The first “European Agri-Food Startup of the Year” Challenge was launched on May 17. This is a competition in which European startup companies in the food and agriculture industries are challenged to come up with innovative solutions regarding food security, sustainability, food quality, food safety, and nutritious food. In doing so, the Netherlands is leveraging its leading position in the field and taking the initiative in calling for proposals from European startups.

FoodNexus, a partnership of more than 50 parties in Europe with members from the food, agriculture and research institutes, is a founder of the European Agri-Food Startup of the Year Challenge. The State Secretary of Economic Affairs, Martijn van Dam, announced the challenge at the opening of the second Agri-Food startup festival, “F&A Next”, in Wageningen. The Ministry of Economic Affairs will contribute €200,000 euros (US$225,010) to the challenge.

European startups in the agri-food sector will be invited by regional incubator and accelerator organizations to participate in the national preliminary rounds. The winners will compete in the challenge. The winner will receive a monetary prize and a support program of high-level mentors and prominent European food businesses.

With this competition, the agri-food sector hopes to track startups and support them in realizing their revolutionary ideas. This should stimulate the transition to a sustainable, economically viable food sector.

The annual competition will bring innovative startups to the attention of investors, businesses, universities, and other research institutions in the sector. The challenge will yield new networks, within which startups, businesses, and investors can collaborate and learn from each other.

Startups need established players

StartLife, located on Wageningen Campus, will coordinate the project in close collaboration with FoodNexus. "It has been discovered that startups need established players in order to grow,” says Jan Meiling, Managing Director of StartLife. “This competition is not only intended to find new initiatives, but also to offer startups support programs in the form of boot camps, mentor programs, and corporate-startup engagement sessions. Corporate-startup engagement is the common thread in this competition. Organization at the national and European level, a good development route and a view of the European stage is created for these startups. This allows a best practice to be developed in which initiatives and ideas from startups can be raised to a higher plane.”

In 2017, the preliminary rounds will take place in seven countries (Denmark, Spain, Ireland, Italy, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands). The European finale is on Dec. 7 at Wageningen Campus.