Not a day goes by without another headline about this or that food tech startup raising millions in venture capital funding.
It’s tempting to see that as a mark of success. But remember:
Funding is a means, not the goal.
Most of the well-funded startups you read about in the news will fail, and taking outside investment may not just accelerate, but lead to their fall.
By raising money, you not only risk optimizing the business for your investors, over your customers, but impose on yourself growth expectations that could be unrealistic given your product or market.
Before you seek investment, ask yourself the following questions:
- How long and by how much can you grow without outside funding?
- Can outside investment speed up that growth?
- Do you know exactly how you would spend the funds?
- Can you achieve the growth VCs expect? Will it interfere with your goals and values?
Support can come from many places
“But I’m in it for support, not the money!”, I hear you saying.
If the primary benefit you’re looking for is mentorship and connections, stop binging on accelerator promo videos and alumni interviews, and think about other ways you could get access to the same benefits without giving up equity.
Join an incubator/accelerator
Accelerators can be a great way for someone with no startup experience to quickly learn basic business skills, adopt the right lingo, and build their initial network.
But think of them as a business school:
- Their landing pages will overpromise, and namedrop experts who are only indirectly involved.
- You’ll likely overpay for the privilege, especially with lesser known programmes (different accelerators tend to take similar amounts of equity, yet provide completely different value).
- If you are an avid self-learner, you can master the curriculum faster, and in your own time.
Before you apply to an accelerator, or accept their offer, make sure to call up companies from their portfolio that were in a similar position to yours when they started. They’ll usually be happy to share their experience with a fellow entrepreneur, and explain how the accelerator did or did not help during and after the programme.
Find a co-founder
If you’re missing skills core to your business, and don’t mind giving up equity, consider finding a co-founder first.
It is much easier to grow a business if you have a trusted partner by your side, ready to supplement your skills, challenge mistakes in your reasoning, and keep the company running if you get sick.
Sure, you’ll have to give up a large chunk of the business, but unlike an investor, your co-founder will be there with you 24/7, throughout the life of your startup (if you haven’t worked together before, you can agree on a vesting schedule — stagger the equity over time).
As a two-person team, you’ll also find it much easier to raise outside investment when you need it, and at a better valuation! Many funds expressly avoid investing in solo founders.
Form an advisory board
You’ll be surprised how many genuinely busy, important people are happy to help you for free if you approach them politely, with an interesting question or project.
The key here is to be concise, and keep in mind what your mentor will get out of the interaction (this can be financial benefit, insight into a new industry, prestige of being associated with an impactful project, or even just enjoyment of helping an aspiring entrepreneur).
If you don’t have a mutual contact who could introduce you to relevant experts, consider joining local interest groups and meetups, or pay by the minute for expert advice on Clarity (prices tend to range between $2–10/min, so asking a clear, concise question is critical).
If you target a market with multiple stakeholders, you may need regular expert help on your project.
For example, a startup working on a marketplace for home cooked food (such as mine — Pona), would benefit from advice from a local government policy expert, a serial marketplace entrepreneur, and a food safety advisor.
Consider creating a formal board of advisors, with a set time commitment, meeting schedule, and a small amount of equity for each mentor (usually 0.2–1%), vested over the course of 1–2 years.
Pay a startup consultancy
The word ‘consulting’ may conjure up an image of overpaid, underslept suit-and-ties, milking their corporate clients for every penny. In reality, there are many small, specialist consultancy firms working with startups and entrepreneurs at all stages.
A good consultancy will:
- Provide many of the same benefits as an accelerator, but tailored to your needs, and on your own schedule.
- Give you access to a range of specialist mentors, and introduce you to relevant third-party contacts and potential clients.
You can expect to pay a daily rate of ~$500–2,000, or a monthly retainer. This may sound like a lot, but if you are clear and upfront about the advice you need, the focused help and highly relevant contacts can be an excellent value for the money.
Not only do you avoid dilution that comes with joining a startup accelerator, the help you get will also be more adapted to your particular situation. And compared to individual advisors, consultancies tend to be both more flexible in the assistance they can provide, and substantially cheaper — $500 is the price you’d pay for a two-hour call on Clarity.
Accelerators for early-stage food tech companies
If you decide to go the accelerator route, the first question you need to ask yourself is whether you want to join one that targets your particular field, or a more general programme.
