Food-X, a hugely popular startup accelerator for food businesses, today announced the eight chosen companies for Cohort 11 of its program. While they vary in focus — food traceability, restaurant tech, pet food, and upcycling — the selected companies all share Food-X’s mission of solving some of the biggest challenges the global food system faces. And for Cohort 11, the companies share something else in common: They are part of Food-X’s first-ever virtual cohort.
While many food accelerator programs operate remotely or through a combination of remote and onsite work, Food-X’s NYC-based program has historically always been done onsite and in-person for its three-and-a-half-month duration. That was in a pre-pandemic world, though. With most states still locked down to stem the spread of COVID-19, and with NYC getting hit especially hard with cases, holding a program onsite is more or less impossible at the moment.
As far back as the beginning of March, the Food-X staff was preparing for this possibility. Program Director Peter Bodenheimer told me over the phone last week that they had initially considered pushing program’s start date back a couple weeks. When it became obvious that two weeks would be something of a drop in the bucket in terms of statewide shelter-in-place mandates, the program decided to pivot to an entirely virtual model for the first time ever.
That’s included using video chat in place of the standard office drop-ins, doing virtual “coffee breaks” with the participants, and finding alternative ways for companies to meet with potential investors in place of the usual “demo day” event.
The results, it turns out, have been a pleasant surprise. “It’s been even better than I hoped it would be in terms of engagement,” Bodenheimer said. “It feels like it’s been one of the most engaged cohorts we’ve had ever.”
That’s significant, considering this particular cohort is also Food-X’s most diverse ever in terms of where companies are located. Milk Moovement, which makes supply chain software for the dairy industry, is headquartered in Canada. Health supplement maker Rambuhealth hails from Costa Rica. Latin American restaurant tech company remotekitchen works out of Mexico City, while ingredients marketplace Fieldcraft is from Austin, TX.
Normally these companies would all converge at the Food-X offices in Manhattan. Now, like the rest of us, they are being forced to carry out normal business in abnormal circumstances. And, as Bodenheimer sees it, they’ve more than stepped up to the task: “The companies have been incredibly active and incredibly engaged. They’ve rolled with the punches, and that’s a great signal from an investment standpoint. We’ve made a good investment because on some level these companies have barely skipped a beat.”
Food-X hasn’t yet decided if the success so far of this virtual accelerator will permanently change the program’s format moving forward. “I could see something where we do a hybrid where there’s a portion that’ sin person, a portion that’s remote,” says Bodenheimer.
In the meantime, here’s the full Cohort 11 roster, as outlined in a press release from Food-X:
- Bramble: A fresh, 100% plant-based pet food company that aims to consciously boost your pet’s diet.
- Ester: A startup harnessing science and AI to develop hyper-personalized customer flavor profiles for retailers of beer and wine.
- Fieldcraft: The first B2B marketplace for commodities and ingredients built to simplify sourcing from growers to manufacturers.
- Living Food Company: A managed consumer marketplace offering access to fresh, clean and delicious food made by world-class farmers, bakers, brewers and other food artisans.
- Milk Moovement: A startup that is providing actionable intelligence across the dairy supply chain through its cloud-based software.
- Nature Preserve: A sustainable food tech brand that is upcycling produce to minimize waste and maximize health via a proprietary food preservation process. First up: Lovi Smoothies, a natural plantbased mix packed with nutrients for use in smoothies, shakes, baking, and beyond.
- Rambuhealth: A venture leveraging the antioxidant-dense shell of Rambutan for heightened health benefits, which can be found in their food bars, supplements and ingredient offerings.
- remotekitchen: A single unified platform to empower restaurants to run, manage and grow their business effectively.
Bodenheimer suggests a point I’ve heard mentioned frequently over the last few weeks — that the pandemic’s complete disruption of day-to-day business is forcing most to rethink norms and experiment more. Startups, too, are inherently more open to taking risks typically, and those that do may actually find some upsides to this situation. “Downturns tend to be a great time for companies to start because there’s less noise, less frothy money being flopped around to companies that may not be as great,” he says.
Food-X is currently four weeks into Cohort 11, and already taking applications for Cohort 12, which will kick off in the fall of 2020. Whether that will be an in-person or virtual affair is anyone’s guess right now.