Big Idea Ventures (BIV), the hybrid VC firm-slash-accelerator, first caught my attention last year when it launched the New Protein Fund, a $50 million fund targeting seed-stage companies in the alternative protein space, and made its first investment in cell-based seafood company Shiok Meats. At the same time, BIV announced a twice-yearly accelerator program for budding alt-protein startups with locations in New York City and Singapore.
Now the accelerator is seeking its second cohort — and BIV is preparing to launch its second fund. Called Generation Food, BIV’s newest fund will target later-stage companies, Series A and beyond. It will expand its focus to tackle sustainability across the food supply chain, not just in the alternative protein space. The target amount? 250 million dollars.
I hopped on a call with Tom Mastrobuoni, a Venture Partner at BIV and the former CFO of Tyson Ventures (which invested in the New Protein Fund), and Andrew Ive, the founder and Managing General Partner of BIV, earlier this week to learn more about Generation Food. Mastrobuoni said that this fund will take a step back to tackle some of the larger, underlying issues plaguing the food system. He named six target areas:
- Alternative Protein. With the Generation Food fund, BIV will continue to invest in alt-protein. However, they’ll focus on companies that are enabling general growth within the sector instead of particular food brands.
- Innovative Ingredient Options. Better-for-you ingredients for healthy products including salt and sugar replacements.
- Breakthrough Manufacturing. Improved manufacturing processes for proteins, as well as more sustainable packaging and low-waste water solutions.
- Food Safety Innovation. Technologies that are making food safer and last longer, e.g. hyperspectral imaging.
- Traceability and Transparency. Supply chain enhancements — but not just blockchain, which Mastrobuoni pointed out can be cost-prohibitive.
- Logistics Enhancement. Ways to get food from A to B more efficiently, without relying so much on old-school methods like trucks.
At the same time, BIV will continue to use its New Protein Fund to fuel the Accelerator program. Thus far BIV has invested in 12 seed-stage companies through its Accelerator Program — which is split between Singapore and New York — and are about to kick off another. Ive said that he plans to start raising for the second New Protein Fund when the current one’s capital is about 75 percent deployed — in two years or so. He also plans to add at least one more cohort location.
Generation Food is a big step up for BIV, both in terms of scope and size. Ive told me that they were inspired to start the fund after speaking with large corporates, many of whom are making significant commitments to shareholders and consumers about how they’ll reduce their environmental impact — be it through packaging, water usage, CO2 emissions, etc. “Large corporates want to make these changes,” Ive told me. “They just don’t necessarily have the technologies in place to deliver on them.”
That’s where BIV can come in. Instead of corporations having to re-engineer their businesses to meet these targets, they can integrate technology from mid-stage companies which will do it for them.
Considering the volatile economic climate right now, it might seem like an odd time to launch a venture fund. But for BIV, COVID-19 is actually proving the relevance of food technology more than ever. “The pandemic is shining a light on the cracks that have always been just under the surface of the food supply chain,” Mastrobuoni told me. With the Generation Food fund, BIV hopes to drive innovation into spaces that can enhance sustainability and make the supply chain more resilient, should something like the coronavirus strike again.
Indeed, one of the things to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is a heightened awareness around our food — where it comes from, how safe it is, and how inconsistent our supply chain can be (just try to find flour at your grocery store and see what happens). If we want to ensure a more resilient supply chain — especially in case another catastrophe strikes — we have to make our food system more sustainable now.
That’s the kind of argument that could help BIV attract the full $250 million for Generation Food.