Fixing food? Norwegian investor eyes up tech entrepreneurs of the future

by Sarah Shearman | @shearmans | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 28 February 2020 17:10 GMT

A staff member walks to harvest microgreens at an indoor hydroponic vegetable farming facility in Beijing, China August 12, 2019. Picture taken August 12, 2019. REUTERS/Florence Lo

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A Norweigan investor is aiming to boost innovative food start-ups tackling issues including climate change, biodiversity or malnutrition

By Sarah Shearman

LONDON, Feb 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Entrepreneurs tackling the future of food can vye for a $150,000 investment as part of an initiative launched in London on Friday seeking to unearth food technology such as robotic farming and lab-produced meat.

Oslo-based investor Katapult will offer the sum to about 36 promising entrepreneurs who wield tech to combat climate change, biodiversity loss and malnutrition.

The scheme aims to identify startups such as vertical farms for growing food at home and synthetic biology companies that make plant-based meat alternatives, Katapult Food's Eirik Svendsen told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We wanted to see if there is a way to fix the (global) food system... food tech is probably the most effective lever we can explore," he said at the Conduit club in London.

With support from the Conduit, a private members club focused on social change, the "accelerator" will also furnish the entrepreneurs from around the world with marketing skills and networking opportunities.

Accelerators - usually associated with Silicon Valley venture capital - now encompass schemes that help foster innovation among businesses trying to deliver social and environmental impact, as well as financial returns.

There are more than 1,400 social entrepreneur accelerators globally with many concentrated in the U.S., according to Conveners.org, a global events organisation.

The rapid growth of food technology has seen global food giants Danone and Unilever launch schemes for startups that tackle problems like sustainable packaging and food waste.

Shares in U.S. company Beyond Meat rocketed last year when investors cashed in on the first publicly listed veggie meat company and the growing popularity of plant-based protein alternatives.

"There are definitely more investments in this space, and in the past four years we went from an industry that was almost zero to $19 billion invested in food and (agriculture) tech," said Severine Balick, founder of Matador Ventures, a London-based investor.

"There is a trend and traction around [food tech] now that makes it attractive, but also there are some traps you need to avoid," said Svendsen.

"A lot of capital is being pulled in with the expectation of a quick return. You can get quick returns, but we are not interested in that - we believe in sustainable companies operating sustainable growth," he said. (Reporting by Sarah Shearman @Shearmans. Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and slavery, property rights, social innovation, resilience and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)

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