The Power of Pumping the Brakes

What do you call it when an accelerator decides to slow down?

It’s a question that has been on our minds since wrapping up Food-X 11 this past June. In the 11 cohorts of Food-X, we’ve been a living example of the saying, “It’s a marathon and a sprint.” Our day to day pace of helping companies and preparing for the next batch at times felt unsustainable, yet in comparison to the speed of the investment world around us, we never felt like we were moving fast enough.

Then at the start of 2020, enter Covid-19 and the forced slow down of just about everything. And as revealed by hours of last-minute Zoom calls with startup founders around the globe, not just in our home base of NYC. Everyone’s hectic routines were stunted, shifted, and in many cases, simply shut down.

Yet even as our own team went into lockdown, we scrambled to pry more hours in the days for delivering an entirely virtual accelerator program, check-in meetings, and countless phone and video calls in support of our founders. And not just with the entrepreneurs of Food-X 11, but our community of portfolio companies, mentors, investors, and close friends of Food-X. And at the end of nearly 4 months, exhausted but pleased, we wrapped up perhaps the most engaged cohort to date.

That leads us to where we are today, with many lessons learned, and yet time needed to really soak in. All at once, we’ve seen the increased need for innovation across the food system. While our global food system is sprawling and complex, it’s incredibly fragile. Our own domestic supply chains have been tested by COVID and in the process revealed glaring racial and economic inequalities at every level that can no longer be ignored.

What that means for us at Food-X is during this time of rapid change and social unrest, we need to slow down, take stock of where we are, and adjust for reality. Things look considerably different than they did just six months ago.

Understandably a lot of people tire of hearing about the “opportunity” presented by the pandemic, but we see this as precisely that, an opportunity. One that’s both aware of the endemic problems in the food system, including the startup and investment culture, and yet also optimistic. More than ever before we are hungry to dig into what “innovation” really means for food as a category.

So what does that mean for food startup founders?

The team at Food-X will take the opportunity to spend more time working with our portfolio. We will also think about what we do, how we do it, and how Food-X can continue to lead the way in a radically shaken world.

For our applicants to the next program, Food-X is extending our application window into the fall of this year. We are switching gears for the rest of 2020 and will not add another formal cohort this fall. Instead, our next set of investments will begin in the Winter of 2021. We could begin making offers as early as mid-October, so there is a distinct advantage to applying earlier rather than later.

With the continued uncertainty around Covid-19 and U.S. visa policy, we also expect the next Food-X batch to be virtual. Our recent cohort revealed several advantages of the virtual model and while we still believe strongly in the importance of connecting IRL, our relationship with the founders we back only begins at the program. When it becomes safe and prudent to renew the in-person aspect of our work, we commit to doing so.

Regardless of which format the next program takes, we will continue to do the work to ensure that the experience is equally valuable to founders. We are confident that companies we invest in moving forward will get the same guidance, network access, and fundraising support as part of Food-X and part of the greater SOSV network.