If you have a more established project with traction in some specific field, and you know it’s unlikely your product could make more impact in a different industry, a food tech accelerator can open doors to institutional clients, and connect you with mentors with years of industry experience.
Other projects straddle two or more categories (ag and finance, food and logistics…), or could potentially find application in a way you haven’t even imagined when you first started.
If your startup falls into this category, you should consider going with a generalist fund which can support you across different industries, and follow you through every pivot.
If food tech is where it’s at for your project, here’s a list of some of the leading incubators and accelerators that specialize in early stage food & ag startups:
New York, NY
A leading food tech accelerator, backed by SOSV, and based in one of the food capitals of the world. It invests $65k in cash for 7–10% equity.
Notable alumni: Ingest.AI, FoodCloud, EatTiamo, Cultovo
One of the most prestigious accelerators in the world. Their food track offers three month accelerator programmes twice a year, boosting startups through corporate business development, networking and pitch events, mentorship, and follow-on investment. It offers $25–500k, equity-free.
Notable alumni: Impact Vision, Clear Labs, Finless Foods, Wasteless, Koniku
Startupbootcamp’s FoodTech track is one of the leading global agtech and foodtech accelerators, conveniently located in Rome — home of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and numerous industry giants. It provides €15k + €35k of investment, for 6% equity.
Notable alumni: BiteBack, EcoPack, Evja, Farm-r
San Mateo, CA
A Silicon Valley incubator and maker space that provides a commercial kitchen, lab equipment, in-house food scientists and everything else you need to scale up production, test new recipes, and bring new foods to market.
Notable alumni: Farmstead, Good Eggs, Siren, Planetarians
A startup accelerator rethinking the way food moves and moves us. This includes 3rd party delivery, block chain, IoT, AI, sensors, AR/VR, autonomous vehicles, robotics, food as medicine, food safety, food science, food waste, hydroponics/vertical farming, labor solutions, loyalty programmes, meal kits, transparency, and anything else that has the potential to reshape foodservice in North America. It offers $100k of investment for 3% equity.
Notable alumni: 86 Repairs, Big Wheelbarrow, Pod Foods
Los Gatos, CA
The four-month accelerator supports seed stage startups from all areas of the value chain whose technologies drive us towards a more efficient, sustainable, and secure agriculture future. It invests $50k for 5% equity.
Notable alumni: Farmwise, 3Bar Biologics, Arable, Farm Dog
San Francisco, CA
TERRA is an equity free accelerator backed backed by Rabobank and RocketSpace. The programme pairs emerging growth companies with established multinationals in a pilot-driven engagement that leads to tangible results.
Notable alumni: ImpactVision, Clear Labs, JuiceInnov8, Miyoko’s
Union Kitchen is a food business accelerator that will help you launch locally, grow regionally, and scale nationally.
Notable alumni: Compass Coffee, Swapples, Eat Pizza, Bright Greens
This accelerator supports innovative companies that have the potential to enable the United Nations World Food Programme to deliver on its mandate to reach Zero Hunger. It invests up to $100k, equity free.
Notable alumni: H2GROW, Dalili, Maano, ColdHubs
Kickstart is a Swiss accelerator that brings together later-stage startups with corporations, foundations, universities and cities in order to accelerate deep tech innovation. The 2-month programme has a separate food & retail track backed by Coop and other major food industry companies. It provides $10,000 of investment, equity free.
Notable alumni: CareerVillage, Quill, Earshot
Kuwait City, KW
The Middle East’s first food vertical accelerator, backed by partners such as Careem, and offering generous startup capital, office space, and regional investment opportunities. It provides $50k of investment for 10%-20% equity.
Notable alumni: Ngwah, Reserveout, BulkWhiz
A unique programme that provides funding, business training and mentorship for organisations working to solve food poverty, wherever it’s found. It provides €75k of investment in the form of low-interest debt.
Notable alumni: Mimica Touch, Cultivando Futuro, Entocycle
A 3-month food tech focused seed accelerator based in London, and backed by Just Eat. The programme only accepts 3–5 startups per cohort to ensure you get tailored support and mentorship, hands-on 1-on-1s with startup experts, and a great office space. It provides £20k of investment in the form of a SAFE convertible note.
Notable alumni: ShareDining, myBaker, Sure
A six-month accelerator and network catalyst, based in the world’s biggest startup campus, Station F, adding value in growth and transformation for breakthrough projects from farm to fork. It invests
Notable alumni: Alkemics, Ÿnsect, Goot, Fora
Rockstart supports and empowers the greatest AgriFood tech startups to drive positive change in the food supply system. Provides follow-on investments in participating startups up until Series B.
