Barbara Mehner vom UnternehmerTUM-Programm Xpreneurs (l.) und Mira Schütze von EIT Food (r.)
Photo: UnternehmerTUM - EIT Food

EIT Food Accelerator Network and UnternehmerTUM: Growth Driver for Food Startups

The EIT Food Accelerator Network helps startups in the fields of agricultural technology and food grow quickly. We spoke with Mira Schütze from EIT Food and with Barbara Mehner from their project partner UnternehmerTUM.

Munich Startup: Who’s behind the EIT Food Accelerator Network?

Mira Schütze, EIT Food: Behind the EIT Food Accelerator Network is EIT Food, the leading European initiative that is making the nutrition, food and agricultural sector more transparent, healthier and more sustainable. One way to set up the sector so it’s fit for the future is to collaborate with and support startups. The EIT FAN (short for the EIT Food Accelerator Network) is one of the three flagship programs that reaches out to impactful startups in the seed phase. The EIT FAN is being implemented simultaneously in six cities, each with an EIT Food Partner – in Munich, that would be UnternehmerTUM in collaboration with TU Munich. The other cities are Lausanne, Bilbao, Cambridge, Helsinki and Haifa.

Munich Startup: Who do the accelerator and the network reach out to?

Mira Schütze: The accelerator reaches out to startups in the fields of agtech, foodtech and food that have a strong positive impact on the sector. Founders that offer solutions in the following areas are a good fit for EIT Food and for the accelerator as well: sustainable agriculture, sustainable aquaculture, alternative proteins, circular economy, targeted nutrition and digital traceability. It’s important for the startups to be able to show evidence of initial success.

The participating startups, however, are just one part of the EIT FAN – the other important factor is the network of companies, universities and research institutions that are looking to cooperate with the startups. The focus is on accessing the industry and the acceleration this could potentially give the startups in the market.

The EIT Food Accelerator Network offers input, networking and resources

Munich Startup: What do you offer startups in your program?

Barbara Mehner, UnternehmerTUM: In terms of content, the four-month program includes workshops, input sessions and 1-on-1s with top experts in the startup scene. It covers all of the specific agrifood and business topics that startups need to be ready for scaling up at the end of the program. That typically includes sales, finance, team setup or marketing. The program is, however, adapted to meet the specific needs of the selected startups in each batch. It’s also important to us in the program that teams communicate closely with each other, because experience has shown that they learn so much from each other and the network they have beyond the program is extremely valuable.

The second important component includes the mentoring and networking of the startups with potential customers, partners and investors as well as other founders. What’s special at the EIT FAN is the direct collaboration with strong partners in the industry. Some of the current members of the EIT Food Accelerator Network at the Munich hub are Döhler, John Deere, NX Food, Startlife and DIL. In addition, we offer an extensive network of experienced founders and business experts, who help the teams tackle their individual challenges during the program. With TUM, we also have a strong academic partner on board. We make sure each team has up to three people by their side who cover different topics and prospects in their mentoring. Now that the program is being held for the fourth time, we already have successful alumni, such as the startup Air Up, who can support the new startups in the program in a mentoring role.

As the third component, the startups are given access to workspace and financial resources, for example to develop their range of products. Starting this year, the office and meeting rooms as well as UnternehmerTUM’s MakerSpace, which are also available for the startups to use, are located in the brand-new Munich Urban Colab.

Munich Startup: What makes food and agritech so interesting?

Mira Schütze: The diversity of the sector and relevance of nutrition to every person are a factor. Consumers are getting louder about demanding more transparency and use their purchasing decisions to penalize those who refuse to respond. There’s a greater understanding of what it means to provide for a growing population and of the unequal distribution of resources. Another current influential factor is the unique impact made on climate change by subjects such as regenerative agriculture or political pressure, such as the fertilizer ordinance that was recently adopted.

Geared towards ‘Sustainable Development Goals’

Munich Startup: What are the most interesting developments in the area at the moment?

Mira Schütze: For the accelerator for 2021, we’re looking specifically for solutions in the fields of sustainable agriculture and healthy nutrition. The subjects offer a broad spectrum and make a contribution to different SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), such as Zero Hunger. In the field of sustainable agriculture, that might be the development of solutions that improve biodiversity or the welfare of animals. In the field of healthy nutrition, this could include biotechnologies that make it possible to produce alternative proteins. Innovations in these areas are of particular interest to us.

Munich Startup: How does the program fit in with UnternehmerTUM’s other offers?

Barbara Mehner: As the biggest center for startups and innovation in Europe, looking for solutions to social challenges and educating individuals who make a difference are matters that are dear to our hearts at UnternehmerTUM. It therefore offers a broad range of its own programs for innovators and founders in all phases of the innovation process, but also implements programs from external partners that support startups, as is the case with the accelerator for EIT Food. In concrete terms, the accelerator is implemented by Xpreneurs, UnternehmerTUM’s high-tech incubator. As a result, the startups in the EIT FAN program benefit from UnternehmerTUM’s many years of experience in coaching startups and from its large network in the startup ecosystem. Thanks to the connection with UnternehmerTUM, they also learn about many other programs and opportunities for support. There have also been startups in the past that had already completed the Xpreneurs program before the EIT Food accelerator or, after their time with the EIT Food Accelerator Network, then participated in the Techfounders accelerator. We’re always pleased to be able to accompany startups for a longer period of time and keep up on how they’re developing.

The next batch for the EIT Food Accelerator Network starts in June, and it’s possible to apply from 14 February to 14 April 2021 at!