F&A Next 2018: starting up corporates

Food & Agri start-ups and large corporates need each other. Start-ups need to be corporate ready as well as investor ready. And corporates should be start-up ready. F&A Next 2018 brings them together at Wageningen University.

The third F&A Next takes place at Wageningen University on 30 and 31 May. Start-ups, investors, and corporate decision-makers gather at the event for a program featuring knowledge exchange, discussions, and showcases by the most innovative start-ups. One of the organizers is Jan Meiling, Managing Director of StartLife, Europe’s largest mentor of F&A start-ups. StartLife is based out of Wageningen Campus and works closely with StartHub Wageningen.

Jan Meiling, Managing Director of StartLife

What are the most important trends in AgTech?

“Two important developments are harvesting robotics and remote sensing. High-tech systems are making applications possible that were previously unimaginable. One example of harvesting robotics is the automatized harvest of fragile crops such as asparagus. The robot can see through the soil, extract the asparagus, and then cover up the bed. Robots can be deployed both pre- and post-harvest, for example in the selection of sweet peppers. Robots equipped with cameras will pick out the good peppers, selected on the basis of size and ripeness.”

And what is remote sensing?

“Airplanes, drones, and satellites can gather enormous amounts of data from a distance about farms, including soil conditions and the distribution of biomass. A high density of crops means that things are going well, while a low density reveals that there is room for improvement. With hyperspectral imaging, we can now make the vitality of crops visible.”

What do you see as the most promising development in FoodTech?

“A start-up called Solynta has managed to breed potato varieties that require fewer pesticides. That makes it possible for potatoes to be grown almost anywhere in the world because you can adjust the varieties to the climate. This is a godsend for developing countries as potatoes are healthier than rice thanks to the protein, fiber, and vitamin C they contain.”

“New potato varieties are a godsend for developing countries”

- Jan Meiling, Managing Director of StartLife

Are there any other promising examples?

“Another success story is Wageningen start-up Ojah. Ojah's meat substitute products sell under the name of Beeter in the Netherlands and Plenti in the UK. It uses high moisture extrusion technology to make vegetal protein fibers with a meat-like texture. Ojah was taken over by Belgian investment company Korys in 2017.

NutriLeads is another success. It is one of the many companies that StartLife has financed and mentored intensively from the very beginning. This firm developed an ingredient for medical nutrition known as Immune Modulating Plant Polysaccharide-1 (IMPP-1), which improves patients' resistance to infections, It is now working with Dutch multinational, DSM.”

Why would large corporates need start-ups?

“The R&D departments of large corporates aren't usually agile enough to respond rapidly to the latest market needs or technological developments. Collaborating with small, high-risk firms enables them to be one step ahead of the game. Moreover, corporates need them to recruit the biggest talents — those visionary daredevils who always want to set their own course. Corporates should be start-up ready to bring about a successful collaboration and get them on board.”

“Corporates need to be start-up ready”

- Jan Meiling, Managing Director of StartLife

What does that mean for start-ups?

“It's good news because innovation in F&A is time-consuming and capital-intensive. For example, an IT start-up can always acquire more hard disk space, but an F&A start-up cannot simply change the supply chain of soy products. Matters such as marketing, supply, or the organization of an entire production chain are things that start-ups do not really deal with. Getting the help of corporates is often the tipping point: it is only then that new companies begin to make real steps forward with their product. Investor readiness is no longer enough; start-ups also need to be corporate ready.”