The VTT-led agrifood accelerator celebrated the Demo Day of its pilot 4-month program kicked-off back in June 2020 in Helsinki. The accelerator became the sixth point on the map of the pan-European EIT Food Accelerator Network (FAN).
By ANASTASIYA MARKVARDE
The format of the Demo Day was hybrid: online streaming was complemented by the offline event with limited attendance hosted by Epicenter Helsinki and arranged in compliance with current Covid-related restrictions. On-site gathering made it possible for the teams-participants to finally meet in person (with some of the teams who made it from Sweden!) and make the most of networking opportunities with industry stakeholders, investors and media present at the event.
Out of 10 startups- participants (read more about each team here), 2 teams were selected to go to EIT Food Venture Online Summit 2020 taking place on November 17-18. At the Summit, the startups will compete for three 100 000 euro prizes together with 12 teams from other EIT hubs.
Get to know the winners
Eniferbio is a Finnish team that made a spin-off from VTT in 2019. Eniferbio produces high-quality proteins for animal feed using an upgraded version of the Pekilo process. The startup plans to partner with biorefineries and leverage their underutilized dilute side streams converting them into valuable protein.
The first industry Eniferbio is focusing on is aquaculture: the technology offered by the startup results in much more sustainable fish feed compared to the most popular component which is soy. Simo Ellilä, Eniferbio’s CEO, mentioned during the pitch that 50% of a diet of farm fish is now soy-based which leads to deforestation and has a negative environmental impact. Currently the team is working on pilot production for feed trials and by 2022 is planning to sign the first contract for the commercial plant.
Mycorena is Swedish startup developing a protein ingredient for food manufacturing. The team uses a sustainable funghi fermentation technology to produce protein with a complete amino acid profile and text and texture resembling meat.
Unlike other novel proteins, EFSE (European FOod Safety Organization) doesn’t classify fungi-processed protein as a novel food meaning that Mycorena has immediate access to the human food market.
Anton Johansson, IP & Finance lead of Mycorena, revealed during his pitch that tha startup is already producing 100 k of protein per month with sample sales to prospect customers. The target is to reach 60 tons of annual production by the end of 2021 and build the factory in Falkenberg, Sweden.
Glancing back at the program
FAN Nordic Hub is organized by VTT in Helsinki under the EIT Food Accelerator Network umbrella together with two local partners: Valio and Helsinki University. The combination of Finnish and European collaborators made the networking component of the accelerator really strong. Moreover, the partners were heavily engaged in the day-to-day flow of the program: apart from numerous sessions and mentoring activities, VTT together with Valio and University of Helsinki allowed access to their labs leveraging 10 k eur budget for each team.
The content of the program was to a big extent tailored and tuned to the specific needs of each startup. Hence, together with sessions on sales, go-to-market strategy and pitching, the startups went through co-development workshops with corporations. Such workshops, facilitated by Vertical, a Finnish open innovation company, enhanced the opportunity for startups to validate their assumptions and continue working on the contractual business with the corporates.
Paolo Borella, Program Manager of FAN Nordic Hub, commented on the specifics of the accelerator: “I’m proud to say that the first edition of our program resulted into a truly intensive and international journey for the startups. We were running our activities beyond Finland and the Nordic region: thanks to the EIT Food Accelerator Network widespread connections, the teams got access to such big names as Nestle, Dohler, Givaudan, Puratos and Pepsi. By all means, the startups also benefited from the EIT-led pitching sessions to international foodtech and agritech investors. We were thrilled to land the accelerator here in the Nordics and Baltics and are already looking ahead to the following edition of the program. VTT is welcoming food- and agritech startups to apply for the next batch in January and is always open to onboard food partners interested in innovation development.”
Mentors, judges: invaluable asset
More than 150 exports and mentors from the Nordics, Europe and the USA were engaged in the lectures, workshops and 1:1 sessions. Furthermore, each startup team had 1 or 2 dedicated mentors following their progress throughout the whole program.
Making the most of the hybrid Demo Day format, the organizers managed to gather a well-assorted community of investors and industry stakeholders joining the event both online and in presence. The jury, responsible for picking the best teams, was composed of the food and agritech experts: among them Marika King from Paulig Innovation Incubator (PINC) (Sweden), Federico Ronca fromSweden Foodtech and Saga Foss, angel investor active in food segment and board member of FiBAN(Finland).
Insights from the only food-focused VC in the Nordics
Another guest of the Demo Day, Mika Kukkurainen, Partner and Founder at Nordic Foodtech VC, who was also a mentor of the program, shared his assessment of the teams together with commenting on how the Nordic ecosystem evolution led to setting up the first food-only fund in the region earlier this year:
“Together with my colleagues, we decided to fill in the gap and build up a VC focusing on the future of food and food technology, enabling teams to move, for example, from the academic research towards setting up their business. We are investing in early-stage companies in the market of Nordics & Baltics and so far we have been in discussions with over 250 startups (about half of them being Finnish companies). Nordic Foodtech made its first investment in July into Chromologics -a spin-off from the Technical University of Denmark developing innovative and sustainable food colourants. In addition, we will be announcing another investment in a few weeks’ time.
Hence, we are extremely interested to see more promising university spin-offs in this market. Getting back to Demo Day, I can say that there is a lot of research behind the startups from the VTT-led program. It’s really exciting to see what they can come up with and to keep an eye on all the food innovations emerging from such programs. I was a dedicated mentor for Mycorena and have been following eniferBio’s development, so of course happy to have them both as a winner.”