Today, Singapore is rated as one of the most prepared countries in terms of food security and sustainability – but it is not exempt from global challenges, such as climate change and unpredictable natural disasters. The country needs to keep innovating and creating sustainable food security strategies to ensure that every citizen has access to an adequate supply of safe and nutritious food at affordable prices in the short and long-term. The emergence of youth entrepreneurs can help close this gap in the market by crafting solutions that best fit the needs of every citizen.
One way forward is to build young talent in the food space, and ensure that it is an attractive and rewarding career path. As with any industry, an infusion of bright, young, passionate minds can help to shape the future of food in meaningful ways.
For a closer look at the food security and sustainability ecosystem in the country, we spoke to Dr. Dalal AlGhawas, Programme Director of Big Idea Ventures (BIV) a Venture Capital/Accelerator in Singapore that focuses on investing and accelerating top performers in the new food space. Their first fund, the New Protein Fund I (US$50M) is backed by major institutional investors including Temasek Holdings (global investment firm based in Singapore) and Tyson Foods, a Fortune 100 company. This fund helps provide the resources to further develop products, ingredients and technology in the alternative protein sector, through a hybrid accelerator VC model. Twice a year BIV runs a 5-month accelerator program, to support global early-stage startup companies by investing USD $125K of cash and USD $75K of in-kind services.
Key to Dr. AlGhawas’ vision for BIV is to nurture young entrepreneurs; she wants to “help drive support for innovation within the local Singaporean youth, in combating the wider issues of food security and sustainability in the region.”
- What are the most innovative solutions you have seen from young people so far?
Dr. AlGhawas: One of the most innovative solutions I’ve seen are by Zeal Foods who have created affordable, sustainable (plant based) and convenient foods using kaya (coconut jam) and otah (fish cake) for the silver demographic in Singapore. It truly is amazing that the youth are so caring towards their earlier generations. Another one is Nutribites, whose ground breaking solutions use stem cell technology to grow insect byproducts in an ethical and sustainable way, and Habitual, a company that converts coffee grind waste into clothing textiles.
2. How do you evaluate startups for your current fund?
Dr. AlGhawas: We are an early-stage investor so we are more lenient in the way we evaluate the startups. There is no exact or 100% established model for this. But, we do look closely to evaluate the founders and the extended team’s capability to see if they are coachable, diligent, trustworthy and visionary. The Big Idea Ventures fund is very keen on supporting local talent and helping to support Asian Entrepreneurship, in particular within South East Asia.
3. What kind of support do you provide to these early-stage companies?
Dr. AlGhawas: We help startups from the lab to pilot stage, customising our programme to fit their needs and finding them the right partners to scale-up their production. For slightly more niche products, we help them develop upscaling processes with large manufacturing groups, acting as a bridge between the founders and potential clients.
Above all, we help to provide them with the right media attention, social media coverage and good connections to industry reporters.
4. What advice would you provide to young social entrepreneurs in Singapore?
Dr. AlGhawas: The investment space is all about connections. The best advice I can give to young social entrepreneurs is to learn how to network and keep good contacts who could be a good support system in the future. I would advise them to look for opportunities to meet as many people as they can, and push themselves out of their comfort zone.
Be gutsy, forward and charismatic, because learning how to push for what you want is a good way to be memorable and persuasive
5. Where do you see room to grow the scene in the region in terms of tackling the SDGs around climate change and health?
Dr. AlGhawas: By 2030, based on population growth and growing economic affluence, nearly two-thirds of the world’s spending power will come from Asia Pacific. With this growing number, governments in this region are very keen in promoting the key issues of food security, food safety and creating sustainable food contact materials.
Asia has grown up looking towards North America and Europe as trend setters in terms of environmental challenges, from food security to reducing the carbon footprint. We are hopeful to see Asian minds generating new trends in the next decade.
This blog is part of our Singapore Youth Social Entrepreneurship (YSE) Series. To access to our previous YSE blog and latest updates on the Youth Co:Lab , click here.
Stay tuned as in our next few blogs, we will continue to showcase the youth social entrepreneurship ecosystem in Singapore, as well as address some of the main challenges and opportunities for the youth willing to take this journey or already on it.
About Youth Co:Lab
Co-created in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab aims to establish a common agenda for countries in the Asia-Pacific region to empower and invest in youth, so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about the Youth Co: Lab, visit: https://www.youthcolab.org/