Big change typically involves taking risks a lot of traditional investors may not be willing to make.
This is the credo that for the last five years has driven the team at FoodShot Global, an investment platform built on the idea of funding pivotal ideas to transform the food system into one that is more healthy, sustainable and equitable.
A collaboration between venture funds, corporations, foundations, universities, and other entities, FoodShot has spent the last half-decade framing these pivotal ideas.
“The original idea was to build a broad, collaborative platform,” says FoodShot chairman and founder Victor Friedberg. “We wanted to create a platform where many voices could determine where to apply resources and thought leadership around food system challenges and innovation.”
A simple idea — with great complexity.
Origins of FoodShot
FoodShot Global was first developed inside investment firm S2G Ventures, which Friedberg cofounded in 2014. Spun-out as a non-profit organization, it was — and remains — based on the idea that systemic change in the food system happens when multiple stakeholders work together to fuel innovation.
Around the same time, Rajiv Singh, as the CEO of Rabobank‘s business in North America, was looking for creative ways for his institution to support innovation in the food system. He saw the value of Friedberg’s initiative to utilize “foodshots” to shine a spotlight on under-invested big problems in the food system and bring the whole capital continuum, from grants to different forms of equity and debt, to address those.
Singh became the first investor to support FoodShot’s mission and is the co-chair of the organization.
Early days also saw the appointment of Sara Eckhouse as executive director as well as involvement from founding partners including Builder’s Vision, Rabobank, The Innovation Institute for Food and Health at UC Davis, MARS, the Rockefeller Foundation, Generation Investment Management, Armonia, and many others.
“That core group gave us the confidence that where we wanted to go was possible,” says Friedberg. “They pushed us to think more structurally about what FoodShot Global could be and the ideas and strategies being developed within S2G (and later Builder’s Vision) became a big part of the vision for FoodShot. ”
It also gave FoodShot the opportunity to offer multiple types of capital. As systemic changes are typically harder to implement than incremental ones, finding strategic capital, whether equity, debt or non-dilutive, is elusive for many innovators.
“We were trying to think about long-term solutions that weren’t necessarily going to be quick fixes,” says Eckhouse.
“That’s why we built a platform where we have multiple types of capital – we can catalyze innovation and support entrepreneurs even before they are ready for external investment.”
The FoodShot mission is best illustrated through its annual “FoodShots” — innovation frameworks that tackle key leverage points to transform the food system. Startups, researchers and entrepreneurs working in the chosen topic area submit their ideas; the best receive equity or prize funding and become part of the FoodShot portfolio.
To date, four of these FoodShots have been announced: Innovating Soil 3.0; Precision Protein; BioActive Foods; and Water: The Essential Input .
Each FoodShot seeks applicants whose innovations align with the published framework. Once candidates are vetted, FoodShot selects the best to receive equity and non-dilutive financing through The GroundBreaker Prize. Now in its fifth year, FoodShot Global has awarded 15 GroundBreakers, including 10 recipients of over $1.5 million in non-dilutive funding, and five equity investments of over $10 million.
‘We’ve always been on the leading edge’
“It’s always interesting when you bring a group of partners from different sectors and perspectives together,” says Eckhouse, who adds that creating a shared framework forced the FoodShot team to “think more deeply and in a more nuanced way” about the challenges it has adopted.
“We’ve tried to think comprehensively about the food system, and that shaped how we chose our FoodShots, even when it sometimes felt like we were talking about issues that weren’t on everyone’s radar yet,” she adds.
For example, conversations around soil health were extremely nascent five years ago; those innovating in the space struggled more often than not to find capital for their ideas.
Nowadays, of course, soil health is part of many investors’ portfolios.
The same goes for a category like bioactive foods, the topic of the third FoodShot. “Looking deeply at the food-health nexus and how it works at a mechanistic level was also a pretty nascent space, and now it’s gaining tremendous momentum within the food as medicine movement,” says Eckhouse.
Staying on the leading edge of things isn’t without its challenges, though. Eckhouse notes that over the last five years, some FoodShots haven’t attracted as many relevant applications, especially from outside the U.S.
However, that’s slowly changing. “We’ve been able to broaden our reach,” she says. “Now we have our partners and we have a global network to really find the people at that leading edge whose work needs and deserves support.”
Nor does FoodShot have any plans to step back from the cutting edge.
“We’re always going to be a bit ahead of where more mainstream investment dollars are going,” says Friedberg.
“In these emerging areas (like bioactive foods), a lot of this work is being done at the lab level and at very young, but quite cutting-edge, companies. And this is happening at the same time that capital has started to become very constrained,” he continues.
“One of the opportunities we see is a blended-finance platform where grant money can be linked to a specific equity instrument. It allows us to see progress in the more novel approaches, and if we time it right, the grant funding can transition into mainstream equity investment for greater impact and scale.”
Towards the next five years
Future plans will include more FoodShots, but also branching out to work on what Friedberg calls “Special Projects.”
First up is a pilot focused on metabolic dysfunction, and specifically pre-diabetes.
In partnership with The Innovation Institute for Food and Health, Seeding the Future and a handful of others (soon to be announced), FoodShot Global is building a model based on the integration of phenotyping, nutritional science, personalized nutrition, behavioral science and business model innovation, in addition to new ideas around pricing, access and delivery of healthy food.
“The belief is if you can put those together into an integrated approach, you can move people from metabolic dysfunction to metabolic health on a food-only intervention,” Friedberg says. “There are many organizations who are doing pieces of that, but nobody’s put that together in an integrated model.”
FoodShot will also raise a fund in 2024 to use for direct investments from FoodShot Global itself, he adds.
“Right now we do that in collaboration with our VC and equity partners, including Peakbridge, Acre, Yamaha Ventures, The Yield Lab, Cornucopian Capital, and others. But this would be the first fund managed within FoodShot Global and will enable us to manage investment cycles effectively and jumpstart our blended capital strategy.”
In Friedberg’s view, this would realize “the vision we developed in the early days to bring to the market a full spectrum capital continuum.”
“That’s how we’re going to deliver on the mission of food system transformation.”