FoodBytes! made its Chicago debut on  September 19. The windy city is not only the food manufacturing hub of North America, it also boasts a vibrant food innovation community.  We were thrilled to host 330+ industry leaders, investors and media at the Revel Fulton Market to watch 15 ground-breaking startups showcase their solutions to tackle major food industry challenges.

Between now and 2050, we’ll need to make food production much more efficient to keep up with rising population and protein demand, while tackling changing conditions such as shifting dietary patterns and environmental concerns. Collaborative innovation plays a key role in addressing these challenges across the fragmented value chain. FoodBytes! aims to be a catalyst for much needed meaningful cross collaboration by bringing together promising startups, investors and forward-thinking industry giants who are building bridges to a more sustainable food system.

Where corporate innovation begins

Industry leaders play a very important role in innovation, as they hold the market position to immediately impact their areas of the food system. These leaders are able to find sector alignment among the entrepreneurs in our network, tackling some of their most pressing challenges. For example, 1 in 5 of the startups in the room were innovating in protein production, providing a comprehensive landscape for protein industry giants, to explore novel solutions for their businesses. And it’s not just for show – with 40 percent of corporate representation at FoodBytes! from the C-suite, companies came ready to engage with the startups in a tangible way. International corporates, such JBS, the second-largest food company in the world, all came to connect with the startups and explore today’s landscape of food and ag innovation.

“FoodBytes! provides a forum for collaboration and innovation between established global companies like JBS and companies with great ideas that are just getting started. There is so much going on in the food space. I don’t think you can talk about just one thing, because it’s going to take so much innovation across sectors to really feed the world. And we’re interested in all of that.” – Nikki Richardson, Director of Communications JBS USA

The rise of Corporate Venture Capital (CVC)

Over the past several years, more and more corporates have developed ambitious innovation arms, including incubator programs and strategic investment funds. Not only does early stage investing allow corporates to identify potential M+A targets, but also helps them get ahead of the trends shaping their industries and provides a pathway to incorporate agile practices into their own organizations. The percentage of global VC deals that included CVC investors climbed to 26% over the last several years (BCG), and even in one year from 2017 to 2018, CVC funding itself increased almost 50% (CB Insights).

An important process for any investor is exploring where startups fall within the broader market, and the breadth of sectors represented among the pitch companies allowed the audience to do just that. Darren Streiler from ADM Ventures, the investment arm of world-leading nutrition company, came to FoodBytes! Chicago to meet the 15 startups, learn about their unique propositions and discover potential partners who could flourish with their added investment and industry knowledge.

We like to invest in companies where we’re really able to utilize our assets, people and knowhow to leverage that business and get them commercially ready. Our expertise helps them grow much more quickly than they could do on their own.” Darren Streiler, ADM Ventures

The case for cross-party collaboration

The FoodBytes! Chicago award winners truly display how startups and corporates can come together to accomplish more than they could alone. People’s Choice Winner, Capro-X, is addressing head on one of the biggest pain points for North American dairy companies through their whey-processing technology. With Greek yogurt production creating three times as much acid whey as actual yogurt, companies are  paying for the removal of this waste. However, by processing the whey into bio oils as an alternative to palm oil, Capro-X is taking waste off the hands of one corporate, and supplying high quality flavoring and fragrances to another.

Another startup that has created a business model out of corporate partnership is The Better Meat Co. By developing plant-based mixers to increase the nutritional value of traditional meat products, the startup is enabling companies like Perdue to adapt to the trend rather than be disrupted by it.

“For us, everything we do is about working with corporates to help bring our ingredients mainstream. Right now we’re partnered with Perdue Farms, and we’re looking to build other similar partnerships of major meat users throughout the country, and indeed, the world. We were thrilled to be at Rabobank’s FoodBytes! because it gives us access to executives in the F&A industry who can partner with us both as customers and investors.”Paul Shapiro, The Better Meat Co.

Up next: FoodBytes! London

Year by year, the FoodBytes! community expands, and with that the number of potential connections grow exponentially larger. In a few weeks, we head to London to bring 15 more startups on board, spanning from 3D printed personalized nutrition to shelf-life extending labelling solutions. See these pioneering startups pitch on 7 November 2019 – tickets are available here.

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