This year, the two-day F&A Next conference focuses on two fields in which Wageningen University & Research actively conducts research, namely robotics in the agri-food sector and alternative sources of protein. F&A Next brings together the smart ideas generated by start-ups with financiers and large businesses that make it possible to incorporate innovations into the production chain right from raw material to product. “Science, start-ups, corporates and financiers need each other.”
According to Jan Meiling, the director of StartLife which is responsible for the organisation of F&A Next together with WUR, Anterra Capital and Rabobank, start-ups have to look for support from established businesses. “Starting companies, in addition to being investor-ready, must also be open to collaboration with large companies, as small, starting businesses cannot handle the burden of marketing, supply and organisation of the entire production chain. They need the corporates for this.” But this works both ways, as large businesses often need start-ups too. “By working with small, specialised businesses, a large company can flexibly respond to the latest market needs or technological developments.” Jeroen Leffelaar from Rabobank agrees: “Exciting innovations rarely come from large companies. In this sense, start-ups function as a type of external R&D department for large companies.”
A significant amount of research at Wageningen University & Research is focused on sustainable food production which has to become a reality in just a few decades. During the F&A Next event, Wageningen University & Research will demonstrate its own research in this field in two themes. Researchers will discuss robotics and protein transitions under the title ‘WUR Insights’. “Through this we augment the discussion about what high-tech developments mean for start-ups, corporates and financiers and also for the business operations of farmers and growers,” explains Sebastiaan Berendse, director of Value Creation at WUR. “Once these parties see or experience the benefits of this, we come closer to the goal of economically and socially applying valuable knowledge.”
Robotics is one of the featured themes of WUR Insights. According to Rick van de Zedde, business developer Phenomics and Automation at WUR and speaker at F&A Next, “Robotics offers farmers, growers and food producers the opportunity to work more efficiently and improve their business operations while also becoming more sustainable and reducing their post-harvest losses.” By collecting data with robots, drones or satellites, large amounts of data can be combined, so that the agri-food sector can design the chain in such a way as to achieve maximum yields with minimal loss. “Start-ups and other companies specialised in agri-food robotics can respond to the demand from farmers and horticulturists for smart, user-friendly applications that provide them with combinations and interpretations of data on cultivation that they themselves cannot easily obtain. But they’ll have to listen very carefully to the needs of the business owner.”
The other field of the WUR Insights theme is protein transition. This is a collective name for alternative sources for meat and fish in which traditional farming and catching methods will be increasingly replaced by sustainable sources and methods in the future. In the ‘Plant Meat Matters’ top sector programme, scientists work together with ten companies represented by ingredient suppliers, food producers and hardware companies. Ben Langelaan, Research Manager at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, talks about this at F&A Next. “There are big opportunities for start-ups and other businesses in the chain to market sustainable plant-based proteins. There is a wealth of innovative ideas, concepts and technologies that are waiting to be discovered and used.”
There will be a variety of international speakers at the two-day F&A Next event. The programme is sure to encourage knowledge exchange, interesting discussions and demonstrations by the most innovative start-ups. This year, HRH Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands will once again conduct interviews in his capacity as special envoy of StartUpDelta. Professor Louise Fresco, President of the Executive Board of Wageningen University & Research, will welcome the hall filled with agricultural business owners, investors, start-ups, multinationals and other companies with her contribution ‘Wisdom and Wonder’ to mark the WUR centenary. Nearly 500 interested parties have already registered for the F&A Next 2018 event.