Next generation innovation: Start-up incubator launches in Switzerland

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

'With an unrivaled access to our corporate partners, we can have a massive impact - driving growth and creating value the world over,' says MassChallenge. © iStock
'With an unrivaled access to our corporate partners, we can have a massive impact - driving growth and creating value the world over,' says MassChallenge. © iStock

Related tags Shelf life

Describing itself as the most "start-up friendly accelerator on the planet," MassChallenge is expanding to Switzerland under the auspices of Nestlé and Givaudan after helping 218 start-ups in the UK and US last year.

The not-for-profit organisation MassChallenge seeks out innovative start-ups and helps them grow by providing free office space, industry mentors, large networks of contacts and a no-equity, non-dilutive grant

UK start-up FoPo and its winning food powders

of either $50,000 or $100,000.  

It says it has generated over €464 million ($520m) in revenue and created over 6,500 jobs since it began in 2010.

Givaudan, Nestlé and Bühler feature among the founding partners of the Swiss launch, meaning a rare opportunity to work with these industry giants for the winning start-ups in the areas of food, life sciences, sensors and precision engineering.

Speaking ahead of the official launch tomorrow in Geneva, chief marketing manager for MassChallenge Switzerland, Ksenia Tugay, told FoodNavigator: “[The founding partners] provide financial support and also provide access to their networks, acting as mentors and judges. The judges and mentors are not necessarily from Nestlé – there are some of course – but there are also people from their networks. So for example [through] Bühler it could be someone from their network.”

FoPo’s winning pitch:

“In FoPo, we collect ugly fruits and vegetables before expiry from groceries and farms, freeze dry them, and turn them into food powder to preserve their nutrients, prolong shelf life, and maximize logistics. It can be used for smoothies, soups, fruit shakes, and more. The product will be sold via online, supermarkets, humanitarian mission agencies and food companies. With low price, reduced food waste and support for local businesses and farmers, FoPo creates value from the inefficiency in the food system.”

Meanwhile Chris Thoen, global head of science and technology at Givaudan said the benefits for the global flavour house were also clear. "We are aware that much of the new innovation is coming from start-ups and smaller players. We are eager to get visibility into this important innovation ecosystem. We want to identify new innovation, where it is coming from and how we can possibly link our activities to other fields. We would be interested in opportunities to collaborate with start-ups who are offering a product, technology or service that could bring additional value to our customers and their consumers."​ 


Success stories

The organisation targets early-stage start-ups, and there are only two criteria for eligibility: the company must not have already raised more than €445,000 ($500,000) in funding or generated more than €0.9m ($1m) in revenue.

UK start-ups that have benefitted in the past from MassChallenge mentorship include FoPo, which takes fruit and vegetables​ nearing their expiry date transforms them into edible powders, and Positivitea, which sells herbal teas targeting health and wellness consumers.

As well as launching in Switzerland this year, MassChallenge will also open in Mexico. While no future countries have been confirmed beyond this, expansion is a key part of its long-terms strategy.

Positivitea’s winning pitch:

“Balance can be hard to find in today’s world. We believe in the three Ps ­­– living in the PRESENT, believing everything is POSSIBLE and staying POSITIVE. We also believe in the chakras, the energy centres of the body. By harnessing the healing power of herbs each tea within the Positivitea range has been specifically blended to help bring the balance back one chakra at a time. Whether you're a yogi, a tea devotee or just interested in improving your wellbeing, there's a Positivitea for you.”

Switzerland was an ideal choice due to its ‘start-up friendly’ environment fuelled by high levels of education, a highly skilled and professional workforce and a strong technical background in engineering, food innovation and life sciences, said Tugay.

Members of the Swiss supervisory board include Nestlé's executive vice president Stefan Catsicas, Bühler CEO Calvin Grieder, chairman of the Swiss Economic Forum Group, Peter Stähli and Benoit Dubuis of the Inartis Foundation.

There is also a branch in Jerusalem.

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