Assembled Food

by Adam on April 14, 2013

This past weekend in NYC, I had the great opportunity to participate in the General Assembly Assembled Food event, a one-day exploration of the intersection of food + technology from the entrepreneurs point of view. For those that aren’t familiar, General Assembly is a co-working space provider that helps to foster relationships with startups and mentor them to success.

The event was one of quick-fire panel discussions and very robust networking sessions amongst panelists and attendees. I took part as moderator in a discussion on the food innovation ecosystem, entitled “State of the Food-Tech Industry” with my good friend (and the ever-talented) Danielle Gould of Food + Tech Connect, as well as newly minted colleagues Josh Hix of Plated and Benzi Ronen of Farmigo (who, coincidentally, mentioned during the panel that he is working to build out a food co-working space in Brooklyn, more to come on that once I know about it!).

The panel discussion was wide-ranging and robust with a few key take-aways:

  • While digital and online food businesses continue to spring up, the diversity of offerings in the food space means that there is always a new innovation on the horizon. It seems that companies that deal in the “logistics of food” are coming to the forefront with even greater frequency in a variety of forms.
  • Why now for food? Primarily because we have engaged and informed consumers, greater access to information, a more robust media cycle that covers food concerns and issues of interest to consumers, and most especially, entrepreneurs willing to put innovation capital to work to solve food issues.
  • Hackathons in food are becoming an increasingly popular way to identify food problems and come to creative solutions, while bridging divides among co-working teams and influencers that wouldn’t have opportunity to meet otherwise. Look for more of these opportunities in the future.
  • While innovation is ongoing in the food space, investment has not kept pace. This is primarily because the big gains/exits in food just aren’t there for institutional investors. Independent and unconventional funding sources (such as crowdfunding platforms, DPOs and other avenues) will continue to be on the rise until traditional VCs and investors can catch up.

Indeed, to that last point, when taking a poll of the audience there were only 3-4 people representing the investment community. Add to that the fact that, of probably about 100 people there, only 10-15 responded positively to the question “how many of you are entrepreneurs/startups?” and it was clear that many in the room were looking for the next big thing in food.

I won’t go into all the specifics of each panel, but I will say that I came away from the event with about 10-15 really good contacts to keep in mind. As much as we’ve seen the rise of the BIG conferences (read: 3-4 day mega-events with hundreds of attendees), I do believe that the pendulum will swing back in the direction of smaller, more focused, intimate events where professionals can meet, network and get down to the business of food. And especially where food innovation is concerned, I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more around networking events and gatherings that help to bring professionals together in the space.

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