companies tackling real problems in areas that may be a bit less “sexy.” From machinery to the financial tools that make the supply chain run, there is a ton of potential here. Here are a few themes in this space that are interesting:
- Sustainable Supply Chain
- Cold Chain
- Last Mile
- Quality Contro
- Energy Consumption
- Computer Vision
- Predictive Modeling
- Futures and Automated Trading
- Fraud Prevention
- Smart Devices/IoT
Roughly one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. This is almost one trillion dollars worth of food each year which equates to about one billion tonnes of food. One Billion! About 2/3rd of this waste comes from industrialized countries and the other 1/3rd occurs in developing countries. The problem doesn’t stop with food; water waste is also a major issue. Tackling these problems will be a major path to feeding and providing sustainable, safe water for the world’s growing population.
Are you working on a solution for the areas mentioned above? Applications are open, apply today!
Feel free to send me an email to connect – email@example.com. We will also be on the road over the next few months. Look out for us in NYC, Miami, San Francisco, Memphis, Kansas City, Omaha, Austin, Boston, and maybe a few others! Stay tuned to Techstars social media for updates.
Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, is excited to announce the launch of the Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator. It’s our first program focused on the tech/digital side of food and agriculture and I’m thrilled to be on board as the managing director. As the name implies, we’re looking for the best entrepreneurs across the entire food value chain, from AgTech, manufacturing and supply chains, to food safety, waste reduction and traceability.
Ecolab is the global leader in water, hygiene and energy technologies and services that protect people and vital resources. With 2016 sales of $13 billion and 48,000 associates, Ecolab delivers comprehensive solutions and on-site service to promote safe food, maintain clean environments, optimize water and energy use, and improve operational efficiencies for customers in the food, healthcare, energy, hospitality and industrial markets in more than 170 countries around the world.
Cargill provides food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services to the world. Together with farmers, customers, governments and communities, we help people thrive by applying our insights and 150 years of experience. We have 155,000 employees in 70 countries who are committed to feeding the world in a responsible way, reducing environmental impact and improving the communities where we live and work.
Personally, I have been an entrepreneur and investor for most of my career. I’ve bootstrapped, raised venture capital, taken three companies to exit and have had at least one fail along the way. Entrepreneurship is my passion. I can’t think of a better platform to help fellow entrepreneurs succeed than this new program combining the Techstars worldwide network with these two powerhouse organizations in food and agriculture.
Our new mentorship-driven accelerator program will be located in the center of the food and ag tech world, The Twin Cities, where there are more than 25 billion dollar plus food and ag tech companies employing nearly 100,000 people focused on food and ag space. The program will run in Q3 2018; applications will be open on January 8, 2018.
Opportunity for Disruption
The food value chain continues to grow as an area of focus for entrepreneurs and tech investors. Why? Because the time is right for disruption! Globally, food spoilage is rampant; food safety is a growing concern, yet we don’t have the solutions to create more land or enough fresh water needed to feed the growing population. Now is the time to change the way things get done. Great entrepreneurs tackle big problems and the Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator is thinking huge.
The Perfect Vertical for the Techstars Process
While there is growing interest in using technology to disrupt the space, food and ag entrepreneurs lack the attention and resources that benefit other verticals. But big players are now ready to move. Cargill and Ecolab are working with Techstars to see the global challenges and possible solutions through the eyes of entrepreneurs. They want to work closely with these innovators and help develop technologies that take advantage of opportunities and solve big problems.
Entrepreneurs shouldn’t go it alone! Both Cargill and Ecolab have broad knowledge and deep industry expertise — we leverage their resources to help entrepreneurs navigate a path from idea to impact? The Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator is the perfect platform to connect these global giants in food processing, food safety and agriculture with innovators who have ideas and technical knowledge.
Everyone wins. Because at Techstars and with our partners, we share a give-first mentality, we’re going to help entrepreneurs do more faster.
A Food and Ag Hub That’s Ready for Innovation
Choosing the Twin Cities location was strategic. Minnesota was built by food and agriculture innovators over 150 years ago along the banks of the Mississippi and it continues to be a thriving, supportive place to build a company. Today we house many of the largest food and ag companies in the world, a renowned land grant university and an ecosystem full of top talent that specializes in this vertical. Our history is food and agriculture and with programs like this food and ag tech will play a big part in the region’s future.
