EIT Food Accelerator Network provides showcase and support to growing agritech and foodtech ventures

The IfM is in the third year of running the Cambridge hub of the network, offering expert mentoring and helping agritech and foodtech start-ups across Europe to increase their chance of becoming commercially and sustainably successful.

Institute for Manufacturing
IfM Insights


Fieldwork Robotics is one of the ventures participating in the EIT Food Accelerator Network in 2021. They are developing and commercialising selective and autonomous harvesting robots for soft fruit and vegetables. Photo: Fieldwork Robotics

The EIT Food Accelerator Network is a network of hubs across Europe which help agritech and foodtech start-ups to develop their technology and business, providing mentoring and linking them with major corporate and research partners.

Cambridge is the site of one of six hubs, with the IfM taking the lead. The programme draws on both the expertise from the institute and wider network that helps new ventures connect with those that can help them.

“The great thing about the model we use is that it’s not a universal, where they’re all taught the same things,” says Ian Bamford, commercial director for the IfM’s Centre for Industrial Sustainability, which runs the Cambridge hub.

“We use a process called the ‘triple chasm model’ to evaluate where they are in their journey and to help them to focus in on the areas where they may have weaknesses. The model tells you why your venture is different than the others, why one needs to do more on, for example, marketing and PR, while another needs to do more on the technology that underpins what they’re doing. This helps companies focus on improving the things that are going to be really advantageous to their own journey.”

“The great thing about the model we use is that it’s not a universal, where they’re all taught the same things… The model tells you why your venture is different than the others, why one needs to do more on, for example, marketing and PR, while another needs to do more on the technology.”

— Ian Bamford, Cambridge Hub Lead

An important part of that model is the one-to-one relationships that can be formed with mentors.

“A mentor has a lot of experience so we can answer some simple questions,” says Gary Punter, a visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge who has provided mentoring for the past two years.

“A basic one is: where do you add value? Many start-ups will talk excitedly about the technology they are developing, which is understandable, but to take the next step they need to think in terms of the value that they are bringing to the customer.

“Once you understand how the customer looks at your business, you start to understand where your niche is, how you set prices… all the things that define your value to the customer. Everything leads from there.”

For Punter, finding an ambitious, but realistic, path forward is the goal.

“It is interesting. You get some companies that are idealistic — because we are focused on sustainability — they are idealistic eco-warriors who have a grand idea and want to save the world. And that’s not going to work,” he says.

“At the other end of the spectrum, you have people who are so hands-on and close to the coalface that they’re not lifting their heads up, and they’re working themselves into an early grave, and the business suffers there as well.

“If we’re lucky, the ones that come through are in the middle. They’ve got the passion — as a mentor, I’m looking for people with passion and purpose. And then we try to help them put some shape to that. With passion, purpose and shape, you’re well set up.”

Mentoring takes place in conjunction with networking and matchmaking opportunities throughout the year of the programme. The biggest of these is a showcase event at the end, which allows the new ventures to present their plans to potential investors, corporate partners and other companies who could help them find a route to market. This year the showcase was a hybrid event, held both in person in Malaga, Spain, and online on 20 October.

After three years of the programme, the benefits are beginning to show. A venture from the first cohort in 2019, Deepbranch, a company which uses CO2 captured from power stations and hydrogen to create sustainable animal feed, raised over £6.5 million this year, helped by contacts that they made through the Food Accelerator Network.

“As a mentor, I’m looking for people with passion and purpose. And then we try to help them put some shape to that. With passion, purpose and shape, you’re well set up.”

— Gary Punter, Cambridge Hub Mentor

“In general, it was a really good experience,” said Pete Rowe, CEO of Deepbranch. “Tapping into the local expert pool here [in Cambridge] was really useful. It was nice that [the team] went through the effort of bringing on board experts from different companies based on who was here.”

This year’s start-ups are hoping to build those valuable connections as well, with both investors and each other. According to Bamford, the relationships built between ventures, who might be future partners, share technological insights, or just become friends within the industry, are an important part of the network as well.

“They’ve been a really dynamic group this year,” says Bamford. “Each group — we’ve done three now — each group is very different. They have their own characteristics. This year, they’ve found it easier to engage remotely than last year’s group, who were trying to do it for the first time. So they’ve been more comfortable in saying what they think. They’ve known how to interact effectively remotely. And they’ve been very engaged.”

