‘Where is food & agriculture’s Uber?’

Around 185 startups, 75 investors and 185 food and agricultural companies gathered on May 17th / 18th at the international F&A Next 2017 event on the campus of Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands. F&A Next pairs creativity, networks and finance to accelerate innovation food and agriculture.

F&A Next is an international event organised by Rabobank, food and agricultural incubator StartLife, and Wageningen University & Research. The purpose of the event is to drive enterprise and innovation in the agricultural and food industry – which also happens to be a key element of Rabobank’s Banking for Food strategy. Topics including ‘Innovation in a corporate environment’, ‘Facts and fairy tales about health and nutrition’, and ‘Modern technology in the agricultural industry’ were covered by a variety of international speakers and during a series of interactive sessions.

F&A Next also featured the Rabobank FoodBytes! pitching concept, in which 20 high-potential startups were given the opportunity to pitch their innovation to an audience of potential customers and investors.

The winners: ice cream and asparagus

An expert judging panel selected two winners from the total of 20 startups, which they believed have proved their innovative credentials in addition to being scalable and having a social impact. The first winner is Koupe, a Netherlands-based company that manufactures ice cream packed with protein and fibre but low in calories and fat. The second winner is another Dutch company, Cerescon, which has developed a smart asparagus-harvesting machine. The audience award was presented to the startup NeoFarms, which has developed a fully automated greenhouse for kitchen usage. All three winners will be given the opportunity to develop their company or raise their profile in various ways.

Where’s the disruption?

While the food and agricultural industry is becoming more innovative, there is still a lot of room for improvement, observed Rabobank Executive Board member Berry Marttin in a speech he gave at the event. He noted that the agricultural community tends to be slow to embrace innovations and that disruptive technologies have yet to emerge in the industry.
‘Most people don’t book taxis or hotels on a daily or even weekly basis, yet there is no shortage of disruptive business models in those industries – just look at the likes of Uber and Airbnb. But even though we all eat three square meals a day, we have seen zero disruption in the food industry – why is that?’

Opening more doors

Kevin Camphuis, co-founder of French-based accelerator ShakeUpFactory and a member of the FoodBytes! judging panel, believes there are ways of improving how innovation is driven.
‘Radical changes are needed in order to improve our food system. I speak from experience when I say that the agricultural industry needs to become more transparent, and that this lack of transparency is a hurdle to innovation. Traditional players need to open their doors, labs, and expertise centres to newcomers, so they can work together to accelerate the development of products and technologies.’

Rabobank’s role

The need for innovation in food and agriculture was highlighted from a variety of angles, according to Jeroen Leffelaar, Managing Director Food & Agri Wholesale at Rabobank and co-initiator of F&A Next. ‘But if we truly want to drive innovation, it is up to Rabobank to support successful startups at the development stage by providing targeted financing solutions. While regular financing is generally not yet possible at this stage, what is available are solutions such as seed capital via our funds, leasing, and venture debt. Another important factor is that we can provide these startups full access to our knowhow and networks.’