18 months in the Italian (FoodTech) startup ecosystem— Part 2

Max Leveau
Jul 3, 2019 · 6 min read

After looking into the Italian startup ecosystem overall in the first part of this article, let zoom into what matters to us at Forward Fooding…Food :)

The Agri-FoodTech sector

Food in Italy…Hundreds of years of tradition, taste and (understandable) pride, and a very touchy subject. As a French in Italy, I am being asked on a weekly basis which food I prefer. I can’t answer that question for obvious diplomatic reasons, risking expulsion on one hand, or losing my passport and the World Cup on the other 🏆🇫🇷 (this one is another touchy topic…)

Jokes aside, despite an overall economic morosity, the food sector is Italy is doing great. ‘’Food industry is a great resource for Italy, thanks to 61 billion euro of added value, 1.4 million employees, over a million companies, and 41 billion export sales. These are the most important figures that emerge from the latest Report on the competitiveness of the Italian agri-food industry, recently presented by ISMEA (Institute for Agricultural and Food Market Services) in the presence of the Italian Minister of Agriculture Gian Marco Centinaio.’’ This is overall due to persistent strong reputation of “Made in Italy” food at global level, both for raw products & processed food: ‘’It is in fact the leading exporter of pasta and canned tomatoes, with a share of about 65% of the total value of EU exports. As for wine and olive oil it comes in second place, accounting for 27% and 23% respectively. Finally, Italy is the EU’s fourth largest exporter of cheese and dairy products with a share of 13%.’’

But our food system is currently facing numerous challenges at a global level: 9 billion people to feed on the planet by 2050, the agriculture (and in particular the meat industry) sector generating ⅓ of total greenhouse gas emissions, the total surface of arable land constantly shrinking, ⅓ of the food being produced currently being wasted, just to name a few. Is the ‘Made in Italy’ preserved from these issues? Of course not. So the question is: how is Italy doing when it comes to finding sustainable solutions? In other words, what about the agrifood-tech sector?

For those not familiar with it, ‘’Agri-FoodTech (or FoodTech) is the emergent sector exploring how technology can be leveraged to improve efficiency and sustainability in designing, producing, choosing, delivering & enjoying food’’; in other words all the innovations, mostly driven by startups, aiming to better the food supply chain from farm to fork and make it more sustainable.

At global level, the sector is booming. According to a recent report from Agfunder, almost $17B have been invested Agri-FoodTech companies in 2018 across 1,450 deals, overall representing a 40% increase compared to 2017. At European level, while the UK and France are leading the race with respectively $338M & $324M raised in 2018, Italy is lagging behind with only $34M. That said, and as highlighted by the same Agfunder: ‘’While low on the leaderboard for total funding, Italy contributed the third highest number of deals in 2018. Its median deal size was only $400,000. Seed stage deals claimed 28 out of 31 total funding rounds, pointing to Italy’s nascent agrifood tech industry.’’ While still early-stage, the Italian FoodTech ecosystem is more active than ever. In their recent report, Startup Geeks have shortlisted some of the most impactful Italian startups in the sector, with a dominance in ‘downstream’ innovation and food delivery, thus following an overall European trend.

While the governmental initiatives mentioned further above leave room for optimism, what about the private sector? Well, just looking at the food industry, Italy has seen some major actors stepping in in the past year or so. Just to name a few, international accelerator Plug & Play is launching a new food-focused program in Milan; Deloitte launched their FoodTech Accelerator alongside corporate partners Amadori, Cereal Docks & Finiper; local catering giant CIRFOOD is launching their own food innovation center, EIT Food has partnered up with the University of Turin, StartupBootcamp FoodTech successfully completed its third cohort; and last but not least, coworking space gurus Talent Garden are just about to open their first verticalized coworking space focused on the food sector in Milan. One the latter, I have asked Talent Garden CEO Davide Dattoli to name a few factors that are currently missing for the Italian ecosystem to become a global leader: “As we all know, the excellence of the Italian food sector is recognized at a global level, but there is a lack of innovation and opportunities to scale. Following Talent Garden’s mission in our new campus in Milan, we want to connect the Italian ecosystem to an international network of innovators, giving them access to business opportunities and technology resources.”

And what about us at Forward Fooding? While building up partnerships in Italy with some of the above companies (stay tuned), we just launched our FoodTech Data Navigator, a fully customizable data intelligence to help businesses keep up with trends, innovations and funding movements from startups, accelerators & investors. Last week also took place our first #FoodTechRoma meetup, with more than 30 attendees involved in the Agri-FoodTech sector in Rome, mixing innovative startups like Too Good To Go, Soonapse, Deliverart, Ponics with NGOs like UNIDO, FAO, WWF & other stakeholders like BizPlace or B-eat. The vibe was great, the crowd relevant and engaged and the event very well received. Next one to be announced soon and concrete actions to be taken ;)

The path to success

Having witnessed the above in the past 12 months makes very optimistic for the near future and pretty confident that Italy’s startup ecosystem (both foodtech and overall) is at a key turning point at the moment. In my opinion, a few things are important to keep in mind to succeed:

1. Build communities & a more collaborative environment: keep organising events, bring foodies, techies, students, corporates, investors, NGOs & other organisations together, in order to generate connections & ideas.

2. Educate the younger generations & the general public both about the challenges of the food system, to get them involved and concerned, and to entrepreneurship in general, to make it perceived it as a valuable and exciting career path.

3. Bring innovations from outside Italy to inspire local entrepreneurs & corporate organisations.

In other words, we need to create a virtuous circle that will generate inspiration, ideas, and connections, to see more impactful startups emerging, and more investors stepping in.

Let’s get to work…or ‘Daje!’ as the Romans would say ;)

Want to learn more about Forward Fooding? Visit forwardfooding.com or email us at info@forwardfooding.com.

Want to get a live demo of our FoodTech Data Navigator? Visit https://datanavigator.forwardfooding.com/

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