While the network is geared towards generating progress for the start-ups, Punter says it is equally rewarding for the mentors.

“It’s interesting to see the waves of innovation come through,” he says. “And it gives me a very good insight as to some of the talent that’s coming through. That’s really reassuring. As someone towards the end of their career, it’s great to see these entrepreneurs and creative people who are starting their careers.

“As mentors, we try to be kind and constructive. They’re doing things we’ve never done. I have a lot of empathy for them, and I think they’re quite courageous.”

Webinar: Catalysing food-tech

This webinar, held in December, was designed to show how the EIT Food Accelerator Network (EIT FAN) programme has helped some of the most impactful start-ups in the agri-tech and food-tech sectors.

Two recent Alumni shared their experiences of the programme and how it’s helped them to accelerate the growth and development of their businesses.

To watch the recording of the webinar please visit: https://www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/insights/sustainability/what-is-the-cambridge-eit-food-accelerator-network/

Learn more about the 2021 ventures from the Cambridge hub

Micron Agritech
Their pitch:
The Micron Kit is a pen-side testing kit that allows farmers or vets to rapidly detect parasitic infections in cattle. Samples are analysed via the Micron app through a revolutionary machine learning process. This saves time and reduces spending on medication.

Freshseal Ltd
Their pitch:
Mildtech, a seed funded project of Freshseal, is a cleantech, smart tech, disruptive process using AI to support sustainability in food processing and production with leading edge food cooking and drying processing equipment.

Beta Bugs Limited
Their pitch:
Insects are excellent sources of protein for feed as well as a broad range of other resources from bio-materials to fuel. However, having only recently been domesticated, insects, unlike other agricultural species, are far from optimised for industry. There are huge improvements to be made in efficiency, quality of produce and ease of farming. At Beta Bugs we are changing this through the application of state-of-the-art breeding programmes and tried and tested bio-techniques.

Glaia Ltd
Their pitch:
Glaia will transform agricultural productivity with a revolutionary technology that enhances photosynthesis, providing the much-needed sustainable increases in crop yields, effectively reducing the emissions stemming from crop production. Our technology allows plants to harvest light more efficiently and facilitates the processes involved in biomass production resulting in increased crop yields.

Multus Biotechnology Ltd
Their pitch:
Multus Media creates the key ingredient to make cultivated meat affordable, scalable and profitable. By reinventing the feed used to grow muscle and fat tissues, we enable cultivated meat to be an affordable and sustainable choice for everyone. We use a proprietary machine learning platform to optimise a variety of growth factor proteins to meet the requirements for growing different animal cell types and tissues at scale.

Their pitch:
We develop high precision weeding solutions for organic and conventional farmers to replace herbicide usage and manual labour. We use machine vision to recognise plants and high-power lasers for precision weed elimination.

Decomer Technology
Their pitch:
Decomer Technology is developing novel plant-based, water-soluble and edible packaging materials and products. Decomer’s solutions can be used in various different industries: food, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, detergents and in general packaging, offering an eco-friendly alternative to plastic packaging. The natural building blocks can be easily composted.

Fieldwork Robotics
Their pitch:
Fieldwork Robotics is developing and commercialising selective and autonomous harvesting robots for soft fruit and vegetables. The aim is to improve the efficiency of agriculture and address the long-term structural decline in agricultural labour worldwide.

Smarter Food
Their pitch:
The Smarter Food Company has been established to develop foods with proven health benefits. Our food products use a proprietary variety of broccoli that has a high level of a naturally occurring compound, glucoraphanin. In addition to data linking glucoraphanin to possible blood glucose reduction, there is also research to suggest that glucoraphanin can reduce cholesterol and may have a beneficial impact on heart disease and various cancers, including prostate cancer.

Their pitch:
Farmbetter is a mobile app that uses a farmer’s location, situation and farming goals to put tailored and actionable know-how directly in the hands of the farmer. Farmbetter provides tailored information using a survey and geolocation along with environmental data, practices and areas of focus. We have been working with farmers in developing countries for over 10 years to help them access access personalised information on how best to cope with the effects of climate change.