Rabobank’s FoodBytes alumni raise $470m almost doubling annual take

Rabobank's Anne Greven says a community of investors including ADM, Pepsi and Germin8 Ventures has developed around FoodBytes, the bank's startup discovery platform.

Alumni of Rabobank’s food and ag startup discovery platform raised roughly $470 million this year, eclipsing last year’s tally of $250 million, according to the Dutch bank’s head of innovation for food and ag startups.

“If we almost double the investments made into our alumni network year-over-year; that’s pretty impressive,” Anne Greven told Agri Investor soon after the FoodBytes 2020 cohort was announced.

The evolution of FoodBytes since its 2015 founding, said Greven, reflects how widespread acceptance of climate change and that food systems are antiquated has translated into increased investor focus on opportunities related to hastening systemic change in agriculture.

“If it happens faster, that drives interest in investment,” explained Greven, whose 16 years with Rabobank included stints as head of its capital markets and private equity divisions before assuming her current position in late 2018.

“You are seeing a lot more money being prepared to support that change or be part of it, because we are at probably one of the better times than we’ve been in the past 20 years to make those investments.”

FoodBytes began as an initiative to connect the bank’s corporate and rural producer clients to emerging growth companies in food and ag, largely through its flagship pitch competitions, she explained. Over time, she said, the resources Rabobank deployed to find and support startups through the FoodBytes platform developed naturally into a mechanism for vetting the entire market to determine which companies are truly innovative.

After Rabobank internally identified 100 especially promising companies among those that had been through the platform for this year’s cohort, she said, it worked with a group of investors and advisors to narrow the group down further to 45.

The community of investors Rabobank has built around FoodBytes includes Germin8 Ventures, Boulder Food Group and the bank’s own Rabo Innovation Fund, in addition to the corporate VC arms of ADM, Barilla, Pepsi and others.

More than 70 other investors have been invited to attend the public pitch event scheduled to take place virtually on December 2.

Investors active in the network have come to view the platform as a vetted pipeline, said Greven, who added that Rabobank had facilitated 12 one-on-one investor meetings with startups from the grouping in the past week alone.

“It’s become a trusted community, not only to look for startups, but also to share ideas and thoughts about what they are seeing, validate and further support their investment theses,” Greven said. “If you are an investor who is looking at the food and ag system, opting in is a very efficient use of your time and will prove, I believe over time, [to be] high return.”

The group of 45 selected to participate in the FoodBytes Pitch 2020 includes cellular agriculture company Future Meat Technologies; upcycled foods provider Outcast Foods; and NovoNutrients, which creates protein flours from carbon dioxide emissions, among others.

“What we have seen come through in the 45 that were selected out of the 340 that applied, is the trend of upcycling and reducing food waste – and you can tie that back to carbon emissions – is still something people want to learn about,” said Greven.