3 Groundbreaking European Innovation Hubs for Start-Ups in the Food Industry

From R&D to go-to-market strategies, technological advancements to financial investments—meet three groundbreaking European innovation hubs that specialise in supporting start-ups in the food industry.

 

Agro Innovation Lab 

BayWa AG and Raiffeisen Ware Austria AG (RWA) teamed up in Vienna in 2016 to found the joint innovation platform Agro Innovation Lab. Their mission? To foster and implement new technologies or strategies, which increase efficiency, conserve resources or significantly improve the lives of farmers and consumers. As two highly established and leading players in the agriculture industry with 120 years of experience under their belts, they offer access to over 1,000 distribution sites, 200,000 farmers, an international sales network, and dedicated mentors from a wide range of fields, including R&D, sales, financing, science, and politics. Participants are also able to utilise funds from a €100,000 programme budget and have the opportunity to secure further investments down the line. Agro Innovation Lab collaborates closely with each start-up over a five-month period to design joint innovation projects that, based on any given participant’s needs, focus on go-to-market or business expansion strategies. 

"Our goal is to help StartUps and innovative young companies to gain visible, long-term success, shaping the 21st century agriculture in a sustainable manner and gradually improving the world through our joint efforts."

In 2018, nine finalists were chosen for Agro Innovation Lab’s acceleration programme. The start-ups that made the cut covered a distinctly broad range of innovative fields in the food industry, including organic insecticides, farm management platforms, CO2 reduction measures, and feed management systems. Amongst these, we were delighted to discover Landpack which provides sustainable and innovative food packaging solutions made from straw and hemp. Their state-of-the-art ecological alternatives to styrofoam are supporting local farmers in Austria while helping prevent the production of plastic waste materials. Landpack’s work has received several prestigious awards, and their product portfolio continues to grow. At foodcircle, we are excited to see an increasing number of environmentally friendly packaging solutions disrupting the market.

In 2019, with the kick-off of their Robotics Challenge, Agro Innovation Lab opted to focus on technology, specifically looking for new solutions for weed control as well as fruit and vegetable harvesting. From a prestigious list of 34 applicants, the following six made the final cut: Agrointelli “Robotti” (Denmark), Cerescon “Sparter” (The Netherlands), Deepfield Robotics (Germany), Mascor - FH Aachen “Etarob” (Germany), Saga Robotics (Norway), Tensorfield (USA/Hong Kong). The winner is yet to be announced.

 

ProVeg Incubator

This Berlin-based global food accelerator is dedicated to building a sustainable food system and reducing animal consumption by 50% over the next 20 years. As the brainchild of ProVeg International, ProVeg Incubator supports start-ups in building and scaling their businesses while providing access to an extended network of investors, retailers, public institutions, and NPOs. 

"We are the first Incubator programme in the world to exclusively support plant-based and cell-based food startups."

Participants are selected in a four-step process: application, interview, pitch, final decision. Over three months, selected start-ups are then invited to engage in a series of tailored workshops, one-on-one sessions, and coachings. Each start-up receives support from a highly qualified mentor who dedicates time as a consultant to their business for the duration programme. All of the above leads up to the final “Pitch Day” on which the start-ups take to the stage and present their developments to potential investors alongside a selection of ProVeg stakeholders. Ultimately, ProVeg Incubator aims to act as a springboard for entrepreneurs that are striving to enter and succeed in the plant-based and cell-based foods industry.

An inspiring example for a participant in ProVeg’s second cohort is Blue Farm. The Berlin-based brand for zero waste nut drinks serves fresh and vegan alternatives to cow’s milk. Co-Founder Julia Müller highlights how ProVeg helped them hit the ground running, “Participating at the ProVeg Incubator program this year was a wonderful experience. We gained a lot of insights from other participating peer companies and founders, guest speakers as well as the ProVeg team in Berlin.” In early 2019, Blue Farm entered the market with one product—its cashew drink—which it is marketing under the term “mylk”. Blue Farm sources its cashews from an organic farm in India. The nuts are then processed and botted in Berlin where they are delivered to local cafes every week with the help of eBikes. The team is currently gearing up for their autumn debut in organic supermarkets and working on expanding their line of products to other organic, plant-based ingredients.

 

NX-Food

Wholesale cash and carry group METRO founded their innovation hub, NX-Food, at the heart of North Rhine-Westphalia, a region in Germany that is becoming increasingly renowned for its investments in food innovations. The innovation hub was brought to life on the belief that current approaches to food supply will require a significant shift to maintain a sustainable food system in upcoming years. In NX-Food’s unique approach to food innovation, small start-ups are invited to test their products with real consumers in The Startup Shelf—a designated space in METRO and Real designed especially to showcase participants’ exciting new products.

"Our mission is to enrich and inspire the food system, encourage innovations, promote sustainable living, and move with change."

 

Over three months, NX-Food collects feedback from customers about the products that made the final cut. This input enables start-ups to further develop and improve their products, thereby increasing their market appeal and chances of success. Likewise, NX-Foods promotes the products via their social media channels, which also helps new brands gain more reach online in the beginning stages of their ventures. Once the initial three-month trial period is up, the products with the most potential are granted a prominent place on The Start Up Shelf and secure a spot in Eurowings’s Wings Bistro Magazine. They also have the opportunity to be launched in further markets.

One of the most successful start-ups that passed through NX Food’s incubator to date is BiteBox. BiteBox is a Hamburg-based provider for natural and healthy office snack boxes containing various assortments of nuts, dried fruits, and crackers. Customers choose from a wide range of delectable mixes in different set sizes based on their teams’ needs. All of BiteBox’s ingredients are free from additives, GMO, artificial colourings, and flavour enhancers. Beyond championing nutrition, the start-up believes in supporting community involvement and fair wages, hence often opting to work with smaller manufacturers. BiteBox has proven to be a popular in-flight snack on Eurowings flights for the past year.

At foodcircle, we are always looking to partner with food industry innovators. If you would like to get in touch, please reach out to our Sales Team: sales@foodcircle.com 

Imagery courtesy of: (1) Unsplashed, (2) Agro Innovation Lab, (3) Landpack, (4) Roger Riedel, (5) ProVeg, (6) Blue Farm, (7) ProVeg, (8,9) NX-Food, (10) BiteBox
 

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