Fresh Ventures Studio, a new venture builder from Metabolic and Impact Express, kicks off its inaugural program this November.
Our food system, as it is currently designed, is responsible for an outsized amount of negative impacts on our Earth. Beyond climate change, agriculture threatens biodiversity and disturbs the nutrient cycle, two planetary boundaries that get considerably less attention.
Fresh Ventures Studio seeks to address these underlying systemic challenges in the food system by building ventures that can have a transformational impact. Fresh is both a venture generation program and a startup studio, born out of a collaboration between Metabolic’s ventures arm and Impact Express.
The key to this shift is embracing the complexity of the food system and seeing how actors and supply chains are connected, as well as how visible and invisible forces keep the status quo in place. This means moving beyond the surface to address skewed power dynamics, easing the transition to regenerative agriculture, optimally using our water bodies for food and material production to be fundamentally restorative, and ensuring landless agriculture is widely accessible — all while avoiding the creation of other problems.
Fresh is taking a two-step approach. During the first part, called ‘venture generation,’ 30 participants will go through a four-month program to learn about the complexities of the food system, apply systems thinking, and match transformative impact with smart business strategy. Participants are then challenged to gather around a problem that they are passionate about, find a co-founder or two, and work with our partners and experts to accelerate their insight generation and product development processes. The inaugural program kicks off in November, and applications are open now.
The Fresh Studio then works alongside entrepreneurial teams to co-found a venture together and provide support with access to capital, legal structuring, marketing, branding, product validation, and business development.
Embracing a new model
Building transformative ventures will involve a completely different approach to venture building.
The world of impact ventures seems dominated by technophiles and technophobes, profit-maximizers and non-profits, with very little in between. Fresh believes in the magic in the middle. How do you embrace the scalable and transformative aspects of technology — without idolizing it? How do you create high-growth ventures that achieve global impact while ensuring that profit ultimately serves the mission of the organization? How can you interweave the competitiveness and efficiency of a business with the societal balance sheets of governments?
Fresh seeks to find this sweet spot through the following approaches:
- Prioritizing understanding with systems thinking: To truly solve a problem, one must fully understand it. Often we are too quick to jump to generating ideas or leaning into our preconceived biases. Using systems thinking is one way to slow down and embrace the complexity of a situation without being overwhelmed. Fresh emphasizes this by immersing its participants in problems, armed with the tools to find the underlying insights necessary for transformative solutions. Using systems thinking and better understanding a problem also helps us ensure that technology is in service of an overarching solution rather than the other way around.
- Protecting a venture’s mission through steward ownership: Steward ownership is emerging as a framework for the legal structure and governance of an entity to ensure that profit serves purpose and entrepreneurship equals ownership. There are many different flavors of steward ownership, and no one approach fits all ventures. But the underlying principles are the same, and they help ensure that the ventures we build to improve our economic system do not end up resembling the inherent problems within it.
- Bringing new people into entrepreneurship: In 2013, there were over 100 startup accelerators based in Europe, and that number jumped to over 250 in 2020. If you already have a venture, an almost endless number of programs offer additional support. But outside a smattering of hackathons, university initiatives, and emerging programs like Entrepreneur First, there are very limited pathways to get into the game. Fresh seeks to change that, especially for those passionate about food and agriculture, by making it easier for people to take the leap and try their hand at starting something important.