A non-profit consortium of venture funds, banks, corporations, universities, and foundations has launched a platform to invest in startups and projects addressing some of the food system’s major challenges.
Called FoodShot Global, the new investment platform will launch a new challenge each year for innovators with bold “Moonshots for Better Food” to apply to. The first challenge — Innovating Soil 3.0 — is a search for businesses, projects, and ideas that utilize the latest in technology, science, and engineering to address the crisis of soil deterioration.
The platform will provide selected innovators with equity, debt, or grant funding from the consortium that includes Rabobank, Generation Investment Management, agtech VC Acre Venture Partners, the Rockefeller Foundation, UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food and Health (IIFH), and the entrepreneurial segment of the food giant MARS (MARS Edge).
FoodShot also aims to make available in-kind support from the consortium and its network such as access to laboratory space at UC Davis, for example.
FoodShot was founded by Victor Friedberg, a co-founder of the leading agrifood tech venture capital firm S2G Ventures, on the belief that multiple stakeholders all need to play a role in modernizing the food system.”
“The way I look at venture capital in regards to the overall mission of creating a healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable food system, is that it’s really an important tool, but it’s not the entire toolset,” he told AgFunderNews. “There’s another set of tools that need to be brought together and integrated in a way that solutions can scale faster and more collaboratively.”
Friedberg first thought about the concept when he was doing due diligence on Apeel Sciences, the shelf life enhancement technology, when he was at S2G Ventures. During that process he saw that not only venture capitalists were excited about the potential for the technology — to curb food waste, and increase food quality and efficiencies in developed markets — but there were foundations also investing. These impact-focused stakeholders were looking at Apeel for a totally different application: to help rural smallholders navigate a food system without a cold chain and still get their produce to market without spoiling.
“The challenges facing our food system are at such a scale that one fund, bank, philanthropist or non-profit alone is not going to be able to solve them,” said Sara Eckhouse, executive director of FoodShot. “There is a real need for collaboration to take on these challenges to provide a longer timeframe of financial support from the earliest stages through commercially investable companies.”
“The current venture investment fund system tends to be reactive with VC funds looking at the companies that come to them. At FoodShot, we want to start with the problems first, and ask innovators to come and solve them; then find the funding to support their ideas,” she added.
For the Innovating Soil 3.0 challenge, FoodShot is looking for innovations that will improve input efficiency, crop resistance, and carbon sequestration, and reduce deforestation. “To develop a 21st-century soil operating system, FoodShot is seeking innovators tapping into advances in biology, genetics, and chemistry, and solutions that lean on big data, smart sensors, blockchain and robotics to set the framework for a food system capable of sustainably producing healthy, nutrient-dense food that is accessible to all,” reads a release.
FoodShot is now accepting applications from for-profit businesses for equity or debt investment from the consortium. It is also accepting nominations for the Groundbreaker Prize, a cash prize to be awarded to rising stars working in research, social enterprise, or advocacy.
For the debt and equity portions, FoodShot will not decide which companies ultimately get funding — that is at the discretion of the partnering groups such as Rabobank and Acre. But the FoodShot team will perform a detailed evaluation of the applicant companies and present to the consortium the most promising entrants, according to specific criteria.
Criteria include inevitability and scalability, as well as alignment with FoodShot’s mission, for a healthier, sustainable and more equitable food system, how unique and novel the innovation is, and global relevance. The funding will be stage agnostic since the consortium is able to invest at varying stages.
“That’s part of the beauty of having multiple partners; we have a full spectrum of capital,” said Eckhouse.
Once the most promising Groundbreaker Prize candidates are identified, they will be asked to submit additional information. However, if a for-profit company applies for funding but is for some reason not suitable for those tracks, they could be diverted to the prize category, according to Eckhouse. “The Groundbreaker Prize is slightly different to the other funding options; it doesn’t necessarily need an inevitability aspect. What we want is for it to have a high likelihood of success but also a catalytic effect on advancing the challenge area.”
While FoodShot partners are not required to invest in any of the finalists shown to them, they have all put in a shared commitment to the platform and format, argues Eckhouse. “We don’t expect every company we forward to receive an investment, although there will be at least one Groundbreaker Prize per challenge, but if we got one or two debt or equity investments, that would be a success and show the model is working,” said Eckhouse.
FoodShot will aim to add value to the finalists in other ways too, such as though its relationship with UC Davis’ Institute of Food and Health. UC Davis will fund and provide access to laboratories for finalists to conduct R&D. “This is an exciting new model of engagement with the university community, not just for startups but for the university itself,” said Eckhouse. “Exciting work happens at the university but never leaves, so the people at UC Davis want to ensure they’re working to solve problems and bring solutions to the marketplace.”
The founding partners all contributed to the ideation behind the program and identifying the first challenge. They were: Rabobank, Generation Investment Management, Mars Edge, IIFH, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Builders Initiative, agriculture regeneration investor Armonia, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture
“This was a collaborative effort every step of the way, even figuring out how to structure with the prize, equity, and debt portions,” said Eckhouse.
FoodShot’s current resource partners are Acre, Path Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, The Soil Health Institute
“The great thing about FoodShot is that it can be expanded to bring in more partners who are committed to this kind of collaborative stakeholder model for making our food system healthier, more sustainable and more equitable.”
Find out more and apply before December 1, 2018, here.