Hi Bettina, what do you do and what brought you to Asia?
Hi Amel! So great to be part of this “women in tech” community! I am leading our Singapore office and the Food activities of Alcimed in Asia, an atypical consulting company. Why? Because we are explorers, not consultants!
In a nutshell, I joined Alcimed 10 years ago in our Food Business Unit in Paris. I started as a “consultant” helping my clients explore and develop their uncharted territories. I worked with various players along the value chain: agribusiness, ingredient suppliers and B2C companies. I enjoyed a lot working on different challenges related to nutrition & health and agriculture & sustainability. At Alcimed, we are a bit like “detectives” finding answers in complex markets with few or poor information available, using for most of us our double backgrounds in both science and business. During this time, I was always attracted by business development, so I decided to jump into this role. Seven years later, I realized that even if I’ve never felt bored with the diversity of clients and questions, I needed a challenge, a white page to surpass myself and do what I love the most: starting businesses. And a question arises: How to continue working for a SME that fits 100% to your values but with a new exciting role? Asia was obvious!
Singapore is our most recent office and our Asian headquarters. It has had a major focus on healthcare for the last 3 years and at the same time, the ecosystem in agrifood was emerging with a high ambition of Singapore in this field. After taking a break to achieve another dream, exploring and challenging myself in South America, I took my 3 suitcases and came back motivated to start from scratch a new activity: developing our activities with Food players directly in Asia.
Sounds exciting! You are mentioning the emergence of the agrifood ecosystem in Singapore. Can you let us know more?
Sure! When I arrived in Singapore, I was so surprised about the dynamic of the ecosystem and the ambition. And to be honest, before arriving, I was more convinced by my CEO to develop this activity in a great place to live than 100% convinced that it was the place to be in agrifood. (Hope she will read this and smile.)
2 things that have surprised me: When I say a dynamic ecosystem, many players are based here: –Regional headquarters of leading players(eg.Bayer Cropscience, Lesaffre, Roquette, DSM, Barilla, Mars –Regional headquarters and regional R&D centers of MNCs (eg. Danone, Nestlé, Ferrero, Mondelez) –A great number of innovative startups specialized for example on alternative proteins, vertical farming –Some specialized VCs (eg. Big Idea Ventures, VisVires New protein, ID capital…) or investment companies (eg. Temasek) in the sector –public research like NUS, NTU, James Cook University on microbiome, biotransformation, aquaculture 4.0 –and government institutions like the Economic Development Board (EDB), Entreprise Singapore (ESG)SG or Singapore Food Authorities (SFA).
The second is the ambition of Singapore favouring this ecosystem: being a global leader in developing & commercializing sustainable food solutions and becoming the regional hub of excellence for nutrition & health. The major challenge of Singapore is its food security with limited lands. As a result, only 10% of food consumed is produced locally. Creating opportunities in constraints, the ambition is to reach 30% by 2030. The government is focusing its budget of 3 areas: –alternative proteins including plant-based proteins (eg. soy, wheat, pea…) cell-based proteins produced from stem cells in a bioreactor, insects (US$100B market by 2030) –aquaculture (US$270B market by 2025) –urban farming (US$12B market by 2026)
In addition, with major food supply chain disruption due to covid-19, the government announced in March anextra grant of $30M to speed up local production of eggs, leafy vegetables & fish and lastly, anextra grant of $55Mto help local agriculture and aquaculture companies build new capabilities and innovate.
How can startups can help in this ambition?
Major challenges remain to achieve such great ambition. There is a lack of efficient and sustainable technologies that can help reduce the unit cost of production for vertical farming or cell-based proteins, anticipate the fish diseases to decrease production loss, create transparency in the fragmented supply chain predict the best personalized nutrition required for each individual.
If startups have tech solutions to help overcome these challenges, Singapore is a great place to develop business.
Beyond Singapore, what are the major challenges APAC is facing in the food industry?
