Early stage food tech investor and accelerator Big Idea Ventures has announced developments that will strengthen its presence in both the EU and in the U.S.
In 2019 Big Idea launched its New Protein Fund – a fund with a goal to raise $50 million to make seed and early stage investments in plant-based and cell-based food, ingredient, and technology companies.
Today, the fund announced it has secured structured support from key European investors including the Bel Group and the Buhler Group, with a target set to open an accelerator in Paris this year that will join its existing accelerators in New York and Singapore.
Special support is being received from Bel Group as part of a partnership being built to “strengthen the expertise and capacity for accelerating projects detected and integrated into the fund”.
Big Idea Ventures noted that creating a balance between plant and animal food proteins is a key factor in creating a food system that has the ability to continue to feed a growing population while also preserving the planet.
This investment from the Bel Group is demonstrative of its desire to support innovative startups developing solutions that meet these shifting nutritional needs and challenges of sustainable food production.
“This investment by Bel — based in Paris and a major global player in single serving healthy snacking — will provide The New Protein Fund with more than additional capital,” said Andrew D. Ive, founder and general managing partner, Big Idea Ventures.
“It is a strategic partnership to continue investing in and supporting the world’s most promising entrepreneurs who are actively creating the future of alternative proteins in Europe and beyond.”
Demand for alternative proteins, particularly plant-based proteins, continues to grow. Between 2017 – 2019, U.S. consumer spending on plant-based foods increased by more than 28 percent, from $3.9 billion – $5 billion, according to data from The Good Food Institute. Of all categories, plant-based milks are the most developed, however, plant-based cheeses grew by 51 percent over this same time period, while Europe is seeing growth in its number of flexitarian eaters.
“By identifying and supporting as early as possible the start-ups and projects involved in inventing tomorrow’s food, Bel is demonstrating its desire to make these solutions a reality and make them accessible to all,” said Caroline Sorlin, general manager, Bel’s Plant-Based Acceleration Unit.
“This partnership embodies our model: constantly innovating, co-constructing with all those who share our values and vision. Plant-based products now complement our milk-based offer: consumers are more and more looking for a plant-based offer and we aim to provide them with a quality proposition.”
Across the pond in the U.S., Big Idea announced the appointment of former Deputy Under Secretary for USDA Rural Development Bette Brand, and former Under Secretary for USDA Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey as senior advisors to its $125 million General Food Rural Partners (GFRP) Fund.
Launched in January of this year the GFRP fund is working with multiple universities to commercialize innovative IP born in academia that has the transformative power to disrupt global food supply chains, and then to financially back the companies developed around those innovations.
The fund will take a longer-term view, investing in ag innovation, foods, and protein, according to Tom Mastrobuoni, chief investment officer with Big Idea Ventures, who told Food Navigator-USA, “We understand that these companies will take longer to build, and we’re targeting a 15-year fund life, and a longer investment period, but we saw that the model would work, that we could take companies from university research, add capital, add talent, and help them get to a phase of commercialization.”
In their new roles, Brand and Northey will leverage their deep experience in the space to advise the GFRP fund managers on how to identify the rural communities best suited to locate new businesses and to assist the Big Idea team to expand its networks in the ag and food innovation industries.
Brand is the president and CEO of Strategic Consulting in Roanoke, Virginia. She served three years with USDA Rural Development, later as Deputy Secretary where she led a team of 4,500 across 377 field offices. Agencies under her direction included Rural Housing Service, Rural Utilities Service, and Rural Business-Cooperative Service.
Prior to serving with the USDA, Brand was with Farm Credit of Virginia for 16 years, and other farm credit organizations since 1982.
“I’m very glad to be a part of this advisory team,” said Brand. “My entire career has been focused on helping farmers build economically viable businesses so they can raise food to feed the world. This fund continues that path in a new and unique way.”
Hailing from a fourth-generation corn and soybean farm in northwest Iowa, Northey was confirmed as an Under Secretary for the USDA in 2018, after which he led the Farm Production and Conservation Mission Area where he oversaw the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Risk Management Agency, and the Farm Service Agency. Prior to his time with the USDA, Northey served as the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture from 2007-2018.
“Big Idea Ventures is glad to bring onboard thought leaders and advisors like Bette and Bill to the GFRP fund,” said Ive. “They know the intricacies of agriculture and rural development and will help make this effort a success for the communities, the universities and the investors in the fund.”