Interview: Food Tech Matters Partner Branchfood discusses its work with agri-foodtech start-ups

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4 min read

We talk with Food Tech Matters Partner Branchfood to talk about the agri-foodtech space, their work and the start-ups they’ve invested in.

Branchfood is based in Boston, a leading US tech hub. Established in 2015 to support sustainable food innovation in the New England region, Branchfood catalyzes the connections among food founders, experts, and industry leaders, accelerating the key partnerships that will transform the future of food. Through their sister company and angel investment network, Branch Venture Group, Branchfood extends their support to the food innovation community through funding and expertise. Branchfood is a visionary community of innovators anchored in Boston with a global reach.

What does the agri-foodtech sector in your country look like?

The agri-foodtech sector has been witnessing great change, adaptation and innovation. In 2020, agri-foodtech startups raised $26.1 billion, a 15.5% year-over-year increase, which AgFunder, a leading data source in the industry, expects to increase to more than $30 billion as new 2020 deals come to light. This would represent 34.5% growth over 2019.

Upstream we’re seeing advancements in cellular agriculture with entrepreneurs innovating on ways to scale and commercialize alternative protein all while improving the sensory experience. In farming operations, advancements in synthetic inputs, genetic engineering, natural microbiology, farm management software, and novel farming systems such as Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), are at the forefront enabling farmers to preserve or enhance soil and animal health while maximizing their output without further degrading the environment.

Within the food supply chain, there is an increased focus on efficiency and traceability where suppliers are continuously leveraging technology such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to increase food safety and automate processes. Downstream we’re seeing more suppliers leveraging data to improve customer recognition and deliver more personalized shopping experiences. Furthermore, with e-commerce on the rise, our retail infrastructure has been witnessing rapid change specifically around last-mile delivery services.

Which areas of the agri-foodtech sector are in particular need of innovation?

Looking to the future, we hope to see more regenerative agriculture innovation that would preserve and restore the health of our soil. Offsetting greenhouse gas emissions that the industrial food industry has been producing for decades is paramount to helping our food system evolve. In this regard, traditional farming practices would have to be reevaluated to enable farmers to shift towards more environmentally-sustainable practices possible on a large scale. We also expect to see more innovation on the food waste front related to composting and optimizing the recycling infrastructure across the US.

What are the most important characteristics you look for when investing in start-ups?

When considering startups for investment, Branch Venture Group focuses on food-related companies at the beginning of their development cycle. Prototype, beta product, or product in the market with initial beta customer traction is ideal. We’re looking for unique products, technology, or services with lasting competitive advantage which typically includes strong intellectual property and strategic industry relationships. Furthermore we look for visionary founders and entrepreneurs who seek to build world changing businesses in need of funding as well as mentorship and support for the development of their business.

Which start-ups have you worked with/accelerated and why?

Through our work at Branchfood and Branch Venture Group, we’ve supported founders developing revolutionary innovations that will provide efficiency and sustainability in the food supply chain for generations to come. Our portfolio companies are working on everything from Cultured Decadence’s cell-based crustacean meat; to Atlantic Sea Farms carbon sequestering seaweed-based consumer products; to OpenCity artificial intelligence software automating food ordering; and Mori’s all-natural silk products that slow the spoiling process of fresh foods. Through our investment work and capital stewardship, we seek to play a supportive role in financing founders who envision a healthier, more sustainable future for us all.

Do you invest globally or in specific regions?

Currently, Branch Venture Group invests in North America-based startups.

What is your advice for start-ups beginning in this industry?

The food industry is full of opportunities for innovation. Find real problems, listen to the market, and work with people in the food industry to help you reach your goals. Building a successful business is a collective effort and to the extent that Branchfood and Branch Venture Group can be helpful, we hope to be! Please reach out at info@branchfood.com or info@branchventuregroup.com.

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