HomeInterviewSingapore startup incubator joins efforts to feed 9.8 billion people in 2050

Singapore startup incubator joins efforts to feed 9.8 billion people in 2050

Innovate 360, a Singapore-based incubator of food innovation, is committed to a mission of producing enough food for the global population, which the United Nations projects to reach 9.8 billion people in 2050.

However, it needs to muster collaboration and participation from relevant players in the food industry of Asia in order to achieve the goal, says Sean Mak, chief marketing officer of Innovate 360.

“We basically want to promote the idea of how we can collaborate with all different startups, governments, corporates, and SMEs coming together and solve the feeding-9.8 billion-people problem with food innovation and collaboration,” he said. “We need everybody to come together.”

He said that the project’s focus goes beyond Singapore to cover Asia, which is expected to have 60% of the global population by 2050. “That’s a bigger problem of food security and food sustainability within that sector in 2050.”

To help with its mission, Innovate 360 set up a social enterprise called “Feed 9 Billion” to serve as an open innovation platform collaborating with startups, small businesses and governments to solve the problem statement of feeding 9.8 billion people.

Food security is also a big issue for Singapore, which imports 90% of its food products. The island state aims to sustainably produce 30% of the nation’s nutritional needs locally by 2030. The Singaporean government in October allocated an additional $165 million (5.7 billion baht) in R&D funding aimed at safeguarding the country’s food security. 

Startup accelerator and incubator

Innovate 360, Singapore’s first food incubator with manufacturing facilities, offers co-working space, shared facilities, mentors, industry partners, and education as part of its ecosystem. It now has 86 startups under its wings, all of them in the food tech sector, according to Mak.

The startup accelerator is part of Cheng Yew Heng, Singapore’s oldest sugar manufacturer, logistics provider and soft commodity trader since 1947.

“We help startups accelerate to scale their business and grow as fast as possible. That’s our responsibility,” Mak said. “We have buildings and we have funds as well. We have the business network for the last 75 years.”

According to the CMO, Innovate 360 works “very closely” with Enterprise Singapore, a government agency responsible for growing the island state’s enterprises locally and globally, in promoting food technology. 

Innovate 360’s main revenue comes from leasing its space and facilities. “We lease out at a favourable rate to the startups because we understand the pain point of startups.” Also, the incubator makes money from its investment in startups.

Working with Thai food producer

Innovate 360 recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Thai Union, a Thailand-based producer of food products, regarding their collaboration over startups. “We are doing a collaboration with them so they’re bringing startups to Singapore and we’re bringing startups to Thailand,” he said.

Mak said that Thai startups want to open a footprint and target the Singapore market but they do not know what to do. Innovate 360 can help them work with regulators and distributors while providing them with facilities and assistance in research and development (R&D).

“If they come to us, it’s easier for them to go to market faster. We are like a one-stop solution,” he said.

Mak explained that to begin a startup business in Singapore, entrepreneurs have so many things to do. They need to set up an office, produce their food product, test the product, find storage space, brand their product, package and distribute their goods, and find marketing help. Innovate 360 has all the facilities, infrastructure and resources required by new startups, the CMO said.

Innovate 360 can also help new startups link up with other venture capitals that are its partners for possible investment from those VCs. “We have a full spectrum of whatever you need,” he said.

All startups are welcome to join

When asked about the criteria for startups to join Innovate 360, Mak said that the first one is they have to be in food tech. “We do not basically restrict any startups. We welcome all the startups that come here.”

According to him, one restriction is that the startup’s product has to be ready at a minimum viable stage. “One of the restrictions is that if you are too early in the stage — in the incubation stage — that means you just have an idea, then we will ask you to maybe go to the school. Because they will help you to keep you know and create your idea,” he said. 

No conflict of interest

The CMO was asked to comment on the possibility of a conflict of interest in case a startup candidate seeking help from Innovate 360 happens to use sugar as its raw material, which is the main business of the VC’s parent company. He said, “So far, we do not see there’s any conflict of interest. A food tech startup for the sugar business is just basically a kind of basic supply — sugar. But food tech is totally a different ball game altogether. We see startups mutually benefiting from us than conflict.”

He added that even if the startups involved may use stevia — a natural sweetener and sugar substitute — instead of sugar, there is still no problem for Innovate 360.

Changing with the climate

“It’s because we’re also looking at solutions that maybe in the future we can end up. As an innovation company, we need to change with the climate as well,” Mak said. 

He gave as an example Nokia, a hugely popular mobile phone of the early 2000s, which was quickly replaced by Samsung and Apple phones.

“Why? Because maybe they were too late to know there was a shift. For sugar, there may be a possible replacement that’s coming in the future. So, we have to always be on the lookout and understand what’s available in the market. What’s the best place to go is all this startup food tech innovation where we get to know the latest technology and its availability.”



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