Notable alumni: Saillog, InspiraFarms, Fresh.Land
A global accelerator with a mission to enable entrepreneurs to sustainably revolutionize agrifood systems. Up to $100k equity investment, with separate funds for North America, Europe, LATAM and Asia Pacific.
Notable alumni: Planetarians, Agree, Hexafly, RootWave
A Cisco-backed accelerator dedicated to early-stage startups that are developing innovative solutions for disrupting the food and agriculture industry. It provides $20k in investment for 5–10% equity.
Notable alumni: EatTiamo, Faberest
A Ukrainian accelerator focused on finding, accelerating and integrating innovative technologies in agribusiness. Equity free.
Notable alumni: Mobimill, Meteotrek, AgroLactBio
Corporate funds and incubators
Something unique about the food and agriculture vertical is the abundance of startup grants, incubators and accelerators by corporate venture capital (CVC) funds.
Below is a small selection of such programmes, but almost every major company in this sector has a startup initiative of some sort.
The Chobani Incubator is a programme for companies taking on broken food systems to bring better food to more people. In addition to a $25k equity-free investment, they give startups access to their network and expertise in order to scale up their operations and achieve significant growth.
Notable alumni: Seal the Seasons, Partake Foods, Supernatural, Misfit Foods
Newport Beach, CA
A seven-month equity-free accelerator by Uncharted, in partnership with the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, that gives growth-stage ventures a spotlight and mentoring from established leaders.
Notable alumni: AgVoice, Asarasi, Impact Vision, GrubTubs, Novolyze, Rex
A pilot-focused programme to explore a better everyday life for the many people, organized in partnership with Rainmaking, and offering a dedicated Sustainable Food Innovation track.
Notable alumni: Kaffeeform, Flying Spark, Matter, Niwa, Læsk
A programme that provides support and mentorship to product pioneers that want to drive innovation in the dairy products space. Invests $25k, equity free.
Notable alumni: Petit Pot, Numa Foods, Norr Skyr
Food tech competitions & challenges
There are numerous global competitions in the food and agricultural space, organized by governments, corporates and non-profit foundations.
Prizes range from $5k to $150k, and entry tends to be free, so it’s an excellent, low-risk way to secure equity-free funding, not to mention valuable contacts, promotion, and your 15 minutes of fame.
TFF is dedicated to empowering the next generation of innovators to build new solutions that transform our food system. The TFF Challenge is open to global submissions, and besides cash prizes of up to $100k, you’ll be in for a chance to attend the unforgettable TFF Summit and Academy.
A global non-profit on a mission to unlock the potential of deep technologies to solve the world’s toughest challenges. Their Global Challenge offers a dedicated Food, Agriculture & Environment track, and besides cash prizes of up to $100k, you’ll be in for a chance to attend the Hello Tomorrow Summit in Paris, and network with deep tech startups from around the world.
Part mentorship programme and part startup competition, entrepreneurs participate for a chance to win valuable prize packages, access to industry mentors and experts, significant exposure to investor networks at the Food+City Startup Showcase during South by Southwest (SXSW). Early bird entry is $35, after which it increases to $50.
Venture capital firms that invest in food & ag
There is only a handful of VC firms that specialize in food and agricultural technology, and most Series A and later stage funding comes from generalist firms.
A venture capital firm that invests exclusively in companies leveraging information and communications technology to transform the food & agriculture sectors.
Notable investments: Analytical Flavor Systems, FarmOp, LoveWithFood
China’s pioneer food tech VC, with a mission to empower early-stage startups to shape the future of good food. They invest in software, hardware, biotech, and CPG startups across the supply chain.
Notable investments: Future Meat, Alchemy Foodtech, Analytics Flavor Systems
One of the most active funds investing in food & beverage, AccelFoods partners with high-growth companies and their driven founders to bring unique products and go-to-market strategies to consumers.
Notable investments: Harmless Harvest, RETHINK Water, RightRice, Tractor Beverages
One of the most active agrifood VCs globally, backed by 500 Startups, and built on an ecosystem of over 65,000 members.
Notable investments: The Yield, Sentera, Stem, Phylagen, Trace Genomics
A venture capital firm investing in companies creating systemic change in the food system to address the growing problems of human and environmental health.
