How a Food Accelerator Program Can Help Provide Mentorship and Funding

What is a Food Accelerator?

Some enterprises use business accelerators and incubators interchangeably. But are they one and the same? 

Consider a business accelerator as hitting the gas or brakes, turning the steering wheel, and achieving velocity. Meanwhile, a business incubator is as simple as revving the engine. Both intend to reach a destination.

In the business sense, accelerators speed up the growth—the “velocity”—of an existing or even already well-established company. Incubators, on the other hand, make business ideas “safe and warm” in order for these to grow. Although both provide guidance and support to startups, incubators are typically geared toward companies in their early stages. Accelerators are intended for enterprises that already have a working business model but need further support moving forward.

An accelerator will also provide an enterprise with short-term yet extensive, and individually tailored guidance, connectivity to an established community of practice, and the necessary financing to scale business expansion. These highly structured cohort-based programs are usually delivered in exchange for a stake and equity in the company.

Many accelerators are generalists that cater to various industries. Some accelerator programs, however, focus on specific sectors from electronics, fashion, healthcare, digital media, and agriculture to food and beverage.

Food Accelerator Programs

Food accelerator programs focus on providing resources and services to businesses engaged in the various subsectors and interests in the food system. Like any other accelerator program, food and beverage accelerators aim to increase business growth opportunities by providing expert mentorship and peer-to-peer support, as well as access to investors or direct investments in a cohort-based learning-by-doing environment.

There is no one-size-fits-all model for how business founders learn through a food accelerator—or even a food incubator. These programs provide a variety of training curriculums and coaching content on a variety of business topics. Click here for more information.

Food accelerator programs, while typically comprehensive in terms of the learning they offer, are also structured differently across accelerator companies due to diverse needs, objectives, and expertise. Some may concentrate on streamlining business processes, while others may focus on providing entrepreneurs the opportunity to place their products on retail shelves, both in brick and mortar stores and online.

Business accelerators in the food ecosystem likewise work in different portfolios or thematic areas such as sustainable packaging and novel food. Some of the programs under the sector include:

  • Food Tech Accelerators

  • Consumer Packed Goods or CPG Accelerators

  • Alternative Protein (Alt-Protein) Accelerators

  • Biotechnology Accelerators

  • Sustainable Seafood Accelerators

The first two, food tech and CPG accelerators, can be thought of as umbrella categories for a variety of accelerator programs, though a CPG accelerator can also be considered as a food tech accelerator and vice versa.

Food Tech Accelerators

Food tech or FoodTech, refers to a broad and complex ecosystem of food entrepreneurs who innovate through science and technology on one or more segments of the food value chain, including production, processing, distribution, and marketing. It even covers how Internet of Things (IoT) innovations and big data are being leveraged to transform the food industry.

Also referred to as AgriFoodTech, food tech is not a new concept. Industry leaders have long used technology to produce more food of higher quality. However, there has been a focus on efficiency and sustainability in food technology. This is one of the sectors that has been reshaping the global food system.

Food tech accelerators seek to assist food entrepreneurs or founders whose businesses seek to solve global food-related challenges through technological innovation. Accelerators would seek companies that are developing alternative products, technologies, and services that, among other things, promote healthier people and the environment and address production and consumption issues such as agricultural and food waste.  These accelerator programs may cover categories such as:

  • Consumer Technology or Consumer Tech - These companies develop services, software, and devices to assist consumers in identifying the best food and nutrition products and experiences based on their preferences and goals.

  • Supply Chain Management - These businesses create technological solutions to improve the efficiency of the food supply chain. Their efforts include shopping automation, data-driven food waste management, and the introduction of more sustainable food and beverage packaging.

  • Food Service - The goal of these companies is to reinvent the food service industry by introducing new ways of managing and running food service enterprises. These innovations include online reservation and payment systems, cloud kitchens, robotics, and even digital marketing strategy for food businesses.

  • Agricultural Technology or AgTech - These companies aim to improve food production and sustainable agriculture by utilizing cutting-edge technologies such as farm management apps, robotics, mechanization, and novel urban farming systems.

  • Food Science - These businesses develop new food products and ingredients, such as plant-based alternative proteins, as well as other improved types of food and beverages that cater to healthier lifestyles and promote food as medicine.

CPG Accelerators

A food and beverage-based company may also benefit from the assistance of a CPG accelerator or an accelerator program that assists food product businesses in the CPG sector. This can be done after graduating from a food and beverage startup incubator program when the business is already established. But having been incubated is not a usual prerequisite for being accepted into a CPG accelerator or any other accelerator program.

When a CPG business enters into an accelerator program, they get the benefits from any accelerator offers including access to funding assistance from food business investors and expert advice from food business mentors. They also undergo rigorous training covering topics that will help founders create a successful CPG business such as developing a winning packaged food business marketing plan.

Some CPG accelerator programs are offered by big large CPG companies such as Nestle and PepsiCo. While the bigger companies support the CPG startups, the young businesses—which are frequently ambitious, driven and creative—bring their fresh viewpoints and ideas into the larger CPG food companies. Creating an incubator or accelerator program is becoming more and more common for large CPG corporations seeking exposure to new and potentially faster-growing portfolios. Larger corporations can also incorporate CPG newcomers into their branding and marketing strategies, not to mention the possibility of acquiring the new brand in the future.

However, there are also other non-mainstream and non-CPG companies that help small CPG food entrepreneurs establish their brand. FoodFutureCo (FFC) is one of these companies. FFC is a food-specializing accelerator that assists companies in developing innovative products and services to address various challenges in the food system. Its focus areas include CPGs, food tech, ag tech, locally produced food, plant-based food, sustainable seafood, and food waste solutions.

Harvest Returns, an online agribusiness crowdfunding platform; 4P Foods, a direct-from-farm grocery delivery service; and Seal the Seasons, a frozen fruits and vegetables enterprise that delivers local produce year-round, are among the portfolio companies that have joined FFC's accelerator program cohorts.

Why Food Accelerators?

Food preferences are rapidly changing around the world as people become more concerned about their own and the planet's health. Along with this change comes the emergence of new market opportunities in the food industry; as a result, food entrepreneurs must keep up with these developments, which are frequently accompanied by technological advancements. These entrepreneurs, on the other hand, may be unable to absorb the changes and may face difficulties, causing them to become lost in the process.

Food accelerator programs such as FFC’s have been able to assist new companies in coping up with the changes in the food business landscape, for instance, in developing expert-informed, thorough roadmaps that could usher them to greater success, providing clearer directions from concerns such the general question of how to market a food business to the more specific question of how to market food delivery businesses.

But more than the high-level mentorship and access to funding, networks, and markets, food accelerators bring together a community of people and organizations who share the same passion, advocacy, and vision for the future of food—one that is healthier and more sustainable—driven by an interconnected ecosystem of innovators. The opportunities of ongoing learning that lead to sustained founder and business growth are then higher.