Nadav Berger on the Future of Sustainable Food Tech & Overcoming Startup “Death Valley”
PeakBridge Partners co-founder and FoodBytes! judge Nadav Berger, lives and breathes food innovation, so we caught up with him on the tail end of our London event to get his take on overcoming the most common food and agtech startup challenges, the trends he’s tracking and what he’s doing to help empower sustainable change-makers.
“I believe the biggest challenges come between the time a startup formalizes a winning idea and scaling the technology to support it”, says Nadav. “It’s a period I’ve tagged ‘Death Valley’, because it’s when you’re tested most and need to draw on all the support you can get, to reach the other side successfully.”
Can you tell us how PeakBridge Partners connects F&A corporates with promising startups in sustainable food innovation?
We’re a fully licensed fund manager incorporated in Malta and a unique partner for burgeoning agri food tech companies. As a member of the EIT Food (European Institute of Innovation & Technology), we work closely with a community of like-minded food revolutionaries, sharing knowledge and ideas and empowering entrepreneurs to develop technologies that can:
- Transform our food ecosystem
- Stimulate sustainable growth and
- Create employment
We bring all of that, as well as decades of experience in fund management, best deal flow, due diligence practices and business development strategy to our clients, helping them find their place in the food tech industry.
We work with companies that specialize in food R&D and applications, food marketing and distribution, and with the help of our global network offer access to quality research, connect businesses with influential industry leaders and ensure the agendas for startups and corporates meet in the middle with shared goals and objectives.
Is there a common thread or characteristics between the startups in your portfolio? Can you tell us about some of them?
In our experience, its exceptional leadership and experience. They’re great starting points for any business, but what we’re looking for most is breakthrough technology, preferably in IP ed – something that will disrupt the industry and impact the world positively.
We’re big on responsible investing and follow the ESG Framework for Private Equity by Invest Europe and the UN Global Compact Principles & UNPRI. That means we work with businesses that think and act with respect on environmental, social and governance issues – startups that want to achieve success with sustainable solutions and make a profit without switching off their ethical beliefs or social consciousness.
We truly believe food tech’s ultimate goal is a have a positive impact on our world, and the fact that sustainable companies are proven to significantly outperform their less sustainable counterparts just fuels our desire to support them more.
Having worn both startup and investor hats, what’s your top tip for burgeoning startups on the fundraising process?
Just as investors are keen to learn everything about a startup before they invest, startups need to pay the same attention and do due diligence on potential investors, before they make any key financial decisions or step into a long-term partnership.
A good investor will welcome questions and be happy to talk about their investment track record, what drives them, the kind of ventures they’re passionate about and the value and expertise they can bring to your company.
For some startups funding alone is enough, but others will benefit from mentoring and expert counsel as much as the financial support, so it’s important to get a clear picture of what you can expect.
When you bring an investor on board, you’re creating a partnership and a good partnership is two-way, so it makes sense to get a good understanding of who you’ll be working with and what makes them tick, before you sign on the dotted.
What are the biggest challenges faced by the food and agtech startups you work with and how can others overcome them?
I believe the biggest challenges come between the time a startup formalizes a winning idea and scaling the technology to support it. It’s a period I’ve tagged ‘Death Valley’, because it’s when you’ll be tested most and need to draw on all the support you can get, to reach the other side successfully.
To make that transition as smooth as possible, I recommend:
- Being clear upfront about what success looks like for your business and your customers
- Asking for help when you need it
- Sounding out ideas and learning from the experience of a strong advisory board
- Talking to prospect customers in advance and ensuring a deep understanding of their needs and wants
- Collaborating with a strategic partner who has valuable insight of your business, industry or target market
What trends in F&A are most interesting to you right now and do you see any areas that remain largely untapped?
There are so many elements in the food chain that need longer-term solutions, but the areas that interest me most right now are in:
- Waste reduction: With consumption constantly on the rise, we’re producing more waste than ever. We need to get smarter on how to reduce, recycle and reuse what we create.
- Packaging: We must to learn to say no to plastic! We’ve poisoned our oceans, land and even our food. It’s time to clean up our act and find eco-friendly alternatives to this age-old problem.
- Technologies for ‘out of home’ consumption: We consume about 40% of our food and beverages out of home currently, but the technology, data and strategies for managing this growing trend are behind the curve. I’d like to see innovations that allow us to gather more information and support the supply chain better, so we can develop sustainable strategies without losing out on the customer experience.
Networking is the name of the game for hustling startups, but it can get sidelined as multitasking entrepreneurs try to do everything. What’s your advice for staying involved and getting the most out of networking events like FoodBytes!?
Networking isn’t everyone’s forte, but it’s something every entrepreneur must learn to master. Great ideas and game-changing technologies will only get off the ground if you know how to talk to other people about them and sell the benefits.
If it’s not an environment you feel particularly comfortable in, it helps to remind yourself that the other people attending the event will have similar hopes and expectations to you. Everyone has an experience or lesson to share and you’ll get valuable exposure to:
- Market trends and the ideas and technologies that have been tested before
- Prospect customers and an opportunity to float thoughts and ideas first-hand
- Competitors and the landscape you’ll be expected to thrive in
- Investors and what they’re looking for
I encourage the startups we work with to attend networking events with a humbled understanding that there’s always something to learn and if you really don’t have the social skills or desire to be part of these events, they’re important enough to add a business development person to your team, so they can represent your business and ensure you don’t miss out.