Are startups key to successful R&D?


Some of the most exciting and disruptive innovation in F&B comes from startups. As a result, more and more established players are looking to incorporate startups into their R&D strategy rather than relying solely on in-house expertise. Passionate startups who have identified a specific need or challenge and are willing to commit time and resources to solving it are particularly sought after. We caught up with Rahul Shinde, Director of Global Open Innovation at Naturex, ahead of the Startup Innovation Challenge at Hi Europe this year to learn more about how to identify successful startups.

Rahul Shinde


What is Naturex Ingenium’s approach to innovation? Why is there such a focus on startups?
Naturex Ingenium is focused on having mutually beneficial, positive and impactful partnerships with start-ups. A primary reason for focusing on start-ups is their focus and strong desire to not give up. This is critical for success when you are trying something innovative. Through our partnerships we are hoping to provide additional support, guidance, access, resources that can enable these start-ups to succeed. But, ultimately, it’s their product and their vision that will prevail.

What are the benefits of working with startups to develop products, as opposed to keeping R&D in house?
In-house R&D is critical to maintain a strong, innovative pipeline of products to service existing or new customers. But, in more cases than not, many of those innovations are discarded or delayed or simply identified as irrelevant. In contrast, most of the start-ups are focused on a need that they themselves have experienced and are willing to commit to with their own time and resources. This in itself improves the quality of the solution. Also, as mentioned, entrepreneurs don’t like to give up easily. They will adapt to the needs of the market and find a solution that works. So, the probability of having a creative, viable solution is much higher with a start-up vs. in-house R&D.

Can you highlight some of the startups you have partnered with?
We have partnered with many different start-ups in different categories. In some cases, it is through providing feedback and guidance through sample evaluation, market insights etc. e.g. Chromologics, the winner from last year’s Startup Innovation Challenge. In other cases, we have signed long term partnerships to collaborate and commercialize the product together, e.g. Cura Global Health, with their Koji Fermented minerals. The key for us is to be flexible and provide support and a partnership model that suits the start-up. We don’t want to force them into a specific mould. This will never lead to a good partnership.

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When it comes to innovation partnerships, what are the top three things you look for?
Fit with our business priorities:
We cannot be a partner for everybody. We have our business priorities well defined. So, a start-up that is in line with our business priorities is best suited for a partnership. If not, we like to inform them about this ASAP. This is critical, because, the last thing we want to do is string them along.

Passion: While it sounds very fuzzy. It’s important because it’s the one thing that will determine if we can truly succeed as a team irrespective of the need or quality of the innovation.

Strong Team: Finally, a strong start-up team is critical to execute on the plan. A strong team builds confidence in us and especially our executive committee in providing more resources as and when needed.

Why have Naturex Ingenium decided to sponsor the Startup Innovation Challenge at Hi Europe this year?
The primary reason for us to sponsor the event is to show that we really value the event’s and start-ups’ time, commitment and desire to bring innovative solutions to the marketplace and especially innovations focused on plant-based solutions.

It is also a good way for us to highlight our Ingenium program which in a very short time has built a strong reputation of being accessible and a great avenue for long term collaborative partnerships.

What do you think of this year’s entries?
The quality of the start-ups is really high this year. I liked that many of them are focused on plant-based solutions which is core to our business. I am looking forward to listening to the pitches from the various companies on 26 & 27 November.

Which area of F&B do you see has most opportunities for innovation?
When it comes to F&B, we are going through a major shift from synthetic to natural. While it seems like we have been doing this for a while, it’s just the beginning. The food industry as a whole needs to change and it’s possible only when natural plant-based solutions are a preferred option. Today, they are either forced to adopt naturals or required to give up some key attributes to make it work. Overcoming challenges like efficacy, taste and stability while delivering wholesome, plant derived, healthy options is a still a very, very strong area for new innovative companies to thrive and change the world.

Don’t miss the Startup Innovation Challenge sponsored by Naturex Ingenium at Hi Europe, Tuesday 27 November, 15.45-17.30, Industry Insights Theatre. 13 exciting new startups will pitch their products live.