• Nikki Le-Grys

5 Sustainable Start-Ups To Watch in 2020

1. Afresh


According to the UN, roughly one third of all the food produced for human consumption is either lost or wasted, which is around 1.3 billion tonnes. No surprises that the ‘rich’ countries of the west are the worst culprits, they waste nearly as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire sub-Saharan Africa produces (230 million tonnes).


A start-up based in San Francisco is tackling the big issue of quick-to-spoil fresh food, which is the bulk of all food sent to landfill. Afresh combines AI with big data sets to enable more precise inventory management. By combining data on seasonal variations for fruit, changes in consumer demand and AI, retailers can make better decisions about when to order less or more stock. As detailed on their website:


"Afresh uses artificial intelligence combined with massive amounts of data to assist human operators in better managing our fresh food supply. We use the same kinds of algorithms that power Google data centers and AlphaGo to make the fresh food supply chain wildly more efficient."


The founders, 3 Stanford graduates, have already raised $7.8 million and with features in Forbes, Bloomberg and The Spoon, this is definitely a sustainability company to watch in 2020.


2. Ecovative Design


Mycelium is at the heart of revolutionary applications, developed by Ecovative Design. Mycelium is “the fungus mushrooms are made of, but it can also produce everything from plastics to plant-based meat to a scaffolding for growing organs”, as explained in Scientific American.


The process of growing mycelium results in limited waste (mostly compostable) and requires minimal energy consumption, so it’s a sustainable alternative to plastic food packaging. It was initially just an application developed by Ecovative Design but the range now includes sustainable skincare products, padding and insulation for apparel, plant based leather and even vegan meat.


Their sustainable packaging solution, recognised in Forbes and Business Insider, was adopted by Dell and IKEA. But it’s the new brands launched by the Ecovative team that we’re excited for this year.

Atlast Food Co., one of its spin-off businesses, has developed the “network of fibers grown by mycelium (the roots of mushrooms) to create a blank canvas of edible, protein-laden, nutrient-rich tissue that can be combined with plant-based fats, flavors and other ingredients to make steak, chicken breast and bacon without the animals.” The process takes a few days and everything is grown in vertical farms.


Ecovative has raised over $30million to date and with their new bacon product “Bacon without the oink”, which has 0% fat, 0% cholesterol, 0% sodium, is non-GMO and a whole food. We’re expecting them to be a big player in the sustainable plant based protein market.


3. Agremo



An agri-tech firm based in Belgrade, Serbia, Agremo are helping farmers achieve more sustainable and efficient yields. Combining drone footage with AI, machine learning and computer scanning, Agremo provides farmers with effective tools for field management, plant counting and crop health monitoring. Accessing real time data improves yields, whilst managing resources that are used in production.


Established in 2015, the start up secured $800,000 seed funding from SC Ventures and now has over 2,000 users in over 100 countries. They were in the Top 3 of the CEE Startup Challenge IV, one of the largest online start-up competitions in Central and Eastern Europe. The competition is run by Vestbee, which connects start-ups with investors and corporates globally.


4. RootWave


The negative impact of pesticides and herbicides on our waterways, land and air has been well researched. In addition to the wider benefits of eating organic foods, finding ways to eliminate toxic chemicals from our food production is a key factor in sustainable supply systems. One solution is electricides, as developed by RootWave.


The company kills weeds using electricity, the energy produced kills the weeds from the inside out by boiling them, without harming other life forms:


“RootWave’s technology uses electricity to kill weeds from the roots upwards. The $30bn herbicides industry is under pressure due to herbicide-resistant weeds and increasing regulation and litigation. RootWave’s technology is the leading solution for herbicide-free and effective weed control, contributing to more sustainable agriculture, a cleaner environment and a healthier food chain.”


This UK based agri-tech closed a Series A raise of €6.5million in January 2020, led by V-Bio Ventures and Rabo Food & Agri Innovation Fund and joined by Pymwymic. Since inception in 2012, the company has been shortlisted for a number of awards including the Amazon Growing Business Awards, the Future of Food Awards and also won silver for the Innovation Award at GroenTechniek in 2019. Definitely one to watch in 2020!


5. SOKTI


SOKTI is a leading tech platform focused on sustainability. The platform is providing five different buckets to connect sustainable goods and services suppliers with businesses, consumers and other sustainable supply chain partners. The first phase will be focused on sustainable food. It includes:


  • SOKTI Insight – providing news, articles and the latest reports relating to sustainability.

  • SOKTI Connect – a connection between entrepreneurs, buyers, wholesalers, growers, producers and manufacturers with other sustainable organizations.

  • SOKTI Marketplace – a sustainable e-commerce platform where buyers and sellers of sustainable products can do business

  • SOKTI Smart Seal – a decentralised certification system to authenticate sustainable credentials.

  • SOKTI Supply Chain - for members only to do business with each other openly, transparently and easily using safe blockchain technology.


SOKTI, was established in San Francisco, USA and it’s three founders have a strong background in the sustainable industry. One founder, Heidi de Bruin, is based in the Netherlands and is the founder and ex-CEO of Protifarm, one of the world’s leading producers of sustainable alternative proteins in the Netherlands.


Heidi commented on the reason for founding SOKTI:


“SOKTI has been established to meet growing demands for greater transparency, connectivity and accountability in sustainable food supply. We will be focusing initially on sustainable protein, such as plant based and insect based, however our platform is being developed to meet wider sustainability needs in the long term. We're using the latest technology to connect sustainable suppliers, partners and customers, developed by our international team of expert advisors. Our goal is to accelerate global sustainability.”



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