An excellent showcase for food startups. Among the countless opportunities offered by Expo Milano 2015, this initiative has certainly represented a notable opportunity: the Universal Exposition examined over 300 new businesses. In order to limit ourselves to those operating in the field of food and sustainability, we mapped 175 whose mission was clearly linked with innovation in the agrifood sector. These consisted of startups based both in Italy and abroad, which were presented in the Pavilions of their respective countries or else in forums, hackathons and other dedicated events.
The Nursery of Ideas: a talent hub
One important focal point for these young innovators has undoubtedly been the Nursery of Ideas (or Vivaio delle Idee) project, promoted by the Italian Pavilion with the collaboration of ItaliaCamp,
which offered a competition selecting the most innovative ideas, to be presented in Expo Milano 2015. 300 startups asked to participate. Of these, 150 were selected to present a pitch in Expo Milano 2015, of which the 24 best venture ideas were chosen to participate in one of eight Opportunity Days, during which they met and interacted with a panel of investors, funds and venture capital specialists.
The compass of innovation
Thanks to this process of selection, but also by contacting numerous other innovators
, for comparison, we have identified nine recurrent trends. These are innovative strands which interweave and superimpose with one another, to such an extent that we found it necessary to indicate various sub-categories.
Here are the main sector trend categories:
1. The Internet of Things
Thanks to the Internet, potentially every single object that is part of our everyday experience acquires an existence in the digital dimension: tools and commonly-used devices can exchange information via electronic components, sensors and interconnected software. Consequently, all these devices can be controlled from a distance. These characteristics open up a vast field of possible application in agricultural food production. Learn more
2. Urban vegetable plots
Increasing the total cultivatable area inside cities as well as outside them is a necessity… and also a pleasant hobby. Devices equipped with sensors are able to measure air temperature, atmospheric and soil humidity, concentration of main nutrients, threats, etc. This data is then gathered and processed and communicated via a mobile or web device. But small spaces can also be exploited using aeroponics, aquaponics and hydroponics, none of which require soil. Learn more
The food of the future must require less water, less energy, less fertilizer and less transport. And since sometimes you have to look at the past in order to innovate, many young people are devoting themselves to agriculture and reviving methods of organic cultivation, using biodynamic approaches, permaculture or synergic agriculture. Sustainability also has a vital social dimension, such as the inclusion of weaker or disadvantaged members of society or boosting female business empowerment. Learn more
Allergies and intolerances and other food-connected pathologies are multiplying all over the world, and in doing so are creating target groups which offer considerable market potential. The startup projects in this strand focus on solutions for offering healthy and genuine foods, foods suitable for certain kinds of dietary problems which remain pleasurably palatable and easily available. The most significant sub-group here was seen to be the development of substitute products, where traditional animal protein contents are simulated by vegetal contents. Learn more
5. Security and Traceability
The traceability of agriculturally produced food products is an increasingly significant issue both for institutions and private subjects. The use of mobile devices enables the monitoring of various phases of the supply chain and ensures respect for food safety standards and traceability. Many new evaluation techniques have been developed using sensing devices. The use of a single category of technique or a combination makes it possible to cover the challenges of a wide range of food sector problems. Learn more
Scientific research has led to the discovery of previously unexplored nutritional properties, many of which are presented as ‘superfoods’. Some of these already existed in nature but needed rediscovery and market distribution. Others are created by laboratory nutrient enrichment processes. In this micro-trend, a special mention goes to algae. Rich in vitamins and mineral salts, algae have long been present in the diet of many Asian peoples, and have been indicated by the FAO as one of the possible solutions to malnutrition in Developing Countries. Learn more
Among the environments in which the desire for sharing is especially strong, the field of food generates intense interest. This trend can be said to include all online platforms and mobile apps which encourage networking on food issues, whether offering digital resources to obtain short supply chain products, lunches and suppers in private homes, interactive edutainment products for children, store locators for finding restaurants, and much more. Learn more
8. Waste reduction
Technology can produce effective weapons to counteract the scandal of food waste. The possibility of communicating in real time (frequently through a smartphone) the availability of excess food or near-expiry date food has made it much simpler to reinforce recovery methods. More and more applications and online platforms are being launched – by creative innovators from Italy and many other countries – which benefit retailers and consumers by signaling the availability of products near the end of their shelf life. Learn more
9. 3D printing
The spread of 3D printer technology is a fascinating phenomenon, which is starting to be employed in restaurants and even in private homes. This is basically a more sophisticated version of the home-made auto-production approach, made ‘smarter’ by the use of this new technology. Learn more
Thanks for this mapping exercise to: CNR, Intesa Sanpaolo, ItaliaCamp, the Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Foundation, Italia Start Up, Piacenza Innovativa, Tavoli Expo, Unido, We-Women for Expo, Autogrill, and the Expo Pavilions of Belgium, Estonia, Israel, Slovakia, Spain, USA and Switzerland.