The fourth edition of F&A Next held on 15 and 16 May was a success. This event for researchers, investors and young start-ups in agri-food was held on the Wageningen campus and attracted 570 participants; one hundred more than last year.
© Jonne Seijdel
‘The participants appreciated the mix of substantive presentations, in which prominent speakers discussed subjects such as CRISPR-Cas, and the opportunity to network’, says Sebastiaan Berendse, Director Value Creation at WUR and co-organiser of F&A Next.
A new aspect of the event were the Campus Tours, during which investors and start-ups were introduced to Wageningen researchers and students. Fifty participants of F&A Next grabbed this opportunity. ‘It led to lively and pleasant discussions about future lines of research’, Berendse says. ‘We will certainly expand this component.’
The importance of conversations between researchers, investors and start-ups in order to conduct contract research keeps increasing, Berendse explains. ‘Multinationals invest less and less in their own R&D centres and instead invest larger amounts in start-ups and young companies. With that, they transfer risks and reach innovations faster. Furthermore, there is currently much more venture capital available for knowledge companies. This also becomes apparent from the European AgriFoodTech Investing report 2018 that we, as F&A Next, prepared together with Agfunder.’
This shift in R&D money flows has consequences for contract research carried out at WUR. ‘Researchers should not reach out to F&A Next with research projects, like they are used to doing. They need to look at what knowledge and validation the start-ups need. As large food companies and funds invest in the start-ups, these bodies actually fund opportunities to conduct validation research for the knowledge company’, Berendse explains. ‘Large companies also collaborate with start-ups in subsidised research consortia.’
A good example of this approach is how WUR now collaborates with the company Protix Biosystems, which produces insects for human food and animal feed. Protix raised 45 million euros (article in Dutch) from investors in 2017, and WUR is now investigating whether the organic waste in the production of protein-rich black soldier flies can be reused. ‘Companies increasingly often invest in research via start-ups’, Berendse says. ‘Researchers therefore need to enter into a different discussions with different parties in order to conduct contract research.’
This new collaboration could be explored during F&A Next. Take the German poultry meat company PHW Gruppe, for example, which first became interested in the Wageningen-based Startlife because it now supports more than 300 start-ups in agri-food. The company became a sponsor of Startlife to gain better access to innovation and start-ups. As a result, PHW Gruppe now also entered discussions with WUR regarding research collaboration.