Food-business accelerator Food-X launches its second cohort
Tuesday in New York, food-business accelerator Food-X hosted a Launch Day celebrating the start of its second cohort of start-ups. This Examiner has referenced Food-X before, but has never been inside, so she jumped at the invitation to attend as a member of the media.
Founder Shen Tong revisited the themes and aspirations of his TED Talk emphasizing the accelerator’s mission to ‘scale change throughout our food system‘ and its long-term commitment to the ventures it invests in. “We’re almost cool enough now to be in Brooklyn,” he joked.
As with the Brooklyn food scene, and food entrepreneurship and innovation in general, it’s early days for Food-X. The young accelerator is based in New York City with a $50-million Evergreen fund behind it. It officially launched in September, taking on 11 start-ups for its first cohort last fall, and adding another 7 in this one. Shen Tong has made clear his desire to disrupt the food system, and alluded to Food-X’s willingness to play at the ‘patient capital’ end of the traditional finance spectrum.
Shen Tong and partner Sean O’Sullivan have launched incubators for other industries before. Will expertise from other sectors help or hurt their capacity to succeed in food? Voices in food innovation are divided on this question. Some see tech or energy or life sciences expertise as bringing fresh eyes to food. Others believe food has a unique culture that can only be understood from within.
The companies in this second cohort range from food donation software to vending-machine smoothies to veggie-rich condiment makers. Visiting with the entrepreneurs at their display tables, this Examiner asked about the Why for each business and how it sees its position on the current, albeit constantly tilting, food landscape.
How did the companies and Food-X find one another? Stories varied. “We were introduced to Food-X after an open office hours meeting with Sean,” explained Tinia Pina, founder and CEO of Re-Nuble, which makes liquid fertilizer from food waste. “He showed interest in what we were doing and felt we were germane to the portfolio of companies Food-X invests in.”
Most exciting to this Examiner is food-drive disruptor Amp Your Good, a ‘crowd-feeding’ company that leverages Kickstarter mindset and Amazon buying behavior for giving to local food banks. “I grew up in a family restaurant,” said CEO Pat O’Neill. “and from a very young age witnessed the importance of getting people the food they need at the time they need it.”
The Amp Your Good platform operates like a registry. Givers pay for items that are then directly channeled from fresh food wholesaler to food bank (Amp Your Good manages the distribution piece of the business as well), leveraging now-pervasive just-in-time food delivery systems to shift food bank donations away from canned, non-perishable (low nutrition) items toward fresh, nutritious, specifically requested food items.
App-maker Fooze triggered the most questions for this Examiner. With just one tap, the late night food delivery app allows the Millennial with the munchies to order predetermined comfort foods for a flat fee of $15.00. No decisions to make, no confusion. Indeed as CEO Lisa Wang promised in her pitch, “You don’t have to think.” Fooze’s pitch was punctuated by someone in a bear costume who danced around her, and this Examiner couldn’t help but think of thesweet and salty mascots of childhood.
The appeal of food convenience is clear. Since the earliest days of big food companies and their skillful moves into our kitchen cupboards and freezers (creating game-changing free time for many of us, it is worth remembering), convenience and ease have been the ultimate brand and category promises.
As food got faster and faster, and food companies did more and more for us, we stopped asking Who and Where and How. Indeed, we stopped thinking about food much at all. And so hearing from Fooze with its ‘one tap’, the question arises: Does technology applied in this way support disruption in how and what we eat? Or is it simply the microwave of the 21st century?
This Examiner gets the appeal of ‘one tap, no think’ to the Silicon Valley set but would argue that eater entrepreneurs need more mindfulness when it comes to what we put in our mouths, not less. And mindfulness starts with questions. If I don’t interact with my food and the makers of it, how can I ‘eat the change’ I want to see in the world?
From one end of the spectrum to the other, Food-X’s companies are designing change. “This is not a fad,” Shen Tong assured the crowd. He announced that Food-X will begin hosting a speaker series and Launch Days every six months.
This Examiner hopes that as Food-X evolves it chooses to open its doors to others in creative ways: leveraging the full landscape of food-system influencers and innovators in smart designs that inform everyone present to the contours and layers of the only industry that truly touches us all.