Editor’s Note: Who are food industry innovators at the cutting edge of new concepts and technologies? Rabobank is a Dutch multinational banking and financial services company and since 2015, it has sponsored a FoodBytes! Pitch competition to showcase and fund emerging start-ups.

Below, Prepared Foods Chief Editor Bob Garrison talks with Anne Greven, Rabobank’s Global Head of Food and Agribusiness Innovation and leader of the FoodBytes! Platform. Greven joined Rabobank in 2003 and became a managing director and co-head for Capital Markets Originations & Head of Investment Banking Rabo Securities. In 2018, she also was named Head of Innovation NA for FoodBytes!

Prepared Foods: We love everything about FoodBytes! What do you like most about this program?

Anne Greven: For the last few years it’s been a humbling experience to help grow the FoodBytes! platform. 

With my previous experience as a banker, I’ve been able to play a pivotal role in the mentorship process when it comes to the startups in our network. Now it provides the opportunity to share this expertise and knowledge to help drive those startup businesses forward.

Being in a position to prioritize relationships and act as that connector—between an ingenious startup and a corporate investor—is such a rewarding process. I’m overwhelmingly passionate about the feeling of being in this “together,” with the goal of feeding the world more sustainably through innovation.

PF: We attended past FoodBytes! Pitch events in Denver and Chicago. How has the program evolved and perhaps shifted during the COVID pandemic? 

Greven: Since FoodBytes!’ inception in 2015, we’ve hosted 17 total one-day live pitch competitions across North America, Europe and Australia. 

With our new approach, we’re no longer limited to the physical events taking place in select regions, now we’re able to connect with startups, corporates and investors from across the globe in a way that’s easily accessible while scaling the output and impact.

Last year, in 2020, FoodBytes! Pitch went virtual for the very first time.  I’ll note that this change was not just a result of the ongoing pandemic. We also felt it was valid and necessary in order for us to move and grow the platform forward and forge global connections between startups, corporates and investors.

In addition to the start-up presentations, the FoodBytes! Pitch virtual livestream also will host two new thought-provoking panel discussions with industry experts. After each finalist has had a chance to pitch their business, our judges will deliberate and name a winner from each sector: Food Tech, AgTech and Consumer Packaged Goods. Winners will gain invaluable exposure to influential stakeholders within the industry and will receive consulting services from FoodBytes! Pitch member companies.

PF: So this is a busy time of year for you! What’s the latest FoodBytes! news?

Anne Greven: This year marks the second virtual version of FoodBytes! Pitch following the platform’s redesign last year. With this revamped approach, FoodBytes! features an expanded startup discovery program, FoodBytes! Pitch, as well as a reinvented corporate innovation program, FoodBytes! Pilot. 

Ultimately, it creates more consistent opportunities for us to connect and engage with the most innovative startups, corporates and investors around the world—regardless of geography—to foster the right connections to accelerate change.

Back in early September, we welcomed an initial cohort of 45 startups into our community and these chosen startups had the opportunity to participate in our Mentor Week activities. It was designed to provide them with insights and access to like-minded entrepreneurs, industry experts. It also included a meet-and-greet session with corporates and investors.

At the end of October, we advanced and named 15 finalists who have a chance to compete in our virtual, live-streamed competition. They will compete on Wednesday, Nov. 10 for a chance to be crowned a winner in their respective sectors. Our program is open to the public and we encourage anyone interested to sign up. (see ticket link at end of article)

PF: What else would you want to say about this year’s event?

Greven: Just like in years past, we are constantly in awe of the innovation and talent that comes through the FoodBytes! network and 2021 will be no exception.

Even more so this year, with the ongoing pandemic, we’re seeing companies addressing timely concerns that have been exacerbated by COVID-19, as well as ongoing issues across the broader food system. 

This year, we also actively recruited startups to apply who were innovating on the forefront of sustainable supply chains, improved resource management and the next frontier of nutrition. These are all top areas of focus for our corporate and investor networks. Thus, we regard them as prime priorities for implementing and accelerating innovative change.

PF: Lastly can you tell us a little more about FoodBytes! Pilot?

Greven: FoodBytes! Pilot is a corporate innovation program that helps established food and ag companies embed innovation into their organizations by matching them with startups for structured pilots and consulting services.

With last year’s evolution, FoodBytes! Pilot has become an integral part of how we view the platform holistically.

Join Rabobank’s FoodBytes! Pitch live-stream event on Nov. 10, 2021.

Learn more about this year’s Food Bytes! finalists.