In a context where consumption threatens the planet’s resources, discussions about sustainability and innovation in agriculture are more necessary than ever, especially with regard to the source of staple foods and consumer’s access to them. The Agrifood Innovation Summit 2021 brought together entrepreneurs, researchers, professors and representatives of the public system supporting agrifood innovation to find the trends that define the future of the industry. The conference also saw the launch of a comprehensive report, produced by Impact Hub Bucharest and Activize.Tech in partnership with EIT Food, Patria Bank, BASF and CBNagro.tech, which includes the first mapping of 50 Romanian tech startups involved in industry innovation, an analysis of the evolution of funding rounds in the sector over the last three years and the most important tech trends shaping the future of modern agriculture. Among them – IoT, precision farming or biotechnology.
In the context of a growing need for increased agricultural capacity through sustainable practices, the use of technology in this industry is high on the agenda of European governments and dedicated EU bodies. It is also an opportunity for entrepreneurs who are already working on such solutions and can receive institutional support or funding.
Thus, the Romanian Agrifood Tech Startups Overview Report, the first local mapping of agrifood tech startups launched at the Agrifood Innovation Summit, is a tool to support these initiatives and help develop new projects, as the agrifood tech startup sector is at a very early stage. This is reflected in the number of startups that exist, the amount of funding rounds they attract, and the number of programs and local communities dedicated to these business verticals.
Irina Simulescu, Program Manager at Impact Hub Bucharest and EIT Food Hub national representative.“Part of our mission at Impact Hub Bucharest is to facilitate innovation – including by connecting those who, by joining forces and expertise, can change industries. We hope this report is a useful tool for those who are developing projects in agriculture and need sustainability-oriented partners. In the spirit of collaboration, this is a project in which we became partners with local players with a strong focus on innovation and technology and who come with valuable perspectives in the field”
Mircea Vădan, Activize Manager.“In the past ten years we have witnessed in Romania the different trends focused on technology in various areas, and now, from the signals we have from the market, the agritech field will pick up speed and we hope it will become one of the pillar areas of the Romanian startup ecosystem. We have high hopes for the coming years and, together with our partners, we will focus on supporting the development of the agro-food tech ecosystem through programs and events for startups and connections with organizations in the field”
What is in the Romanian Agrifood Tech Startups Overview Report
Mapping provides an overview of the agrifood sector in Europe. More specifically, the full report covers: the evolution of funding rounds in Europe and Romania, as well as EU initiatives to support sustainable farming practices through consortia such as EIT Food and the main tech trends in the sector (use of IoT in agriculture, farming as a service, food tracking applications, use of Autonomous Agricultural Machinery and Robots, biotechnology, online food shopping and indoor food production). Besides, the report also includes the list of trends that are present in Romania, along with the main Romanian tech startups, clustered by activity areas: beekeeping, farm management and automation, marketplaces and information platforms, health and nutrition, food delivery and restaurant reservation management. The full report can be downloaded from the Impact Hub Bucharest website and the Activize website.
“There is no doubt that the future is agri. And we have the advantage of being in a favourable context in Romania: we have a generous agricultural area, among the largest in Europe, and innovative technology companies. If you add the openness to finance the agriculture, which we have rooted in our Patria Bank Group mission, we are creating a trio able to become an important contributor to a more productive and efficient agriculture in the future. Financing crop and farm technology projects through investments, support loans for European Funds and Research & Development are at the basis of the Patria Bank Group work in its mission to support farmers of the future” mentioned Raluca Andreica, Patria Credit Managing Director, member of the Patria Bank Group.
The value of investment at European and local level
The interest in the industry is also reflected in the activity of investment funds: in Europe, 654 rounds of funding for agritech and agrifood startups have taken place between 2019 and March 2021, totalling around $3.3 billion. In Romania, the same areas received between 2018 and 2021 about $4M (through 12 investment rounds), divided as follows: 3 pre-seed rounds (~$372K), 4 seed rounds (~$446K), 3 Series A rounds (~$3M) and 2 investment rounds whose value is undisclosed.
Innovation & trends in local agriculture
Innovation in agriculture is represented by solutions that help farmers increase crop production, improve food production and animal welfare, reduce pollution, decrease the industry’s carbon footprint and increase scalability. Key industry trends include the use of IoT in agriculture, reducing the distance between farmers and consumers, precision farming, biotechnology, nutrition and health.
More broadly, the use of IoT in agriculture refers to software and hardware devices that help minimise waste and increase efficiency in all production processes. Despite substantial investment in implementation, such technologies have a huge long-term impact.
Reducing the distance between farmers and consumers emerged as a necessity during the state of emergency and lockdown, when consumers began looking for new ways to buy food, turning in particular to local farmers and producers. The trend is an opportunity opened up mainly by technology, which helps small companies become competition for large producers, especially through “food hubs”, platforms that bring together producers in a given region and then deliver to customers.
Precision farming is an agricultural management concept that uses data-based technologies, including satellite systems (such as GPS), remote sensing and the internet to manage crops and reduce the use of fertilisers, pesticides and water.
Biotechnology, locally, is about academic research. There are very few dedicated funding programmes, and public policies to support biotechnology development are rare and recently announced.
Nutrition is the sector in which many people concerned about their health are beginning to seek specialised help, facilitated by a combination of medicine and technology (online advice).
The agricultural opportunities opened by EIT Food Hub Romania are available to entrepreneurs on the EIT Food Hub Romania website and on the Facebook page of Impact Hub Bucharest, the organisation that is the contact point for local representatives in the agri-food sector.