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A mentor’s perspective: the importance of startups joining an incubator programme

One of the biggest advantages of our Incubator programme is the range of experts that we have as mentors. These mentors have supported startups in growing, scaling, and attracting investors. So we decided to ask them about the importance of startups joining an incubator programme. Let’s see what they had to say. 

At the ProVeg Incubator, we work with more than 75 expert mentors who support the startups. These mentors provide assistance in a variety of areas, including technical, food regulations, management, and marketing. Also supporting our startups with individual mentoring, workshops, fireside chats, and sharing industry knowledge and advice.  We spoke to four of our mentors: David Benzaquen, Gary Brenner, Frank Cordesmeyer, and Fabio Ziemssen.

  • David Benzaquen is an investor and startup advisor and is also one of the world’s leading experts in the plant-based food sector. David has founded several companies, including the plant-based seafood company Ocean Hugger Foods and the consulting business Mission: Plant LLC.
  • Gary Brenner is a specialist in business development and is the Founder of Brenner Pharma/Food Business Development Ltd, based in Israel.
  • Frank Cordesmeyer is an expert in R&D, business development, and food science, with a particular focus on the development of alternative protein sources.
  • Fabio Ziemssen is the Founder and CEO of NX-Food, with more than 15 years’ experience in the food sector. 

David Benzaquen holding a Fireside Chat on positioning your startup in the market

Why should a startup consider joining an incubator programme? 

Frank Cordesmeyer: An incubator programme provides startups with access to various benefits, such as exposure to industry leaders, networking opportunities, mentorships, and access to funding. Most incubators have a unique selling point. However, they also usually have a similar aim. To provide founders with the necessary resources and skills needed for fast and effective growth.

Fabio Ziemssen: Incubator programmes have several advantages. The ones that I consider most valuable are mentorship, peer-to-peer learning from other startups, a structured environment and curriculum, and access to a great network. 

David Benzaquen: Joining an accelerator or incubator is an invaluable tool for an early-stage food company, in many senses – but mostly to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs, learn from industry experts, and meet with aligned investors who will support your journey.

Gary Brenner: When you meet up with startups, you’ll find very, very intelligent people with very interesting and groundbreaking ideas or concepts. However, the process of creating their products (specifically in food technology) is tricky. Many of those entrepreneurs haven’t taken into consideration several key success factors for turning the idea into a real business. These key factors can be on several levels. For instance, regulatory or safety issues regarding ingredients, technological production issues, or how to make products for a global market.  

Also, at the end of the day, your product has to be palatable and it can’t be too expensive. Incubators should support founders to hit these important benchmarks. Why? To help to ensure that the startups don’t face major barriers when they take their products to market.

Finally, incubators also play a big role in supporting startups with their management skills. Not every entrepreneur has the skills to turn their inventions into a business and incubators should be supporting this process.

What are the main areas in which a startup can benefit from an incubator programme?

Frank Cordesmeyer: In my opinion, there are three areas in which startups  benefit most from incubator programmes: 

Providing structure in order to maintain a business focus: when you arrive at an incubator, the infrastructure you need to run your business is already in place. This will allow your startup to focus solely on the core business needs! Without spending time on other technical parts of the business.

Mentorship: by working with a mentor, your startup will gain practical advice, encouragement, support, and the ability to receive critical advice.  

Network: in an incubator, your startup will have the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with potential strategic partners, venture capitalists, and like-minded entrepreneurs. 

Fabio Ziemssen: Essentially, all areas of a startup will benefit from an incubator programme. I would emphasise the administrative responsibilities, which are normally covered by incubators, which gives the startups more time for development. 

Also, the expertise and network that an incubator provides. By joining an incubator, you’ll be building connections with venture capitalists, which is essential. But also gaining expertise in product development, and acquiring know-how about company building. 

David Benzaquen: In my opinion, the biggest benefit of joining an accelerator is sharpening how the startup presents their product or company to the external parties who are essential to your success. This includes investors, of course, but also buyers, consumers, distributors, manufacturing partners, and others.

Fabio Ziemssen at the demoday in Berlin.

Is there an optimum time for a startup to join an incubator programme?  

Frank Cordesmeyer: There is no exact rule on whether to join at an early or advanced stage – it depends on the industry, the product, and the founders. 

There are several advantages of joining at an early stage. The main one is that the founders get specific support that enables them to increase their ability to successfully raise capital and grow fast.

If you are a late-stage startup, it is important to evaluate your reasons for joining a specific incubator. At this point, you have probably already passed the development stage. Certain incubator programmes may be able to support you in developing strategic partnerships, which can expand your market reach.

Fabio Ziemssen: A startup can most benefit from an incubator programme in the early stages for several reasons. Firstly, the early stages are typically the time when operations need to be set up. Secondly, an incubator programme can optimally support early-stage startups by providing administrative and management support. Lastly, the networking opportunities and peer-to-peer learning can be especially helpful for an early stage startup. 

David Benzaquen: Given the time commitment and financial model, incubator programmes are most beneficial for startups at a very early stage!

Did you enjoy this blog post? Then take a look at our content about positioning, with the best insights from David Benzaquen. 

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