EIT Food | External Innovation Strategies

Interview with Christoph Mandl, Business Creation Manager, EIT Food

Can you tell us a bit about the structure of EIT Food?

We are the leading open innovation initiative for agrifood in Europe with over 200 industry, startups, academic and research partners. Our goal is to transform the European food system – to make it healthier, more sustainable and trusted among the consumers. EIT Food like all other KICs (knowledge and innovation communities) is based on the close interaction of three pillars – Research Education, Entrepreneurship and Business leading to transformative Innovation.

Besides our HQ in Leuven, Belgium, we have 5 CLCs (Munich, Germany; Reading, UK; Warsaw Poland, Madrid, Spain and Leuven, Belgium) to increase the outreach in different regions and to be close to partners active in different regions.

The value of EIT food for startups is very well documented, what is in it for corporates?

Corporates get to team up and collaborate with other innovators in the agrifood space. Interestingly, Corporate-Startup collaborations are entering the spotlight as it eases the launch of new products, facilitates moving beyond their core businesses and de-risks the entire chain for corporate structures.

Corporates excel in incremental innovation but not in disruptive/breakthrough innovations which startups are known for. This is exactly why corporations seek startup collaborations. Open innovation is the common denominator for both incremental and disruptive innovation and yes a mindset to collaborate, share and grow is essential while foraying into such an ecosystem. EIT Food provides a platform for all that hereby accelerating innovation processes that will transform our food system.

What are the USPs for corporates to join EIT food?

EIT Food provides access to vast and diverse networks of actors across the food value chain – research institutions, NGO’s, startups, other companies working both upstream and downstream of a process. Being an European body, we provide a neutral platform where meaningful collaboration between innovators can flourish.

We found that trust, relevance and an equal level footing are the critical ingredients for a successful collaboration between startups and corporations. Thus, we follow a thorough evaluation process for the startups, scout for specific corporate challenges as well, and match them according to their consolidated interests. To ensure an equal-level playing field, we further shape potential pilot projects and facilitate the entire process afterwards. Corporates and startups alike value our support with critical tools/skills/methodology to enter such collaborations as well as our translations of startup into corporate language and vice versa.

What makes EIT Food different from other similar organisations?

To deliver a big impact by transforming our food system, you need not only the industry, academia or investors but also the consumers, almost immediately. What sets EIT Food apart from some of the other KICs is our consumer centricity.

So, engaging consumers is important for EIT food? What strategies are put in place to bring this into action?

Transparency and openness are something very important when you talk about food. Thus EIT Food launched an online portal for the broad public called “food unfolded” which is designed to reconnect people with their food and empower them to change our food system for the better.
In January 2021, EIT Food also launched the first Trust Report. The report features the latest 2020 data from the EIT Food TrustTracker® which surveyed 19,800 consumers from 18 European countries to measure their trust in the food system and confidence in food products since the first survey in 2018.

What is EIT Food’s strategy to collaborate with other sectors such as manufacturing and health?

EIT launched a series of initiatives to target the intersection of KICs (Knowledge and Innovation communities). For instance “Food4Health”, a collaboration between EIT Health and EIT Food, was established to help bring innovations for healthy eating to the market. Another collaboration for example between EIT Food, Climate and Urban Mobility also complements the European Green Deal, for instance by initiating the New European Bauhaus initiative (NEB) – an environmental, social, and cultural initiative that combines aesthetic experience, sustainability, and inclusivity. A lot of these challenges can’t be solved by one KIC but only by strategizing and working on an action plan together.

Click here for further information for corporates to come onboard as partners at EIT Food.

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