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Techstars Farm to Fork: 2021 Thesis

January 19th, 2021

By Brett Brohl, Managing Director of the Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator

Innovation in the food system continues to grow in interest for entrepreneurs, investors, and enterprises. That includes us here at Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator in partnership with Cargill and Ecolab where I serve as Managing Director. 2020 put a magnifying glass on several challenges facing big food. Many of these challenges have existed for years, but the impact of COVID-19 brought them to the forefront of many stakeholder’s minds, from consumer to enterprise. There are five key areas of interest for us as we look forward into 2021: Sustainable Food Systems, Future of Food Retail and Food Service, Compliance, The Messy Middle and FinTech in Food,

Sustainable Food Systems

The impact of the food system on the planet is tremendous. Without adapting the food system we won’t be able to sustainably feed the world’s growing population in the very near future. Additionally, the food value chain has a significant impact on the speed and severity of climate change. The opportunity for impact driven food startups are not limited to helping the world; there is significant financial value that entrepreneurs can drive. 

Core areas of interest:

  • Alternative packaging & plastics

  • Biotechnology as it relates to food inputs, ingredients and proteins

  • Carbon mitigation and markets from farm to manufacturing to logistics

  • Energy reduction in food enterprises from manufacturing to farm

  • Water quality and conservation technology from farm to industrial manufacturing 

Future of Food Retail and Food Service

Prior to COVID-19, the way consumers found, purchased and consumed food was already changing. Ghost kitchens prepping for food delivery were gaining momentum and online grocery was becoming more and more popular. The virus came in and essentially dropped a bomb on food retail, leading to more than 100,000 restaurant closures and grocery positively exploding. All while an entire trillion dollar industry, food service, essentially went to zero overnight — across the planet. What does the future hold? I’m not sure, but I do know it is an amazing time to innovate in the space.

Core areas of interest:

  • Robotics

  • Labor Optimization

  • Consumer Experience

  • Food Safety and Spoilage

  • Restaurant Tech

  • Food Vending

Compliance

There are so many instructions, rules, regulations, best practices, prescriptions, and other things out there. But most compliance in the food system is still managed with pen and paper. It is inevitable that there will be mistakes, accidents, miscommunication, confusion, and even intentional non-compliance. When mistakes get made there can be huge safety, environmental and economic impacts. 

Core areas of interest:

  • Food Safety

  • Brand Standards

  • Customer Safety

  • Employee Safety

  • Environmental Practices

  • Animal Health and Welfare

Messy Middle

This bucket has been core to our food tech investment thesis for 3 years running. It isn’t always sexy, but there continues to be a tremendous amount of opportunity for innovation in the manufacturing and logistics portion of the food value chain.

Core areas of interest:

  • Innovation for Food Manufacturing

    • 3d Printing

    • Efficiency

    • Robotics

  • Supply Chain Flexibility & Streamlining

  • Data capturing, management and leveraging

Fintech for Food

From farm to retail innovation, growth and opportunity is often hampered by expensive or inaccessible financial products. I believe that many startups in the food system have an opportunity to combine their users and data to create innovative financial solutions that will help modernize food. 

Core areas of interest:

  • Innovations in Trading

  • Alternative Financing Opportunities

  • Payment Processing

These five buckets represent our core areas of interest for our 2021 program. Keep in mind that just as the world is constantly changing, so is our investment thesis! At the end of the day we want to invest in great founders.

Sign up to meet us for one-on-one office hours to learn more about our program here.

#Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator