For years, Foodbytes, the innovation arm of Rabobank, was best known for its traveling pitch competition that showcased innovative startups in food and agriculture.
But a lot has changed in the food world over the last several years. A global pandemic followed by supply chain issues, inflation and geo-political conflicts leave question marks around food security. Climate change further complicates matters.
To address such things and foster greater innovation in food and ag, Foodbytes has revamped its business as an online hub fostering connections between startups, corporates and investors. It will also serve as an information hub on industry trends and analyses.
“This platform is really in line with the maturity of the industry and players in this space,” says Rabobank executive director Nina Meijers. “Ten years ago, the world needed a pitch competition for food. We don’t think the world necessarily needs that anymore, and this is why we’ve evolved.”
From onstage pitches to online hub
Meijers has been with the Foodbytes brand since its earliest days.
“The ethos of Foodbytes has remained the same since the beginning,” she says. “It’s the long standing innovation arm of Rabobank, but it’s really always been about creating connections between startups, corporates and investors.”
Foodbytes started in 2015 as a pitch competition that traveled from city to city in the hopes of discovering innovative food startups. Over the years, the competition has boosted the likes of Biome Makers, Great Wrap, Greeneye Technology, The Live Green Co., and many other names familiar in agtech and foodtech.
In 2022, Foodbytes announced a shift from the pitch competition format to a virtual model that offered programming to 15 startups each quarter.
“Instead of, say, five corporates and 15 startups, we reached 45 startups and 50 corporates through our programming,” Meijers says. “We learned there was more and more demand from our corporate clients and from investors for these connections with startups, and for startups to meet the right potential partners in their journey. So, in response, we built this continuous connections hub that can do that.”
Now, the new Foodbytes hub includes more than 1,200 startups and over 300 corporate and investor users – and growing.
More than a database
“We’re more than just a database,” says head of Foodbytes Stijn Rook. “Other databases scrape a lot of data to add startups. We allow startups to create their own profiles and keep them up to date. And we have much more comprehensive information.”
Startups submit a profile that includes not just the basics but also a pitch deck, product or founder videos and what the company currently needs (e.g., funding).
The Foodbytes team vets each startup profile before publishing. Startups then keep their profiles updated with their latest news, traction, fundraising stage, future milestones and other information useful to potential partners and investors.
“We have new vetting badges, including the Foodbytes Pick badge, which denotes commercial readiness, impact and profile depth,” says Rook. “And our Alumni badge indicates that a startup has been through our historical program and rigorous vetting.”
Corporates and investors can sign up for free to view startups. Different membership tiers offer different perks, from being able to view pitch decks and vetted startup lists to customized enterprise plans.
The other crucial element of the new Foodbytes! hub is a stream of regular content.
“Every month, we’ll put out reports and insights and curated startup lists,” says Meijers. “These insights are going to be really helpful to inform innovation strategies for corporates or scale strategies on the startup side.”
Content is built around key themes set by the Foodbytes team each month: robotics and automation, sustainable packaging, food waste and so forth.
“This is a proactive tool for innovation,” says Foodbytes brand director Katie Myers. “[Other databases] track things after they’ve happened. The goal of this is to really create a forum for startups to say what they’re looking to do, whether they’re raising a Series A or looking to expand to the North American market.”
“Startups can say what their needs are based on their growth trajectories, which is really a big differentiator between us and what else is out there,” she adds.
A reciprocal platform
Eventually, the team would like to offer a similar function for corporates. For example, a major CPG hoping to invest in sustainable packaging could communicate that via the Foodbytes hub.
“They’re not going to share every nitty gritty detail of their internal strategy, we understand that,” says Meijers. “But startups are sharing their future milestones and needs, the types of partnerships that they are looking for. We want corporates to do the same so that this can really be a reciprocal platform.”
Early corporate adopters of the platform include Barilla, Hershey’s and Rich Products.
“Over time, we’d like to incorporate more filters and layers that will help corporates with their searches, whether it be through their ESG goals or aligning with scope three emissions and UN metrics,” notes Myers.
Rook echos this, saying Foodbytes is currently working on new features based on user feedback from corporates, investors and startups alike.
“Foodbytes is a window to the future for Rabobank,” he says. “It’s about fostering meaningful connections at scale and using those learnings to drive overall industry sustainability. Bottom line, the hub is a 21st century tool to help F&A corporates and investors innovate their core businesses while helping startups grow more efficiently.”
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