Future Food-Tech New York spoke to Seena Amidi, Director of Food and Materials at the Plug and Play Tech Center on the key elements he looks for in a start-up, the company’s accelerator programs, start-up models and the biggest challenges facing the global food ecosystem.
We are inviting eight early-mid stage technology entrepreneurs to present a 7-minute snapshot of their food-tech solution, and you will be joining a panel of sharks who will give feedback on their tech solution and pitch.
Can you tell us more about your role at Plug and Play and what you look for in a food-tech start-up?
I founded the Food Innovation Platform at Plug and Play with the goal of smoothing the friction between corporations and start-up collaboration. Food is traditionally the slowest moving industry but innovation in this space has the most potential to make an impact. I oversee all investments in food technology at Plug and Play and we invest in over 200 start-ups per year deploying over 10 million dollars annually.
In general, what we look for in a start-up includes team, technology and traction. Food start-ups have the right to mix between food, technical and business expertise. There are many segments in the food industry in need of innovation but not all of them are large enough to sustain a business, so entrepreneurs need to go after large markets.
The technology we’re looking for in this space is focused on augmenting or disrupting the following segments: Agriculture, Livestock, Machinery and Automation, Foodservice and Retail, and CPG. Additionally, we are scouting for technologies related to food safety and supply chain that span across these segments.
Plug & Play are breaking the mold as a food-tech accelerator. Having built accelerator programs, corporate innovation services, and an in-house VC to help advance greater progress, we’re keen to find out more about your unique model and how it was achieved?
Plug and Play was founded with the vision of becoming Silicon Valley in a box. 11 years ago, there was nothing like this anywhere in the world, including Silicon Valley. Our main goal was to attract high quality start-ups and provide services, mentorship and networking opportunities. We have been able to fully maximize this model in all these areas. Our network includes, almost every VC in the valley, 250+ corporate partners, over 20 global locations, and over 700 annual events.
There are a number of large corporations involved with the Plug and Play program. What does their involvement entail? And what successes are celebrated through the Corporate Innovation Award?
Plug and Play will not partner with a corporation unless we are an integral part of their innovation goals. Every corporate partner visits us at least once a quarter to meet with start-ups. On average, these meetings result in five meaningful engagements per year including, technology integration, investment, and POCs.
We recently awarded our partner Tyson Foods with the Corporate Innovation Award for our Food Innovation Platform. Having worked with us for five months they’ve participated in over 20 events, 3 private deal flows with 18 start-up meetings, signed 9 NDAs and formalized 3 pilots with start-ups. We are proud to recognize our most engaged and enthusiastic corporate partners with this award.
How are Plug and Play addressing some of the biggest challenges in the global food ecosystem?
99% of start-ups fail. Our goal is to find the start-ups that are tackling major challenges in the food value chain and increase their success rate. Some of our start-ups reduce food waste, produce sustainable packaging, or create new ways to feed the world. If we are able to help even one of those start-ups impact the world – we will achieve our goals.
What do you think is needed to move new ideas into scaled implementation and into the mainstream?
The food ecosystem has many hurdles. Scale is one of them. Plug and Play has a network of mentors that have already tackled these challenges. Our main expertise is on the business development side. We understand how to run a business and how to grow it little by little. Plug and Play’s Founder and CEO, Saeed Amidi, funded this business through his earlier success in the water business. He has started over 50 water companies around the world and still sells water today. Our core competency is building a business.
If there is a venture and innovation gap, what could key funding stakeholders do to bridge this?
Entrepreneurs have existed in the food ecosystem forever. The way we invest in these entrepreneurs is game-changing and venture capitalist money has not always invested in food start-ups. This transition has allowed food start-ups to speed up growth with capital. It is true that it is hard to raise money as a food CPG, but 50 years ago it was harder. With every passing day we are seeing more and more VC’s involved in food. The gaps we are seeing today have always been there but hopefully the VC’s will be more open to investing in all segments of food.
How is the Future Food-Tech Summit important to your strategy for Plug and Play?
Plug and Play is new to food-tech and to this day, food-tech does not have a leading conference. Hardware has CES, Fintech has Money 2020, what is the food tech equivalent? Plug and Play is constantly expanding our network and the Future Food-Tech Summit in our eyes has one of the best networks in this industry. We believe that this summit could become the CES for the food industry.