Entrepreneur

This KL Event Is The ‘Pressure Cooker’ That’ll Be Serving Up New Foodtech Startups

The last Startup Weekend Kuala Lumpur (SWKL) we wrote about was a women’s edition, and this time it’s back again with a delicious new twist: a food edition.

Startup Weekend Food Kuala Lumpur will run from November 29 to December 1, 2019, at Me.reka, KL.

Philip Seifi, co-founder and CEO of Pona (a marketplace for homecooked food), is one of the lead organisers, alongside fellow Pona co-founder, Oliver Capehorn, and founder of Startup Malaysia, Dash Dhakshinamoorthy.

Oliver Capehorn and Dash Dhakshinamoorthy / Image Credit: Startup Weekend Food Kuala Lumpur

In an interview with Vulcan Post, Philip revealed the inspiration behind the first major foodtech startup event in Malaysia.

Live To Eat

Startup Weekend Food KL is necessary as the food vertical industry is currently underappreciated in the Malaysian startup ecosystem, according to Philip.

He also commented that the Malaysian foodtech ecosystem is in its infancy, even when compared to Singapore, which has only 0.7% of arable land, and imports more than 90% of their food.

“Government initiatives have mostly focused on fintech, AI, and e-commerce, and I believe agriculture and food have not received the attention that they deserve,” he said.

For example, Philip shared that local organisations like Crops For The Future, the world’s first research centre for under-utilised crops for food and non-food uses, frequently remain uncommercialised and misunderstood by the general public.

Image Credit: Crops For The Future

However, we do have several successful Malaysian startups in this space including big names like Tealive and Dahmakan.

Then there are companies further up the supply chain like Supplybunny, an online marketplace connecting restaurants with whole F&B suppliers, and CityFarm, an organisation advocating indoor urban farming.

Let’s also not forget about social enterprises such as Grub Cycle (a food waste marketplace), PichaEats (catering by refugees), and Langit Collective (an initiative to empower smallholder farmers).

As such, Philip believes Malaysia is uniquely positioned to produce startups across the entirety of the value chain for reasons such as:

  • Malaysia already has an established agricultural and aquacultural industry with a history of innovation and major challenges (particularly in the palm oil sector),
  • Kuala Lumpur’s competitive food delivery market,
  • The government’s push to turn Malaysia into a halal tourism destination, which creates opportunities in the tracing and product integrity space.

“Globally, I believe some of the biggest opportunities are in ‘forgotten’ and underutilised crops, both from a culinary and environmental standpoint,” Philip said.

“And quite selfishly, I wish to see more ‘new protein’ and Consumer Packaged Goods startups launch in KL, as I love trying new foods!”

A Different Type Of Food Challenge

In just 54 hours, the participants of Startup Weekend Food KL will have to network, brainstorm and pitch ideas, and create an MVP (minimum viable product).

“I want to hear truly innovative ideas stemming from personal experience, or a deep understanding of a particular part of the food value chain,” Philip replied when we asked what he was expecting from participants.

Image Credit: Startup Weekend KL Facebook

He believes that even simple F&B business can be a successful startup, as long as their unique selling proposition extends beyond the food they are serving.

For example, Philip mentions McDonald’s, which has grown to a network of 35,000 locations through innovation in franchising, quality assurance, and drive-thrus, not because they had made the best burger.

“Too many Malaysian entrepreneurs and investors think small, and just copy proven business models from Europe and Silicon Valley. I look forward to being proven wrong on this during the event,” he said.

Image Credit: Techstars Startup Weekend

While Philip could not confirm what exactly the participants would stand to win with their pitches just yet, they can expect some genuinely useful perks*.

*Editor’s Update: Philip has since updated us to let us know that the 3 winning teams will get exclusive perks, along with free co-working space passes at MaGIC in Cyberjaya, tickets to the Thought For Food Academy & Summit, fast track access and mentorship through the TFF Challenge, and more.

Catering To The Masses

Startup Weekend Food KL is expecting over a hundred participants on its two opening days (November 29 and 30), and around 150 attendees on Demo Day (December 1).

Ironically, Philip shared that their biggest challenge as organisers will be catering, as there will be a total of 7 meals over the course of the event.

“Being a foodtech themed Startup Weekend, we didn’t want these meals to be just seven flavours of the same old, cold pizza,” he said

They plan to have food provided by local F&B startups and home cooks from the Pona platform.

Image Credit: Techstars Startup Weekend

If you’re not squeamish, Ento and Life Origin will be present at the event, offering samples of their insect-protein products including fried crickets and black soldier fly burgers.

Startup Weekend Food KL promises to have something for everyone, no matter if you are into food science, a professional in the F&B industry, or someone coming in from a business, design or even engineering background.

“It is precisely this mix of people from different walks of life that should make for a unique learning experience for anyone interested in the foodtech space,” Philip said.

“We hope that it will encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to start projects along the entirety of the food value chains, from farm, to fork, to landfill.”

  • You can learn more about Startup Weekend Food KL and purchase your tickets here.
  • You can also read more about what we have on written on F&B here.

Featured Image Credit: Philip Seifi / Startup Weekend KL Facebook

 

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