Expo Milano is the place to be for the food world this year. Taking place in Milan, Italy from May through October, it is the first world’s fair devoted entirely to food. It’s expected to draw 20 million visitors and exhibitors from 140 countries to showcase and explore how technology can help guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for all.
Now Expo has added a business accelerator to its long list of programming. The USA Pavilion, in partnership with AtelierSlice and Microsoft Corporation, recently announced Feeding the Accelerator (FTA), a 3 month program that will provide mentorship, workshops, lectures, a hackathon series and networking support to 8-12 disruptive food tech startups.
Entrepreneurs from around the world are encouraged to apply to the virtual-meets-physical program, which consists of a 2 month (July and August) online mentorship “bootstrapping” component and a 1 month in-person intensive at Expo in September.
Unlike many other food startup accelerators, FTA does not offer monetary investment or take equity in selected startups. Startups are responsible for their own travel and basic living expenses.
We caught up with FTA curator Johan Jörgensen to learn more about the program. “Our ambition is to produce beacons for the future of food” and to “extend the notion of an accelerator into a larger ecosystem around food”, Jörgensen tells us. Learn more about the mentorship component, program logistics and the two winners from Seeds&Chips the have been pre-selected to participate in FTA in our interview below. You can also get more details and apply here.
Our interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Johan Jörgensen: Our ambition to produce 8-12 beacons for the future of food. Expo is usually a place for showcasing already existing products or services, but Feeding the Accelerator wants to showcase how we can use the same development processes for the food world that the very fast-moving US tech sector uses. This means combining high-level, innovative business development with a solid understanding of the underlying products and services and adding risk-taking investors on top. The food world is like the Internet back in 1998. We can see massive potential for development, but we need change agents. We can think of none more powerful than the US tech and innovation space, which has created fundamental change in industry after industry.
JJ: The most differentiating factor is the context. Expo is the Grand Prize if you deal with the future of food. The whole world gathers in Milan in order to discuss how to feed the planet in a healthy and sustainable way. The accelerator can benefit from full integration with the USA Pavilion, its program and its visitors.
We also have the ambition to extend the notion of an accelerator into a larger ecosystem around food. Over the last few years we have seen an explosion in the number of accelerators, but not all of them are good. In far too many cases they are about “dressing the bride” for an investor demo day, then leaving the entrepreneurs on their own, rather than introducing entrepreneurs to the networks they need long-term.
Another differentiating factor is that we neither offer investments nor take equity. This means that companies are free to optimize their own financial set-up. Additionally, our applications are open to startups from all around the world, not just to US companies.
JJ: We want to see new and far-reaching food concepts with a potential for rapid impact without the need for massive research investments or development time. Companies should have existing traction, a great team and international outlook, and tech should be at the absolute core of the company.
JJ: The idea behind running a virtual accelerator for two months and then a physical one in Milan during the month of September is to maximize the potential of the Expo, while taking into consideration both the daily work of the teams, as well as their current location. Because we’ll be accepting startups from around the world, we do not want to disturb their work too much by moving them to the other side of the planet for an extended period. Instead we will offer them virtual coaching, pushing them to develop for the opportunities at Expo.
When selected teams arrive in Milan they will not write code and develop business plans; they will present, sell, launch, connect with people, participate in events, etc. That is also one of the reasons why we have teamed up with the leading innovation hub in Milan Copernico, which will house teams during their time at Expo.
Expo is a global melting pot. Accelerator participants will be able to meet new partners, investors and build networks that can last a lifetime. But for that to happen, they must have their fundamentals in order, i.e. business model, price-lists, partner target lists, kick-ass technology and stellar presentation skills. It will be a grueling two months for selected teams, but the accelerator team will be there to help them shape up their skills and offering. Then, during the one month at Expo, they will have the opportunity to speak, present to VIPs and meet with potential partners and investors.
JJ: Mentors and lecturers will be launched continuously over the next few months. That said, most of the mentors and lecturers will be added depending on the needs of the selected teams. After the final selection we will run assessment sessions with each team to understand what they specifically need in terms of help and guidance. Based on that, we will do the final staffing.
JJ: Both these teams point to the future of food without either of them actually producing, distributing, selling or cooking food. Um.ai uses graph databases and crunches big data to help people make educated choices about the food and ingredients they consume. Mintscraps uses algorithms and sensors to deliver food waste data, which is core to our understanding of consumption patterns and large scale reduction of waste. Both companies are tech intense and have young and savvy teams that want to produce meaningful change. They simply match our selection criteria perfectly.