On 23 June, a cohort of nine early-stage startups graduated from StartLife’s latest acceleration program and are now raring up to tackle global issues across the agrifood domain. StartLife also announced the launch of a new program: StartLife à la Carte.
On the graduation day, StartLife’s managing director Jan Meiling spotlighted the urgency of innovation in the agrifood space. “Two weeks ago, there was a message to the world that we’re not going to meet our climate goals,” he stated. Nonetheless, a more sustainable food system would play a crucial role in addressing this. “Therefore, we need to speed up innovation. Even if we’re just a small part of a complicated puzzle, we need to take responsibility,” Meiling urged.
From alternative proteins to waste reduction and more effective agriculture, this cohort’s startups all offer innovative means of addressing these vital questions.
Bringing goals into focus
StartLife’s acceleration program graduates highlight the connections they have gained over the last few months.
The startups flagged StartLife’s help in terms of structure. “We learned how to handle business and investment strategies and validate the market, for example,” explains Saptarshi Mukhopadhya, Development Manager at InsectSense, which has developed a biochip that mimics insects’ extremely sensitive sense of smell.
For Upstream Foods, which is developing cell-based fish fat, co-founder Kianti Figler says that each of StartLife’s coaches brings decades of experience that is crucial to young entrepreneurs. “We have the vision, the drive, the ambition, but to plug into that experience is great for us.”
The co-founders of Upstream Foods also agree that structure has been a key aspect of the program. “We were given an ecosystem of support that helped us grow and prioritize our focuses,” says Figler.
Everyone on the Upstream Foods team has a biotech background. They have found that the food space has a completely different culture and rhythm. “Understanding that space and market, plus getting connected with industry professionals, was very valuable for us,” Figler continues.
For Naturanova, the Chile-based company behind a computational peptide discovery platform, StartLife gave key advice about the EU’s regulatory scene:
“We’re working with companies from Europe that are also established in the US and Latin America because there are regulatory challenges that we are figuring out,” says co-founder Antonella De Lazzari.
“A key part of the program that helped me both personally and the company as a whole is networking,” says Mukhopadhyay. “StartLife has an extensive network in the agrifood domain, which adds a lot of value for both market validation and business opportunities. This helps understand the exact problem that is in the market, as well as potentially converting it into a business opportunity,” he continues.
For the Germany-based Organifarms, the StartLife program was very beneficial for understanding the Dutch market for farm robots and helped it gain local contacts.
“We had some early contacts, but StartLife gave us a better understanding of the market to scale up and be successful here in the Netherlands,” says CEO and co-founder Dominik Feiden. One example is connecting Organifarms with different banks to help finance equipment.
What’s coming next?
The startups are now fizzing with energy for their next steps. Upstream Foods has recently raised pre-seed funding and is now stepping into the lab to develop a proof of concept. “Our seed round will probably take place around 18 months from now, so we’re casually talking with investors to understand what it is they value,” adds Figler.
Naturannova is also at a very different stage after working with StartLife. “We can now prove high traction for our team. We’ve got a lot of homework to do with exciting challenges ahead,” says De Lazzari.
Meanwhile, InsectSense is speaking with investors to see which will align best with its strategy: “We’ve also learned that success is not just about external activities, like validation and strategy. It’s also about product development, because unless you have that, nothing else matters. Now we’re focused on real tangible product development,” explains Mukhopadhyay.
Finally, Organifarms is celebrating the release of its product demonstration video and is now carrying out pilot customer trials: “We’re showing how it works – we can prove that we’re not just talking and actually can deliver. Then we will bring the first units onto the market,” details Feiden.
Among the other graduating startups are NoA Biosciences, Gaia Tech, Lite+Fog, Groam and Next Probiotics. More information about the cohort can be found here. You can view the complete recording of StartLife’s Accelerate Spring 2022 Graduation Day below.
"The next cohort of the StartLife Accelerate program will start in September, with applications open until 19 July. Want to join? Check the StartLife Accelerate page.
Introducing “StartLife à la Carte”
The graduation day also unveiled StartLife’s latest program: StartLife à la Carte. It will allow startups to access the support they need on a fully tailored level. Informally, the support has been in place for some time already but has been kept under wraps until now.
Each year, StartLife takes up to 40 new startups under its wing. While around half enter its acceleration program each spring and fall, personalized tailored support is also given to about 10 to 20 individual startups throughout the year.
“Although I had fun referring to our ‘secret program’ when talking to startups, it made more sense to also get this program out in the open,” says Bram van Beek, StartLife’s Marketing & Communications Manager.
Loet Rammelsberg, StartLife’s Program Director adds that making connections is a central focus within the program.
“In the end, connections are what matters most – and that’s why most startups don’t make it. They might end up building something that nobody needs. There’s a nice combination in connecting investor and corporate feedback with the new technology startups bring to the table,” he details.