The ability to imagine a future scenario, share that idea with others, and get others to believe in it has been a fundamental source of success for the human species. This has led us to found religions and ideologies, strive to colonise Mars and support startups fixing the casting flaws of our current food system. EIT FAN aims to help startups transition from early-stage companies to impactful innovators. For that, collaboration on different levels is needed. EIT FAN Helsinki hub fosters startup collaboration on three levels: with research institutions, corporate partners, and other startups.
Matchmaking research institutions with startups within the EIT FAN Helsinki hub
Collaboration with research institutions comes naturally to the EIT FAN Helsinki hub. The startup accelerator programme is organised by two strong research organisations: VTT, one of the leading research institutions in Europe, and the University of Helsinki, which is among the top one per cent of the world’s research universities. Even though such research giants are not necessarily the most agile partners for fast-paced everyday life in startups, they provide a stable and neutral basis for collaboration.
“This kind of neutrality is not self-evident with all commercial startup accelerators. I see it as a strength of our hub because it allows openness within the cohort,” says Osmo Mattila from the University of Helsinki, who has been connecting startups and university researchers in the programme since the first cohort in 2020.
Since these organisations focus on research, they do not compete with startups but benefit from collaboration with them: startups that make change provide topical phenomena for researchers to contribute to impactful topics that change our societies. Kaisu Riihinen, Research Team Leader in Food Design at VTT, agrees and is also excited about the startups in the cohort:
“It is great to see how bravely startups are heading to create businesses with Novel Food products, with the support of EIT FAN experts guiding their path in the right direction. They were so well aware of the regulatory requirements! It was a nice surprise to me since many companies are in puzzles by regulations. I hope to collaborate with startups and give them support in their R&D activities. Well-timed subcontracting in R&D and external expert support will save both time and money for startups, e.g., in tackling hurdles and systematic planning trials for optimising and scale-up”.
Startup-corporation collaborations are key in transforming the food system
Collaboration with corporates is inherently the most challenging form when it comes to startups’ joint projects with external partners. Startups often challenge the hegemony of these existing players, which have strong reputations, market positions, and resources. At the same time, corporates know they cannot transform the food system alone.
The importance of pilot readiness, setting the right strategy, goals, mindset, and expectations in collaborations between startups and corporations have been recognised.
“We have put extra effort into this topic during this year’s programme, including many activities supporting corporate and R&D collaborations, including, for example, skills sessions and workshops bringing together the startups and corporates at the same table. We have also been able to collaborate with the EIT Food Corporate Venturing team, exploring potential opportunities with European corporates, like BASF, and Kerry Group, among others,” says Aline de Santa Izabel Alves, EIT FAN Programme Manager and part of VTT’s Incubation and Acceleration team.
“We have also been lucky to collaborate with corporate partners that understand the challenges and opportunities of these collaborations. And we at the EIT FAN Helsinki Hub have a great network of corporates in the Nordic Region keen on co-creating innovations with startups,” says Mirva Lampinen, EIT FAN Hub Leader and Co-Creation Manager at VTT.
Today the Helsinki hub counts on three main industry partners: Paulig, Valio, and Lantmännen. Nina Tuomikangas, responsible for startup collaboration in Lantmännen, shares this view:
“It has been super inspiring to follow the startups during the EIT FAN journey – they have taken such big steps forward! We have also learned a lot from the startups. At Lantmännen, we strongly believe that future breakthrough innovations and disruptions will occur through interaction between different players in the ecosystem. We are very excited to be an industrial partner in the EIT FAN Nordic hub.”
Peer support between EIT FAN Helsinki hub’s startups accelerates co-creation
The first post-covid year has made it possible to organise several sprints physically in Helsinki at VTT Future Hub. The possibility of spending more time together has significantly boosted collaborations between startups in our cohort and alum companies from previous years. It has been great to see how they support each other. So far, the participating startups have been co-applying for R&D funding, sharing their networks of investors, and developing plans for changing markets together.
Daniela Arias from Sibö defines the topics as follows and calls for action:
“For Sibö, collaboration is key. As part of the EIT FAN Helsinki Hub cohort, we are happy to build collaborative partnerships with multiple companies, including startups from this and previous cohorts, EIT Food members, and corporate partners. Building an effective collaborative network is essential for every startup. And this is particularly addressed during the programme, especially sprints 3 and 4 for piloting and R&D collaborations with corporates and startups.
The best tools we were provided were the piloting & scoping frameworks; these are great for any partnership focused on creating value and win-win situations, but most importantly, aligned with the individual goals and resources of each. This helps to create clarity and set the right expectations when doing collaborations, whether it is with another startup or a big corporate.
Currently, Sibö is looking for partners who can support our mission to bridge the gap between the edible insect industry and the food industry, like insect producers, insect startups, food manufacturers, and academia. Together, we can bring edible insects to the present while creating the future of food. If this resonates with your organisation, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
During the programme’s last sprints, the focus is to push the collaboration plans into practice. We look forward to harvesting and tasting some fruits of these projects on Demo Day, which will be held at Maria01 on the 6th of October in Helsinki. See you all there!
Written by Aline de Santa Izabel Alves & Osmo Mattila