Notable investments: Pilotworks, Inari, ImpactVision, Spoiler Alert
A venture capital firm that invests in companies that increase food production, reduce inputs and increase sustainability.
Notable investments: Phylagen, Full Harvest, HarvestPort
VVNP is a Singapore-based global venture capital fund that aims to achieve outsize returns from focused investments on disruptive technologies for the food and feed system.
Notable investments: Aleph Farms, Ÿnsect, Nutrition Innovation
Big Idea Ventures is a Singapore-based VC started by ex-VP of Food-X. Their New Protein Fund is investing, accelerating, and scaling global food companies focused on plant-based products and new protein alternatives.
Notable investments: Shiok Meats
Food & agriculture is one of the key focus-fields for Khosla Ventures, an investment fund with over five billion dollars under management.
Notable investments: Instacart, Hampton Creek, Unreal Brands
First Round is a seed-stage venture firm focused on building a vibrant community of technology entrepreneurs. They invest across the board, but their portfolio includes numerous food tech startups, including some of the best known names in the industry.
Notable investments: Blue Apron, Reserve, The Climate Corporation, Snackpass, Bowery
One of the most prestigious VC seed funds from Silicon Valley, 500 Startups boasts a multinational team supporting investments in over 60 countries. The fund includes several prominent food & ag companies in their portfolio.
Notable investments: Platejoy, Chewse, Farmeron, LoveWithFood, Sprig
Food tech, ag tech and startup consultants
Just as accelerators, consultancies can be either generalist, or specialized in a particular field.
Unlike when you join an accelerator, or accept VC investment, you are not wedded to a consulting firm, and can switch away or break up any time. This means them not being able to help you after a radical pivot, or as your needs change over time, is not a pressing concern.
This is why we recommend working with specialized consultancy firms, or independent consultants best suited for your current needs. A good firm will be happy to refer you to a different consultant if you need help outside their field of expertise down the line.
Below is a list of just some consultancies that work with food & ag startups, or specialize in fields that can be relevant to your needs as you expand:
He has coached 50+ early-stage food tech startups that went on to raise $20+ million in venture capital funding, and were featured on the BBC, National Geographic, Smithsonian, and Forbes.
Price Intelligently, the company behind the popular financial analytics and customer retention tool ProfitWell, specialize at what might be the most important aspect of your business: Pricing.
Their team has worked with startups including Wistia, Zapier, and New Relic, and can guide you from initial customer research, through implementation of an effective pricing page, to ongoing analysis and optimization. Expect to spend very good money, but you get what you pay for.
Recognized as a top 100 entrepreneur under 35 by the United Nations, Neil Patel is one of the best known experts on online marketing.
His team has worked with startups including Airbnb and Facebook, and can help you with every aspect of digital marketing including paid advertising, search engine optimization, and social media. Like with Price Intelligently, Neil’s services aren’t cheap, but easily best in class.
Asia is one of the world’s largest food and agricultural markets, so most startups will seek to expand into the region as they grow.
Rochelle Kopp and her team are some of the most respected experts on Japanese business culture. They have helped countless startups expand into Japan, and authored Valley Speak: Deciphering the Jargon of Silicon Valley to help beginner entrepreneurs understand startup jargon.
That’s a wrap on Startup Weekend Kuala Lumpur Women! What a weekend it was — full of networking, teamwork, learning, new challenges, tons of coffee consumption, innovative approaches, secret dance parties and awesome pitches. Most importantly though, it was a weekend full of empowerment, support and the familiar Startup Weekend magic that turned fresh new ideas into incredible realities. 💡💪🏼💯
The main goal of having a women’s edition weekend is to encourage and inspire more female leaders in startup teams, and to connect more women to the vast number of resources and mentors available in our startup community. Male participants are welcomed — but with a smaller quota of available spots so as to encourage a larger participation rate of women in the roles of participants, mentors, organizers and judges. SWKL Women aims to help elevate entrepreneurship and inclusion around the world, one Startup Weekend Women at a time.
The format of Startup Weekend Women does not differ at all from general Startup Weekends. It still is focused on enabling participants to test their ideas and meet awesome people they probably would never have met otherwise! It is about learning how a startup works, what problems a startup might have, how to co-work with others (both men and women), how to deal with VC, how to lead a team, how to create a narrative about your startup, how to talk to your customers, why you need to understand your customer — and being amazed by people’s creativity, by people’s strength, and by people’s ability to learn and awe! We wanted to give participants all the right elements of a crazy, intense, fun weekend that showed them how much they can learn, create and grow in just 54 hours! Throughout the weekend, they were also introduced not only to a bunch of ambitious dreamers, but also to a network of experienced mentors, startups founders, enthusiast, community builders & investors.