From my point of view, we can look at the food sector with 2 angles along the value chain: – agriculture & sustainability – nutrition & health If we look at agriculture and sustainability, there is a growing] paradox for the coming years: feeding an increasing population while lands are not extendable. Two third of the available water is used by agriculture worldwide and 30% of greenhouse gases are coming from the farm especially from meat production. There is a huge need to reinvent the model of production. In APAC, we have 70% of smallholder farmers (especially inChina and India), the challenge is also high due to affordability constraints. Beyond25% of food waste comes from APAC due to the lack of warehouses, insect attacks with climate change, consumer attitudes in the most developed countries.
Many solutions are under development and need to find the right business model to be scalable. Some examples of these solutions: – The first is linked with Agtech to better monitor inputs, water management and decide when to harvest in regards to climate change and soil quality. Drones, IOT based solutions are booming in Asia. An example that has been useful lastly is during COVID-19 in India. Some farms in India were forced to shut down, causing the crops to rot and results in food waste. Asatellite map that was created by scientists at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) from Sri Lanka and CGIAR Research Program of Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), was used to show what stage plants were in their growth cycle. This helped ease restrictions to ensure sufficient labor and machinery were in place when crops were ready to harvest. It also assisted authorities plan rotations to ensure everyone gets a turn at selling their products in the market. Recently also,Bayer Cropscience and XAGhave signed an MOU in February 2020 to bring, promote and commercialize digital farming technology in Thailand, Vietnam, and Pakistan. The aim of this collaboration is to help smallholder farmers in target countries in having access to digital farm management know-how and technology, and through that, help boost agricultural production and sustainability. – A second example is linked with biotechnology. Imagine tomorrow drinking a glass of milk or eating a steak not from the cow in the farm but from its stem cells that have been growing in a bioreactor. Many startups in APAC are emerging liketurtletreelabsfor milk,shiok meatfor shrimp. It is interesting because it helps decrease the environmental impact, there is less risk for the supply chain to be disrupted.
And what about the other aspects in regards to nutrition & health?
Indeed, on the other side, there is a double burdenin nutrition & health. In APAC,the prevalence of undernutrition is 8.8% suffering from food insecurity while overnutrition (overweight, obesity) among the same population reached 23.0%. We need to reinvent the way we eat. Solutions that are looked at by MNCs are related for example on personalized nutrition.
This trend is emerging to ensure each person is eating the right amount & quality of nutrients he needs at different stages of life. MNCs are investigating the nutritional status of the population to explore local opportunities and maximize the success of a new solution launch. Japan and South Korea are ahead in this field.
For example, 2 years ago, Nestlé launched in Japan a DNA test kit combined with an AI tool to analyze meals. They partnered with 2 Japanese startups Genesis Healthcare and Halmek Ventures. In this context, Nestlé could develop personalized programs & solutions. Similarly, Herbalife, a supplement company, launched in South Korea,a personalized nutrition program in collaboration with the genomic science firm Theragen Etex. In such an emerging field, these 2 examples highlight how important is the collaboration with startups and with the scientific community to leverage from their respective capabilities. It is also a good way to enter the faster market for startups and speed is a key lever in Asia. ‘Be fast, Be first.’
How “Dare you” to be a woman in agtech & foodtech?
I am very proud to work in such a field. While the food sector is a mixed gender one, as long as you put tech in it, it becomes more challenging to find a gender balancedin agtech & foodtech. I work in a gender balanced firm founded by 2 female founders, both whom are engineers from the Ecole Centrale de Paris.That definitely plays a role HR-wise impacting positively our values and daily life, but also business-wise. Women are good at that 😊! Half of the executive board of Alcimed is composed of women leading our sectors, notably in healthcare, public policies and aeronautics.
How do you bring more diversity?
To innovate in food is challenging for our clients in the regionnotably due to the diversity of the local cultures. I am very glad when we contribute to this diversity understanding for our local clients, the food culture, beliefs, habits, the nutritional status of the population, the different government priorities, the vision of Key Opinion Leaders. It helps countries identify white spaces and put innovation into actions. This diversity is also a good way for regional HQs to be inspired by other regions to bring innovation across Asia, either on ingredients, products or even packaging!
Bettina, thank you! If you’d like to contact her, you can find her on LinkedIn.