In many ways, 2022 was a pivotal year for The Kitchen FoodTech Hub, a startup incubator known for launching two of the world’s leading alternative protein companies Aleph Farms, Imagindairy, and many others.
Founded back in 2015 by Strauss Group, the Israel-based company has made 23 investments to date, 21 of which are active portfolio companies today. Collectively, these companies have raised over $260 million from investors globally.
“2022 was a very exciting year for us,” CEO Jonathan Berger tells AFN. “Our portfolio companies matured and some of them reached the market and started sales. We also had quite a few rounds of investments [for startups].”
Another major milestone: launching The Kitchen Hub 2 thanks to a grant from the Israeli Innovation Authority.
The new incubator will focus heavily on alternative proteins, an area significantly represented in The Kitchen’s existing portfolio.
“We worked very hard on competing with other parties [for the grant]; not only in foodtech but planet tech, space and climate tech. Getting chosen was a huge vote of confidence from the state of Israel,” says Berger.
This among other things has allowed The Kitchen to be even more attractive to new investors, he adds. “For the first time, we are inviting additional investors besides Strauss Group to the Kitchen.”
“It feels like a nice closure to the first episode of The Kitchen and moving on to chapter two, with 2023 set to be a milestone year for The Kitchen,” says chief business officer Amir Zaidman. “We are moving to a new facility with a centralized wet-lab that will provide startups with all the infrastructure they need for the lab-scale phase. We are also signing collaborations with other institutions for a pilot-scale infrastructure.”
How The Kitchen works:
The Kitchen bills itself as a foodtech-focused incubator that invests in and nurtures startups.
Unlike the accelerator format, which is typically designed to help somewhat developed startups with quick growth, incubators have a weightier focus on mentorship and nurturing through the earliest stages of a company or idea’s lifespan.
Accelerators also tend to have definitive start and stop dates, whereas incubators accept participants on a more rolling basis. Incubators often work with startups and entrepreneurs for longer timeframes, too.
For instance, those selected to work with The Kitchen do so over a period of two years, with access to office and lab space in Ashdod, Israel, where The Kitchen headquarters is located.
These companies meet with senior management from The Kitchen on a weekly basis to tackle the milestones in a mutually-agreed work plan. Startups receive a budget of $650,000 to $750,000 over the two-year work plan period. Strauss Group also makes facilities and experts available.
The Kitchen’s leadership assesses teams with a particular key criterion in mind in the first instance: the teams behind the startups. Berger says that in the past The Kitchen has invested in companies where “the team was okay but the technology was brilliant.”
That was a mistake, he says. “A brilliant team can make the technology brilliant, but the other way around doesn’t work.”
“Agility and flexibility within the team makes all the difference when you encounter challenges,” adds Zaidman. “And it’s going to be challenging: the tech, the funding, the market. If [the team has] this agility or flexibility that will allow it to overcome [those challenges], you’re in a good place.”
The Venture Studio model
But not all ideas come to The Kitchen with a fully formed team and company structure. In many cases, the incubator operates under what it calls “the venture creation” or “venture studio” model. Rather than looking for companies, it looks for new innovations and scientific breakthroughs.
“We go to the universities and research institutions and identify gaps in the market or where we feel the world is going in terms of the food system,” says Zaidman. “Then we look for technologies in those academic institutions and universities. Once we find a relevant IP or science, we license it into a new company that we are structuring.”
The Kitchen then recruits a team, typically designating the CEO and CTO as founders. “So we have a team we can trust because we recruited them and we have a tech we believe in. Then we secure the funding and put in the pre-seed investment, and we launch a new company. It’s really creating something from nothing.”
Others include Imagindairy, created in partnership with Tel Aviv University; Wanda Fish (with Tufts University); Mush Foods (with Migal Research Institute); Prevera (with The Hebrew University in Jerusalem); and Forsea (with both Tel Aviv and The Hebrew universities).
“In 2023 we will intensify the work of our venture studio,” says Zaidman. “We are planning to strengthen our global scouting and license technologies from leading research institutions worldwide. We expect at least half of our new investments to result from venture studio activities rather than from direct investments into existing ventures.”