From delivery bots to chat bots, Just Eat has consistently placed the tech in food tech. Now the FTSE 250 food delivery giant is looking to propel new food tech start-ups into their growth phase with another round of its food tech seed programme.
The five promising start-ups chosen by Just Eat Ventures will receive £20,000 in funding during the 12-week accelerator programme, as well as access to mentorship and guidance as they strategise their growth.
“We do a lot of innovation internally, but none of us can really innovate in a bubble,” says Stuart Mainwaring, head of ventures at Just Eat. “Having a thriving food tech community benefits everyone. Sometimes start-ups just need a helping hand in the early stages, and that’s what we want to do. It seems like just yesterday we were a small start-up, and now we’re in the FTSE 250. For us, it’s to help drive that innovation so we can secure a strong food tech community.”
“Just Eat Ventures is interested in people who are trying to solve problems in the food chain using technology. Technology is going to be the driving force in how food is produced, consumed and how food waste can be reduced. Tech enables the innovation of these big food challenges.”
Having learnt from the first round of the accelerator programme, this year is markedly different, says Mainwaring. “The first programme was a learning curve for us. We launched the first one on a wide national and international scale, and based on feedback from the last programme, we decided to focus on diversity this time around. We started reaching out to the agritech communities looking at the production side of food tech, like aeroponics, hydroponics and so on. We also reached out to companies looking to reducing food waste. This is a really important focus for our programme. It’s about bringing that diversity into the food tech community.”
The start-ups selected for the 12-week programme, which begins next Tuesday (18 April), represent a varied cross-section of the food tech sector. According to Mainwaring, the programme is designed to equip the start-ups with the tools and experience to secure seed funding in due course.
From farm to fork to bin
The five start-ups in the food tech seed programme are:
Buzzer – Buzzer lets restaurants harness feedback to drive operational change and find out what their customers are thinking privately and in real time, meaning they can reward staff accordingly and ensure customers have a consistently great experience.
Nourish’d – Nourish’d aims to positively affect the health of society by helping companies subsidise the cost of healthy meals for their staff and deliver nutritionally balanced meals to your offices every day.
MyBaker – Baking has taken off in the UK in a big way. With a nation becoming increasingly obsessed with baking trends, MyBaker helps independent bakers and home bakers share their craft with customers looking for something special.
Qincho– Qincho is a collaborative, research-driven centre for the future of food. Its mission is to scale the impact of new food and agricultural technologies on sustainability through enabling networks, empowering innovators and educating policy-makers.
Sure – Recently launched on ProductHunt and with 10,000 users, Sure is a Facebook Messenger chat bot that curates the most Instagrammed food and drink spots around you. Sure sources and stitches influencer data from multiple sources and extracts personalised recommendations using machine learning and AI.
“Just Eat’s mission is to create the world’s leading food community. Our accelerator and seed programmes play a critical role in our efforts to develop a thriving food tech ecosystem in the UK, as we make investments in innovation and big ideas that will help drive forward this fast-growing sector in a sustainable way,” Mainwaring adds. The next 12 weeks will prove to be an intense period of learning for the start-ups, with a schedule full of challenges and opportunities to help them learn, grow and prepare for the next round of funding from investors.
Gearing up for growth
Last year’s accelerator programme offered the start-ups £20,000 in funding for 5 per cent equity. This year, Just Eat will provide the same £20,000 funding to help these start-ups through the programme so they’re ready to raise more significant seed rounds towards the end.
“We put money through a simple agreement for future equity (SAFE). When (the start-ups) do their next round, we will have equity stake at that point,” Mainwaring explains. “When we did the first programme, we asked a lot of start-ups, investors and other programmes about what the fairest way to help these businesses would be. The simple method is through equity, but we found that it actually deterred some really good start-ups who perceived it as a pricing round. Even though investors see accelerators as adding more value to a business, some of these start-ups were hesitant that it would underprice them. We decided to use the SAFE method to avoid that whole issue. It’s used quite extensively in the States, particularly in Silicon Valley.”
The support doesn’t end when the programme finishes, Mainwaring adds. “The three-month period is an intense time for the start-ups and us, but we’re there to accelerate their business. After the 12 weeks our involvement reduces but it doesn’t stop. We’re still helping the start-ups from the first programme with mentorship and support. We’re trying to help build this community. Already some people from the first programme are interested in helping this new batch of start-ups by sharing their growth experience. Eventually, the community will start helping itself.”
“It’s a challenge, but it’s an exciting one. I genuinely believe I have the most exciting job in the world, reaching out to the community, going to events and meetups, and looking at how we can support these communities. A lot of it is networking. It’s invigorating talking to these start-ups who are trying to solve such big problems.”
Mainwaring hopes that the seed programme will set a precedent for the food tech industry and others. “I truly believe that this will hopefully inspire other communities whether in our space or others, to help support other start-ups. Just Eat has had a fantastic journey but it’s important to give back and help others on the journey.”