How sustainable food startups can thrive

More and more sustainable food startups have been popping up as the sustainable food sector grows. One company, AccelFoods, has been providing financial investment and mentoring to help these food startups grow.

Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters/File
Belarussian students gather blueberries in a field at state farm "Polesskie zhuraviny" (Polessye blueberries) near the village of Selishche, southwest of Minsk, July 21, 2014. One company has been providing financial investment and mentoring to help sustainable food startups grow.

The sustainable food sector is still in its infancy, so it provides an incredible opportunity for startups to bring innovative sustainable food practices to chefs, consumers, and farmers. Jess Goldstein, founder of KOLAT, a sustainable food startup, says, “Without startups there would be no innovation. We challenge big food companies to make changes by proving that people are demanding real food. The natural food industry is the best place to play for start-up companies, it’s incredibly supportive. If you have a real, authentic and unique product the whole community, including retailers, really gets behind you and want to help you succeed.”

In order for these startups to build enough resources and influence to make an impact, they must fine-tune their operations, devise development strategies, and secure financial investments. Without the aid of a consulting firm, negotiating the ins-and-outs of business can be a real challenge to aspiring entrepreneurs who have no business experience or connections.

AccelFoods is filling this role by providing financial investment, networking, and mentoring services to sustainable food startups. AccelFoods supports businesses that emphasize fresh, sustainable, and nutritious eating, drinking, and living. Jordan Gaspar, co-founder of Accel Foods, explains that “it is an unspoken commitment of AccelFoods to support healthy, better-for-you products. The industry is shifting towards being organically focused and more health-conscious in general, so we almost assume in our selection process that we will be choosing companies with clean ingredient statements.” 

AccelFoods supports four businesses for five months at a time so that they may achieve their development goals at an accelerated pace. The current group of startups includes Exo, producer of cricket-flour protein bars that support clean water charities; KOLAT, producer of superfood-infused natural nut butters; Jaali Bean, a line of innovative lentil products; and Whynatte, producer of natural canned coffee drinks. According to AccelFoods, financial investments from the company include an initial investment of up to US$50,000 and the possibility of an additional US$100,000 upon completion of the training period.

Nonprofit management consulting firms like AccelFoods are so essential to the success of food industry startups because they encourage growth through collaboration. Gabi Lewis, co-founder of Exo, explains, “In terms of the food startup ecosystem, the biggest problem is that unlike the tech ecosystem, there’s no real central hub, and no real glue binding us all together. That itself has presented an opportunity [to create a hub] and we’re now seeing different organizations that are beginning to serve that role—Local Food Lab in San FranciscoFood-Tech Connect in New York City, and the newly launched AccelFoods, also in New York City.”

AccelFoods provides mentoring services alongside financial support and guidance. Their mentors include food industry titans like Chef Tom Colicchio and editor of Serious Eats, Ed Levine, as well as marketing and branding executives from major food companies. Representatives from investment groups also help these startups design their funding strategies and presentations. Lauren Jupiter, co-founder of AccelFoods, says, “The mentors feel really engaged and excited about supporting and working with these companies and really felt like they had a lot to offer in terms of guidance and general support.”

Investing in these startups means investing in positive living. By sticking together, these companies can help shape how Americans eat. 

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