NutritionInvestor reviews the presentation of food and biotech entrepreneurs eager for investment to accelerate their go-to-market plans at this year’s Future Food-Tech
Investors meeting a start-up team via virtual meeting on the computer

A hotbed of networking and debate, this year’s Future Food-Tech invited nine start-ups to present their businesses to investors attending the virtual event. The showcase, which took place on 17 September, focused on three vertical themes: health and nutrition, personalisation and digitisation, and plant-based products.

Atmo Biosciences, InnovoPro, Loewi, MeliBio, MyAir, Mori, NapiFeryn BioTech, Oceanium, and SavorEat joined the virtual stage and in 15 minutes summarised the milestone achievements they have reached to date, and shared their ambitious growth plans.

Investors listened to their pitches and asked tough questions to determine the robustness of the business model and viability of the go-to-market strategies. Nerves aside, all presenters explained in simple terms the key elements of their products, services, and growth plans.

Jet Luckhurst, start-up partnerships manager at Rethink Events, the Future Food-Tech organiser, led the selection process for this year’s event. “Typically, what I look for in a presenting start-up across the Future Food-Tech series is something that challenges the norm, bursts the banks of tech-tradition and ultimately solves a core problem.”

Luckhurst says he keeps his ear to the ground, and combines precision research with an extensive food-industry network to see which start-ups are making a significant noise in the market and which less vocal, ‘stealthier’ companies can share a new perspective.

The selection of investors to chair the showcase goes through a similar path. “We’ve been fortunate enough to build some great relationships with a wide range of global venture capital and strategic investors over the years,” says Luckhurst. “We will typically look to match the stream specific start-ups with investors from our network that complement their technology type as this creates a more meaningful post-presentation interaction.”

MeliBio, NapiFeryn Biotech, Loewi, and SavorEat are familiar names to NutritionInvestor. These companies have made headlines in news and features we have produced recently, so this report focuses on the less familiar brands.

Health and Nutrition

MyAir and Oceanium pitched their businesses to investors Patrick Huber of Atlantic Food Labs and Pamela Shepherd of Manna Tree Partners.

Founded in 2016, Atlantic Food Labs is a venture studio and early-stage investor for start-ups headquartered in Berlin.

Based in Vail, Colorado, Manna Tree Partners is an investment firm committed to human wellbeing and functional health. The company invest in the future of human health, powered by food.

Rachel Yarcony of MyAir explained that stress can be managed by healthy eating. A functional food company, MyAir delivers personalised boxes with nutrition bars made with a mixture of active “super plants”.

Top: Rachel Yarcony of MyAir at the Future Food-Tech Start-up Showcase

The company has delivered to hundreds of consumers in the US, and Yarcony said in-house research has shown that 72% of clients demonstrated positive effect after eating the bars, with stress level decreasing by 21%, and sleep quality increasing by 20%. “Plants are the world’s first technology, and we believe in food that works for ‘me’,” she said.

MyAir’s healthy bars are made with a formulation of plant-based molecules proven to reduce stress through the endocrine and autonomic nervous system. The company has developed a patent-pending algorithm based on AI technology that uses input from smartwatches to analyse physiological data combined with psychological data through cognitive assessments to create an individual profile.

Karen Scofield and Charlie Bavington, co-founders of Oceanium, brought to the investor’s attention the health and nutritious potential of seaweed.

Founded in 2018, Oceanium entered the market to meet the demand for sustainable and healthy food while providing a solution to the plastic crisis in the oceans by developing a solution for packaging with no end of life.

Top: Karen Scofield and Charlie Bavington, co-founders of Oceanium

The founders explained that seaweed is a sustainable crop, and one that’s good for people’s health and the planet. Scofield said seaweed absorbs carbon and nitrogen, creates marine protection to the area where it’s farmed, and has a nutritious profile full of vitamins, minerals and oils. Seaweed farming doesn’t require land, chemicals and water, and, of course, seaweed production creates jobs.

Oceanium’s proposition is to create demand for seaweed farmers and supply products to people who wants them. The company takes seaweed from farm currently in operation around the world into its biorefinery. Through a propriety technology, all the botanical and nutritional components are extracted with minimum waste.

Bavington said this process converts $1,000 worth of raw seaweed into $1,700 product value. Flagship products to commercialise in a business-to-business model in the food space are protein and fibre, mostly beta-glucans and fucoidan, ingredients used in the production of cosmeceuticals, food and feed, digestive health, diabetic and diet aid, and medical devices.

Personalisation and digitisation

Niccolo Manzoni of Five Season Ventures and Thomas van den Boezem of EIT Food met with the start-ups in the personalisation and digitisation showcase. 

Five Season Ventures is a French venture capital company that invests in food and agtech entrepreneurs seeking a healthier, more sustainable and more efficient food system.