THE WEEKEND COUNTDOWN.
On Friday there was a room full of ideas 65 bright-eyed participants, and19 ideas pitched — one presented as spoken word poetry. That night, 11 teams were formed, ready to kick-start their crazy weekend together. Over the next two days, the teams worked tirelessly to bring their 60 second pitch into something tangible and sustainable. We had the pleasure of having 24 remarkable mentors join us over the weekend to challenge, guide and support our 11 burgeoning teams.
As a few of our mentors noted, although there were no idea restrictions or themes over the weekend, almost all — 8/11 ideas — were centered around social impact. It was incredibly inspiring and heartening to see how these amazing women-led startups came up with tangible ideas not just to make money, but to positively impact society and the people around them. #WomenYouAmazeUs
Two days later we had a room full of new and innovative business concepts and our 11 teams were ready to pitch their idea in front of our jury and the greater audience! *EXCITED VIBES IN THE AIR!!!*.
It is incredibly humbling to see so many awesome and innovative business ideas born and built at this Startup Weekend! Although the spirit of Startup Weekend isn’t the competition — but rather the education and experience — on Sunday evening everyone (teams and organisers alike) were curious to see which teams and ideas were able to convince the panel of judges on their viability and sustainability. So, there were a few prizes to help their startup grow after the weekend was over.
AND THE WINNERS ARE…
After thorough deliberation, our five judges finally came to a consensus. They loved all the ideas so much, that they decided to award two honourable mentions — just because they couldn’t fit all the amazing ones into the top three. So before we share the winners, a big shoutout and thank you to our five all-star judging panel:
- Choo Dee Wei | Partner at Dee at Netto, Fatimah & Ng)
- Eugénie Laarman-Boekel | Global Sr. Brand Manager Friso at FrieslandCampina
- Freda Liu | Producer & Presenter (Enterprise Lead) at BFM Media
- Jes Min Lua | Founder at RecomN
- Zahira Sughra Zainuddin | Head, SVP GHRM Office, PETRONAS
Honourable Mention | THE GREEN NETWORK – A mobile based app to advocate green initiatives through incentives by changing the mindset and behaviour changes for urban dwellers to prioritise recycling in their daily lives.
Honourable Mention | CONFIDENT STARZ – An online and offline platform to promote confidence, healthy body image and girl power amongst 9 to 18 year old girls.
2nd Runner Up | MISS TRAVELLER – An online platform dedicated to connect and assist (sole and group) female travellers in search of adventure from start to finish.
1st Runner Up | ON TIME – A (Waze-like) mobile application to track public transport in Malaysia using peer-to-peer data.
Winner | PINK COLLAR – A socially responsible online platform that upholds the safety and rights of vetted domestic workers, and connecting them with vetted households in search of their services.
CONGRATULATIONS TO EVERYONE!
YOU’RE ALL WINNERS IN OUR BOOKS! We believe that it is possible to keep moving ahead after Startup Weekend and we dare to believe that the spark that we fired on Startup Weekend is a real possibility to get your startup off the ground!
We are, always, so humbled by the brilliant women we are fortunate enough to constantly be surrounded by. Keep on kicking-ass ladies (and gentlemen). We’re always going to be cheering you on!
Lastly, and most importantly, we at SWKL Women would like to thank all the members of our amazing organising & supporting team, weekend Googlers, mentors, participants, partner, supporters and friends who helped make this weekend one for the books! A very special thank you to Google Malaysia for hosting us; MaGIC for supporting us; and MissMafia for being an awesome community partner. This weekend would not have been possible without all these amazing people behind it.
Follow up at Startup Weekend Women APAC to be up-to-date on all the latest Startup Weekend Women news & events in Asia Pacific!
Upcoming cities include Singapore, Shanghai, Ulaanbaatar, AND MORE!
For more info, drop us a line at Startup Weekend Women KL. And lastly, if you’re keen to organise a Startup Weekend Women in Asia Pacific, please drop Lalitha Wemel a note at lalitha(dot)wemel(at)techstars(dot)com.