Last week, The Spoon chatted with WeWork Labs’ Tessa Price and Food-X’s Peter Bodenheimer about foodtech accelerator programs and what they can offer to startups seeking the next phase of growth.
Brought up during the conversation was an important point that sometimes gets lost: the difference between accelerators and incubators. While the sheer number of programs nowadays means the distinction between the two is often, as Bodenheimer suggested, “interchangeable,” there are still some key differences. Most notably, incubators tend to foster companies who are still very early on in terms of their growth and who may not necessarily be ready to commercialize. And unlike accelerator programs, which typically run for a set amount of time, incubators most commonly take participants on a rolling basis.
Even those distinctions aren’t set in stone, however, and the best way to decide if an incubator is right for your food business is to examine the program details and see if they line up with your own ideas and goals about your business. With that in mind, here are some of today’s most popular food tech incubators:
The Kitchen bills itself as a “FoodTech Hub” and takes companies on a rolling basis. It was founded by Israel’s largest food and beverage manufacturer, the Strauss Group, and invites participants from up and down the food chain. Notable members of its portfolio include food safety company Inspecto and cellular agriculture startup Aleph Farms.
To apply, startups are asked to introduce themselves via email that includes an overview of the company, team, and competitive advantage. If your credentials pass muster, The Kitchen will set up an interview process that leads to an eventual meeting with its Office of the Chief Scientist, with whom the buck stops. Chosen companies get a $500,000 budget over a two-year work plan, office space, and assistance from various business leaders in the food industry.
Email The Kitchen to start the application process.
In some ways, Chobani’s Food Tech Residency operates more like an incubator than the company’s officially titled Chobani Incubator program. The Food Tech Residency brings startups to Chobani’s facilities so they can work side-by-side with members of the company’s operations team. Since the Residency is all about innovation and improving ideas and solutions, startups don’t have a product in the market yet to be eligible. Successful applicants will be given a chance during the program to pitch their businesses and potentially secure funding.
Chobani is currently taking applications for the next Residency program, which kicks off in September 2019. Applications are open until July 14. Since the program is more tech-focused, traditional packaged food and beverage products are not eligible for this program.
The Hatchery is a massive facility in Chicago that offers food entrepreneurs access to shared kitchen and co-working space. It also maintains an incubator-like program that offers, coaching and consultations, access to a large member network, classes, and opportunities for financing (via The Hatchery’s joint-venture partner Accion).
One of the cool things about this program is its large number of events and workshops open to the public, which give potential applicants a chance to check out the facility and its culture in depth before handing over an application fee. Check the schedule here, and if it’s intriguing enough, you can apply to become a member on an ongoing basis.
Those serious about joining should be willing to base their operations out of the Chicago area.
Union Kitchen offers multiple levels of involvement for food startups, from simply using its shared kitchen space in Washington D.C. to joining its incubator program (which it confusingly refers to as an accelerator). For the latter, chosen companies work with Union Kitchen to move from idea to concept and to actual product, and eventually launch their goods and/or services first in the D.C. area and then into other regions.
Union Kitchen participants come from across the food industry, though there is a strong emphasis on consumer packaged goods. The program happens in three phases over the course of about a year and a half. Those interested can schedule a tour beforehand. Union Kitchen takes applications on an ongoing basis.