When you think of a startup, you might think of something technical, like a website, hardware or mobile app.
Lately, entrepreneurs are receiving millions of dollars from investors for changing the way we eat.
Kitchensurfing, for example, is reinventing the dinner party. It has raised $US4.5 million to bring a chef into your home for a night to cook a gourmet meal. It’s backed by Union Square Ventures, SV Angel and Spark Capital, firms which also backed Tumblr and Twitter.
Blue Apron sends consumers weekly recipes along with pre-measured ingredients. Its users can whip up a great-tasting meal without having to visit the super market. It has raised $US8 million from investors like First Round Capital, which has put money into Uber, and Jason Finger, the co-founder of take-out food platform, Seamless. Blue Apron now ships more than 100,000 meals per month.
Chirp Farms is another venture-backed food startup that’s trying to disguise protein-filled cockroaches as edible powder.
“The food system is bizarre and ineffectual and completely lacking in innovation,” one food entrepreneur tells The New York Times’ Nick Bilton.
Part the reason the food industry is slow-moving is because of FDA regulations.
One early stage investor, Paige Craig, spent all summer researching food-related startup opportunities. He was tempted to invest — but ultimately passed — on a startup that advertised itself as Airbnb for kitchens.
The startup hoped to turn homes into mini restaurants where neighbours could pay each other for home-cooked meals. But Craig felt there was no way for individual kitchens to become FDA-approved.
In addition, there’s no intellectual property protection for a food startup. There’s no recipe patent a chef can get, for example. At most there are trade secrets, like Coca-Cola has for its soda formula.
But food startups are determined to innovate and, to avoid pitfalls, they’re thinking a lot like technical founders.
“My background is digital product development,” one food founder told The New York Times. “I’m using the same kinds of thinking that I used in technology start-ups while I build this food business, too.”
“While a chicken egg will never change, our idea is that we can have a product where we push updates into the system, just like Apple updates its iOS operating system.” says another. “So our mayo is version 1.0, and the next version will be 2.0, which will be less expensive and last twice as long.”
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