Based in Brussels, EIT Food is a European not-for-profit organisation working with challenger brands and food corporation in the transformation of the food system to mee the challenge of feeding people in the future.

Malcolm Hebblewhite, chief executive of Atmo Biosciences, presented to the panel what is known to be the world’s first ingestible gas-sensing capsule for monitoring microbiome function. 

A clinical-stage digital health business, Atmo’s technology provides insights into gut health, allowing a personalised medicine approach to gastrointestinal disorders. Atmo completed human trial in 2017, and research continues with five pilot programmes under way, and four scheduled for next year, addressing a range of medical needs.

Hebblewhite revealed the company has seen “strong interest from commercial parties and key opinion leaders in collaboration opportunities”.

Top: Malcolm Hebblewhite, chief executive of Atmo Bioscience

He pointed out that gastrointestinal problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, affect one-in-five adults, and yet there is no definitive test or biomarker available in the market, proving its diagnosis, treatment and management a challenge for clinicians because it is based almost entirely on symptoms. 

“Directly measuring microbiome function is a major unmet clinical need,” he said, arguing that understanding the microbiome function and its role in each individual is crucial for a personalised approach to therapy.

Adam Beheren, chief executive of Mori, presented the company’s natural solution to food waste. Mori uses a protein from silk to create an edible and tasteless protective layer that keeps food fresher for longer. 

The patented technology can be integrated at any time from farm to shelf, allowing food producers, food processors, and retailers to extend shelf lives, reach new markets, and reduce waste.

Adam Beheren, chief executive of Mori

Beheren explained that more than one-third of the food produced globally goes to waste, leading to trillion-dollar in economic loses. “We want to encapsulate that revenue by extending shelf life by directly addressing multiple mechanisms of why food goes bad: gas exchange, dehydration and microbial growth, through a natural and edible natural protective layer onto the outside of the food item,” he said.

The silk protein that Mori uses has proved compatible with the majority of food and surfaces. The silk protein is also used because it’s capable of deterring microbes, and it’s safe to use. Branded as Mori Silk, the technology is self-designed GRAS (generally recognised as safe) with the FDA in the US.

Beheren also explained that the layer is implemented before packaging, and that food processors integrate the product into the pre-existing wash steps.

Mori Silk has been used in kale, veg noodles, cherries, beef and fish and has proved to expand shelf life.

Plant-based products

Chris Kerr of Unovis Asset Management and Leah Volger of Manta Ray chaired the start-up showcase that focused on plant-based products.

New York-based Unovis invests in the alternative protein sector with a particular focus on plant-based and cultivated replacements to animal products, including meat, seafood, dairy and eggs.

Manta Ray is an early-stage venture capital fund based in London, and it’s set up to back mission-driven founders addressing the global challenges through leading-edge technologies. 

Taly Nechushtan, chief executive of InnovoPro, described the progress the company has made in the plant-based space. Founded by Dr Ascher Shmulewitz in 2013, the company began operations in 2015 and was the first to commercialise chickpea protein to the food and drink industry. InnovoPro uses chickpeas from Canada. 

Taly Nechushtan, chief executive of InnovoPro

Nechushtan argued that consumer preferences are changing and rather than becoming vegetarians or flexitarians, most consumers are looking for plant-based proteins that are natural, free-from chemicals and allergens like soy, gluten, and don’t like genetic modification.

Addressing these preferences, InnovoPro has developed CP-Pro 70, a product with four key properties: neutral taste and colour, clean label, 70% protein concentrate, low carbs and sodium content, and functionality. CP-Pro 70 is easy to incorporate in formulations, it’s soluble, with high foaming capability, and it also works as an emulsifying agent.

Nechushtan said these properties allow CP-Pro 70 to be used in a variety of formulations, from meat to dairy alternatives. She revealed that several brands in Israel, France, the Czech Republic and the UK have launched new plant-based products using InnovoPro’s ingredient, including Migros, Switzerland’s largest retail company.

Potential for disruption

The Future Food-Tech Start-up Showcase is yet another tool in the global event designed to bring together players in the foodtech space, and time will tell the fertile ground of these presentations.

For Luckhurst, innovation can only spark real change when traditional methods are disrupted, and he believes that true disruption doesn’t come from the corporates, it comes from start-ups. 

“Each of these start-ups represents an area in need of a real shake-up within the food system whether that be personalised functional foods to tackle and overcome stress; clean sustainable cell-based honey to abolish our dependence on traditional un-balanced honey production; or protein from silk that creates an all-natural edible protective layer, thus reducing unnecessary wastage and addressing food safety. Collectively these start-ups are leading the change in food-tech innovation,” Luckhurst concluded.

Date published: 1 October 2020

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