There’s a global movement of entrepreneurs developing technologies who are helping preserve and reinvigorate local food systems. They’re creating everything from sensors and software that help farmers improve operation to online marketplaces that allow farmers and food artisans to sell direct to consumers. So it should be no surprise that this movement has made its way to Italy, a country with great respect for its culinary traditions.
Three weeks ago, I spoke at the Internet Festival in Pisa, Italy, where I had a chance to meet with some of Italy’s food and ag tech entrepreneurs and investors. Like the United States, issues around the commodification of food, loss of heritage seeds and breeds and growing consumer demand for organic and sustainably produced products are driving this birth of a new generation of startups. In fact, Giacomo Bracci Helsen, CEO of Florence-based jenuinō, an e-commerce subscription platform for local food, and Alex Giordano, co-founder of Ninja Marketing , estimate there are 100 – 150 food and ag tech companies in Italy, although I have not been able to confirm that number.
It’s still very much the early days, though. Rural technology adoption in Italy is fairly limited, Helsen and Giordano tell me, as is venture funding or financing of any kind. To address these challenges, Giordano and Francesco Martusciello, co-founder of Gaff Digital Strategy and Grotta Del Sole winery, secured a 1.2 million euro grant from the government to launch Rural Hub, a physical and virtual business incubator that will offer rural startups mentorship, research and connections to funders. Rural Hub organized the rural innovation track at the Internet Festival and hosted an investor pitch day to expose the venture community to this sector.
The following is a selection of some of the more promising startups that demoed at the iInvestor pitch day.
jenuinō offers weekly local food box subscriptions, similar to that of Community Supported Agriculture, which allows its customers to support producers and discover seasonal, healthy food. The startup has a proprietary recommendation system that builds taste profiles for its users to offer a personalized experience, and it plans to expand its operations through a franchising model.
SmartGround helps farmers reduce waste and optimize farm management through its sensors and accompanying software platform. In particular, the technology focuses on improving water use and remotely monitoring harvests through sensors.
GoodMakers is an ecommerce platform that facilitates group discount buying of wine from “good producers.” The startup only sells wines from producers “who do things well, which enhance and protect the territory and keep alive an ancient craft of passion, respect and love for the land,” according to text translated from its website. Its goal is to highlight great producers, connect them with consumers and shorten the supply chain to make their wines affordable. Goodmakers is also building a robust physical and virtual space to share and preserve Italy’s knowledge and traditions.
Quicibo allows users – consumers and restaurants – to search for local products and buy directly from farmers. The startup has many social features to encourage users to discuss their favorite products and share them with their friends.
Gnammo aims to be the “AirBnB of food.” The social eating marketplace allows users to organize and market or find culinary events.