Food Tech VC Severine Balick Shares Magic Equation for Startup Success
FoodBytes! London is less than a month away, and to build excitement for the big day (13 Sept) we’re pumped to share more about our incredible family of mentors, judges and sponsors. We’re kicking things off with Severine Balick, Founder of Matador Ventures. Balick will be working hands-on with the 20 startups pitching at FoodBytes! London and providing critical feedback on their pitches as one of our esteemed judges.
We chat below with Balick about supporting female founders, the cutting-edge food technologies that are piquing her interest, how entrepreneurs should approach fundraising throughout the startup life cycle and much more. “A strong and passionate team with great technology, good design and sustainability in their DNA is the sort of magic equation I look for,” Balick says. Read on to learn more.
Can you tell us a little about your background and your role at Matador Ventures?
I spent ten years in strategic consulting, and then had various management roles in strategy and new business in big corporates before moving to the VC world and joining Quadia, a social impact fund where I built a portfolio of food and agtech companies (Ynsect, Food Assembly, Olio, InFarm, Agriconomie, etc.).
I then started Matador Ventures last year, a London-based consulting and investment boutique where I advise food and ag corporates on their corporate venturing activities including sourcing innovations, ideas and start-ups. I also source and invest in food and agtech companies.
Is there a common thread between the startups in your portfolio and what makes them such an attractive investment?
Food, agtech, and health are the core of my investments. I am constantly looking for companies that build long-term solutions to improve our food and agricultural system, health and well-being. A strong and passionate team with great technology, good design and sustainability in their DNA is the sort of magic equation I look for.
I am also trying as much as I can to give advice and support to women-led start-ups in our space, as they tend to receive way less funding and attention than their male colleagues. It is our collective responsibility as investors to back more women-led companies, especially when we know that women represent 85% of all consumer purchasing. Diversity today clearly drives better returns, so it’s key for me to do more to promote women investors and founders.
How do you evaluate investment opportunities, and what are your top tips for entrepreneurs to make a positive and lasting impression?
I do a lot of research, talking constantly to experts and other investors and meeting many companies. When I find an interesting investment opportunity, I do a serious due diligence while spending a lot of time getting to know the team, which is the most important part of my decision. My best advice to make a positive and lasting impression is to:
- Be very prepared, which means spend a lot of time refining your deck and then rehearsing your presentation
- Be honest and genuine and don’t try too hard to impress the investors, as this is often counterproductive
- Try to convey your passion and determination to succeed and build a business for the long-term
Fundraising is a big challenge for most food and agtech startups. What advice can you offer founders trying to find the right investor to work with through the startup life cycle?
- Spend a lot of time researching who your best investor is (go on their website, check their portfolio, get to know their investment thesis, etc.). Sadly, many founders don’t invest the necessary time and end up sending their deck to investors that are not interested in what they do.
- After you’ve done your homework and prepared a list of investors, make sure you send them a nice short email with your deck. It always helps to get an introduction from a friend, investor or even better, one of their portfolio companies. Then, be patient and don’t expect an answer in a week.
- Don’t raise too much money in the beginning as you might end up spending it in the wrong way.
- Networking is key. It’s always a good idea to build a relationship with investors even before you need money so they can get to know you and follow your progress until you’re ready.
- Be careful when you choose your next investor or VC. You need to find people who will support you for the long term. Try to find investors that will provide you smart money and will be able to spend time mentoring you as you grow your business.
How can entrepreneurs strike the right balance between purpose and profit in their pitch?
If entrepreneurs are willing to build successful and sustainable businesses, they will end up striking the right balance organically, as purpose is often at the core of what they do or why they wanted to start the company in the first place. We were lucky to find and back many of these companies, and I am very optimistic about this, as most of the great entrepreneurs I meet today are willing to do good and contribute to improve the food system. My best advice is to be as honest and authentic about this in your pitch as possible.
Which food and agri trends appeal to you most? Are there any proving particularly popular with investors right now?
I am interested in most of the new trends in sustainable food and regenerative agriculture technology that will help us to fix and re-invent our broken food system, from AI and big data robotics to gene-editing via plant-based foods and cellular agriculture. I am currently focused on a few specific themes, including:
- Plant-based foods and other new sources of alternative protein, from insects to microalgae
- AI, big data and robotics, and particularly how these new technologies can empower farmers to save time and money, while increasing their revenues and improving their health and the health of the soil and livestock
- Food safety and all the innovations that improve the provenance, health benefits and nutritional value of what we eat while reducing food waste across the entire supply chain
- Microbiome and all the new research around the gut that’s encouraging consumers to improve their health from a more holistic point of view
Severine Balick runs Matador Ventures, a boutique advisory company where she advises large food corporates on innovation, how to work with start-ups, deal origination and also invest in food and agtech start-ups on behalf of family offices. In 2015, Severine was nominated one of the top 30 Women Leader’s in Tech at the Women’s Forum with Nathalie Massenet, Sophia Amoruso, Jessica Alba, etc. Severine holds a Master in PPE and a Mphil in Finance. Read more about Severine here and meet her in person at FoodBytes! London 13 September.