As the managing director of the Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator program, I’m excited to work with Cargill, Ecolab, Techstars and the best entrepreneurs in the world to disrupt food and agriculture.
The first ever Startup Next Food & Tech program is now halfway finished. Over 50 mentors are working with our 6 companies, including founders, investors and corporate executives.
While all of our sessions have been high energy, one highlight was a panel of CEOs from the Techstars Retail Accelerator, in partnership with Target. During the “ask me anything” style panel, advice on everything from how to get that first sale to how to engage mentors and get the most out of the program was covered. It was great to see the TS Retail teams already start to #givefirst. (It is worth pointing out that one of those CEOs, Francois Poirier of MakerBloks, is a Startup Next Montreal Alumni!)
Check out the Class:
Bizzy Coffee is the energy source, both mentally and physically, for the next generation of movers and shakers. Bizzy has become the #1 rated selling product in their category on Amazon and were recently accepted into HyVee chain-wide. They are now focused on raising a round of seed capital.
Termi Platform is a smart rodent prevention platform that helps the food industry protect vital food assets with sensor-enabled connected devices, and a data analytics platform that enables more effective & cheaper, DIY rodent prevention. Termi recently completed a new version of their trap with more advanced sensors and data collection capabilities. Termi is now moving focus to finding beta testers from the food & ag industry for their MVP.
Local Crate is a meal-kit delivery service focused on being locally responsible, while building the experience and true connection to real food that the market is craving! Local Crate recently hit capacity at their current facility, topping $35k in revenue after just 9 months in business. They are working towards a seed round which will be used to help fuel growth.
HerdDogg is a wearable device for improved accuracy of livestock traceability and biometrics. HerdDogg closed a research pilot with Oregon St. University and is a Startup Showcase finalist at the ECO SXSW. HerdDogg is prepping for fundraising and the launch of their new product.
Philia Foods creates handcrafted, all natural feta cheese spreads in four bold flavors; Rosemary & Basil, Roasted Red Pepper, Dill & Garlic and Habanero. Philia Foods has tripled their distribution points in the last 8 months, including a roll out to 50 NYC retailers. Phillia is looking for a strategic investor who will be able to advise & help scale the company.
Jonny Pops‘ all-natural, frozen fruit and cream pops are like a smoothie-on-a-stick. Jonny Pops topped 6,000 retail locations and expanded their school lunch program to 8 states. Schools see a 15% increase to lunch participation when Jonny Pops are on the menu. Jonny Pops is looking to expand their network and meet with other founders that have scaled food companies quickly.
With a strong desire to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Twin Cities, the Land O’Lakes partnership with Techstars Startup Next will galvanize the best startups and provide them with mentorship, partnership, and executive access to help them along their entrepreneurial journey.
From farming to dairy and consumer products, the Twin Cities have a long history of success in food. This program is an exciting opportunity to leverage this expertise and ensure food and ag tech entrepreneurs play a serious role in the burgeoning startup scene.
Techstars will work closely with Land O’Lakes executives to recruit startups working anywhere in the farm-to-fork food chain. Examples include innovative consumer products, traceability tools, distribution, supply chain efficiency, safety, food processing and logistics innovation.
Solutions for the dairy industry – from dairy farmers to dairy transportation, processing and products – will be of particular interest. Startups working to solve problems related to food and technology in the retail, foodservice, industrial or other channels are also invited to apply.
Entrepreneurs will gain hands-on mentorship and education during the program, culminating in a Demo Day event. Land O’Lakes will provide expertise and mentorship to program participants along with other leaders from the Minneapolis startup ecosystem.
An informational session will take place tomorrow, Tuesday, June 7 from 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m., in Minneapolis. Those interested in applying for the program are invited to attend and learn more. Event details and registration are here.
In addition to the in-person event, interested entrepreneurs also can join us for an online informational session on Thursday, June 16, at 3 pm CDT. Registration for the June 16 session can be found here.
Application deadline is June 30, 2016.
Startups interested in applying to Startup Next Food and Tech, presented by Land O’Lakes can apply here.