Partnership Highlight: Accelerating the Future of Food

In an ever-growing pool of startup accelerators geared towards positive social impact, one stands out among the rest (and it’s not just because its founder Shen Tong was a social activist in the Tiananmen Square protests).

FoodFutureCo is the world’s first scale-up accelerator for food businesses. But not just your average food businesses. These are mission-driven companies that are disrupting the traditional food industry and creating a fresh generation of sustainable food companies.

While traditional food accelerators focus on early stage growth, FoodFutureCo supports established companies that are generating revenue, but finding it difficult to progress further.

50% of all startups fail in the first four years, and more than 50% that grow in their third year also experience setbacks in the fourth and fifth year, making it particularly important to focus on early stage development. Leading reasons for failures include a lack of managerial skills and inadequate mentoring. Startups that have helpful mentors, track metrics effectively, and learn from thought leaders raise seven times more money and have 3.5 times better user growth.

As an accelerator with a cohort-based structure, FoodFutureCo helps its entrepreneurs develop operations and growth strategies, provides its companies with mentorship, a network, and $100,000 worth of in-kind guidance.

Recently, Concordia staff visited FoodFutureCo to meet their 2017 cohort and conduct interviews with four member organizations — Seal the Seasons, Unify Water, Generation Fresh, and Ozuké — to discuss the role of partnerships in food sustainability as part of its Campaign for a Sustainable Global Food Supply.

The interviews had four areas of primary focus: identifying the populations for whom the businesses are building solutions, determining the strength and role of partnerships, recognizing challenges the organizations have faced, and highlighting the opportunities FoodFutureCo has provided for the cohort.

Key Takeaways:

Regional food systems can provide equitable access to healthy food. Without regional and local food systems, many individuals do not have access to nutritious and sustainable foods. People in food deserts suffer the most, but the problem persists everywhere. Market access challenges prevent smallholder farmers from entering into most local markets, and farmers markets are too few in number to fully close the access gap. Meanwhile, the average carrot travels over 1,800 miles to reach the consumer, costing a lot of time and energy, with negative implications to consumers as well as the environment.

Government support and funding should prioritize sustainable food systems. While programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are currently in place, there is minimal funding and resources allocated for helping both consumers and producers in our food systems. Smallholder farmers and low income populations are at a particularly high risk of facing obstacles to sustain healthy lifestyles. Funding cuts to the Farm Bill, including a current proposal to eliminate the SNAP program, are additionally of continuous concern.

Supply chain innovations are critical to achieving sustainability goals. The current iteration of the farm to table system is not sufficient or sustainable for a rapidly growing global population. It is critical to recognize where there are gaps in the system and identify what producers need in order to maximize sustainability and efficiency while producing the best foods for consumers.

Good business is not exclusive from doing good through business. The triple bottom line is profitable. According to leaders, the top three advantages to adopting a triple bottom line approach are increased revenue and market share, increased employee retention, and increased community support. 73% of millennials, which represent the largest consumer demographic in U.S. history are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, an increase of 46% from 2014. As consumer consciousness continues to rise and people demand more from the businesses they support, it is beneficial for companies to be proactive about meeting higher sustainability standards.

Partnerships can help fill the gaps! Partnerships are effective in addressing needs and problems that siloed entities may not have the know-how or resources to solve themselves. Leveraging the tools of partner organizations to achieve a common goal can elevate the independent position of each entity.

Organizations like FoodFutureCo are becoming increasingly critical to ensuring the success of companies trying to respond to consumer demands, and to doing so consciously. Applications are now open for the FoodFutureCo’s next cohort.