As the world's leading financial services provider for the food and agriculture sector, 44-year-old Rabobank is in a unique position to offer insight across the entire supply chain. Partnering with RocketSpace, the global lender is seeking ways to help its customer base of large, multinational leaders address challenges that have inhibited innovation in years past—fragmented human nutrition ecosystems, surging demands for new products in emerging markets, and long-term threats of global famine due to population growth.
Large food and agriculture companies like to work with startup partners to accelerate time to market, but often, new partners are tough to identify because they're flying beneath the mainstream radar. They're up-and-coming, years away from launch, or barely grabbing a foothold in the market. Even still, it's important for large corporations to identify new opportunities early. The big question is how.
Situated in Silicon Valley, Rabobank is stepping up to the challenge, founding an accelerator program with RocketSpace to help startup and corporates build the future of food together. In the following Q&A with the RocketSpace team, Manuel Gonzalez, Rabobank's head of corporate clients for the West Coast, shares a glimpse into the model that they're building.
Q: What exactly is the food & ag tech accelerator program that you're founding? What makes it unique?
It's a program that helps our food and agriculture corporate clients speed up their time to market and uncover new business opportunities. As lenders to corporations and startups in this space, we are in a unique position—we see both sides of the table and are in a strong position to build relationships as a result. We work with big companies to help them grow and always aim to deliver insight on what's new in the market and what resources may be available to drive their growth. We also work with emerging companies to help them scale. These are two sides to an important equation.
Where traditional accelerator models build in-house relationships with startups, we're looking to add additional value to our clients. We provide an application, vetting, and evaluation layer to strengthen and streamline partnership opportunities between startups and corporates.
Q: What need in the market inspired you to start this program?
We're committed to providing more food for more people in a sustainable way. Even though we are not a food company, we are in a position to help food companies—this is an idea we call “banking for food." Our research says that the food and agriculture space will grow 70 percent in the next few years, and there's a lot that needs to be done for this growth to take place. We believe that better solutions and answers to tough questions will come from early-stage startups that are innovating today.
Q: What makes now the right time for launching this accelerator?
The world has changed quite a bit in the last few years. Technology has changed substantially, and so has a company's ability to control the narrative that reaches their target customers. As a result, over the last five years, we've seen an enormous number of companies entering the food and agriculture space. All of these changes that we've seen, in addition to new ideas we're seeing developed, has changed the way that we see the future. In the past, we did not expect large companies to change much, and we expected the landscape to stay relatively stable. It was comfortable: we knew who was out there, and we knew who would be out there in 10 years. Today, we don't.
Q: How will this new program unlock value for Rabobank?
For a long time, our focus has been on large corporations, but we realized that we needed to pay equal attention to startups in the food and agriculture space. In launching this new program, our intention is to develop deep insight and knowledge for a whole new network—to improve access to knowledge and capital for companies across the board that are taking significant risks in food and trying to change the way that things are done today.
Our intention with everything that we do, beyond our relationship with RocketSpace, is to develop a relationship with new entrepreneurs—everyone who is taking on risks to innovate and challenge the status quo. We want to develop insight and knowledge with respect to what they're doing. And of course, we want to be a part of their growth stories by improving access to finance.
Q: Surely, this idea didn't materialize out of nowhere, overnight. How did you come to realize that a corporate accelerator would be the right solution for Rabobank and your corporate clients?
In 2015, we hosted an event called FoodBytes!, which was about bringing capital to food and fostering dialogue between innovators, industry leaders, and investors. From there, we started growing our network and building new relationships. We quickly realized that we needed something a little more complete--and that we'd be the right company to deliver it. While FoodBytes! was purely a teaching event, we aimed to create something more tangible. That line of thinking is what gave rise to our accelerator: we knew that if startups came to us and spent four months with us, the end result would be a special relationship. As a relationship-based bank, it is very important for us to maintain a strong relationship with companies in our ecosystem, regardless of whether or not they are a client. Our new accelerator enables us to build these bonds.
Q: Who would you consider to be the right startup partners for your corporate clients?
RocketSpace's application process for the accelerator is designed to surface the startups who know exactly what need they're addressing, how their idea fits in with their customer base, and what their role is in the value chain. I think that the Rabobank name will be quite a pull, because the people in our space know that we are a bank that's completely dedicated to food and agriculture, and that what we do is very serious and very well done, so I think that's going to give credibility.
Q: Why partner with RocketSpace?
There's no other name like RocketSpace in accelerators. Along with Rabobank's involvement, it shows that there is a lot of commitment by people who know what they're doing. Then we're going to bring in food companies to collaborate with us. By incorporating their processes, we can do a better job of quickly and more efficiently identifying potential startup partners.
Q: What results does Rabobank hope to achieve?
Our goal is to empower the global food and agriculture industry by bringing emerging companies and large, complex organizations closer together. There's going to be a lot of cross-pollination here, where people are going to be exchanging ideas. I think people are going to get a lot of energy, they're going to change the way they see the world. There's a lot to be done in the food and agriculture space. And what we're doing at Rabobank with respect to startup events like FoodBytes! or this accelerator is to accelerate innovation.
Go to www.terraaccelerator.com to learn more about the new Food & Ag Tech Accelerator.
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