“We were surprised having such a large number in just over a month for them to apply. And it was a very tough process,” Sergio Eleuterio, general manager, Springboard Brands, told FoodNavigator-USA. “We tried to get to know them very well before we selected the finalists, and I think it is proving very good for us. I think we have five very strong product propositions, but most importantly five strong founder teams.”
A key part of the application process was creating a video in which brands illustrated that their products fit into at least one of the four pillars that Springboard has identified as key trends shaping the future of food, including Natural & Organic, Specialty & Craft, Health & Performance and Experiential brands. Companies also needed to illustrate their unique propositions, prove they had or could achieve traction and show their idea was possible to commercialize.
While this checklist seems straightforward, Eleuterio noted that the videos varied widely in terms of quality of content, delivery – and length, which he explained can be a tell-tale sign whether a startup is ready to scale up.
A succinct pitch can say volumes about a startup
“There were videos that were a minute and some were 10 minutes and … that decision is already a very important decision,” he said, explaining it forces companies to carefully consider how to present their company. “Do you go for the credentials? Do you go for a product? Do you go for your history? Do you go for your people? That is a very difficult decision to make, but a decision that all startups need to do.”
Eleuterio recommends that companies focus first on explaining clearly their proposition, including who their product is targeting. He explained that companies must be “single-minded” in their proposition in order to convince an incubator, investor or buyer to take a chance on them.
“If you cannot say that in your first 30 seconds of your video, most probably it is not clear enough. So you need to work a little bit more, crystalize, make choices,” he said.
The second element that companies should highlight in a pitch is their team, Eleuterio said.
“People are more important than anything they do. Basically, what they are working with is their brains and their hearts. So getting to know the people and why they are doing [something] is more important than all the claims that I have on my product,” he said.
Ask tough questions and brace for tough answers
As companies prepare their pitch – they also should prepare for tough questions from potential investors or buyers and brace for how their answers might change the trajectory of their project, Eleuterio said.
For example, he notes, Springboard always asks startups who is buying their product currently and how that compares to who they are designing the product for – because it might not be the same.
They also need to know why consumers are buying it, Eleuterio said.
“It clarifies so much because then you know what impacts your innovation pipeline, that impacts into which retailers are you going to choose to go to first, which aisle, what price, what your packaging should be doing, what your social media should be doing,” he said, adding, “It affects the entire execution of the branding and the position of that product.”
A two way street
Just as brands are trying to impress potential investors, retailers or advisors, companies also should critically evaluate what potential partners might expect in exchange.
For example, Eleuterio explained that while Kraft Heinz launched Springboard as a platform to “nurture, scale and accelerate disruptive US brands,” it also did so as a way to gain insights into how to reach the quickly evolving modern consumer.
“Springboard as a whole started because we were looking into the trends that are affecting the food and beverage space and [trying to figure out] how we as a company would tackle those,” he said.
He added that while Kraft Heinz is “very good in scaling things, very good at having iconic brands and supporting them,” this skill set is entirely different from what is needed to meet consumers’ emerging preference for smaller, premium brands with specific propositions.
But, he said, Springboard’s incubator program allows Kraft Heinz to share with “pre-valuation startups … what we know best – so our skills, our functional teams,” insight into food service, strategies for negotiating with manufacturers and connections with sales teams and market data, in exchange for best practices in reaching the modern consumer.
“On our end, the benefit is that we learn,” he said. “They do much better on social media than we do, for example. They do have insights on how to tackle ecommerce,” which Kraft Heinz doesn’t “see too much. So, codifying those learnings and bringing them back to the organization – that is basically why we are doing it.”
With that in mind, he emphasized, entrepreneurs who understand both what an incubator can offer and what they can offer in return can tailor their pitches to attract more interest – and ultimately reap the full benefits of the partnership that is a good fit.