Renske Lynde brings 20 years experience in food, agriculture, nutrition, and policy to the field of mission-driven food innovation. As a co-founder and managing director of the non-profit accelerator Food System 6 (FS6), Lynde guides food entrepreneurs who have the goal to transform the current food system. Innovators receive mentorship, access to a broad contact network, and innovative financing to devise impactful solutions for the environment and society.
Lynde formerly worked at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and she currently manages a portfolio of 23 for-profit and non-profit food system innovators.
At Food System 6, Lynde brings small groups of entrepreneurs together in a cohort for four months. Each cohort receives mentoring, education, and networking opportunities, as well as customized support. Entrepreneurs attend group sessions to learn and practice storytelling, public speaking, investor relations, food diversity, and other topics. The accelerator extends its support beyond the four-month cohort sessions and works with the entrepreneurs for two or three years to ensure their success.
The idea behind Food System 6 represents a transformation from a traditional value chain, to a value cycle or a “closed loop,” according to Lynde. FS6 builds upon the older food systems, while integrating waste prevention, supporting traceability, and restoring soil health.
“FS6 takes the perspective that we cannot look at innovation in the food system through the narrow lenses of consumer products, health, agriculture, and food production. We need to take a more comprehensive view of how innovations will impact – and be impacted by – other shifts in the system,” says Lynde. To Lynde, ideas and projects “recycling value back to the communities” matter the most. For instance, one of her clients Port of Mokha, a coffee company rebuilding the supply chain for coffee in Yemen, uses a social and environmental intervention model. The model incorporates educating local farmers on best practices like organic cultivation, ensuring livable farmer wages, and promoting gender equality. Full Cycle Bioplastics, another client, eliminates food waste by developing a bio-plastic packaging from organic waste that is biodegradable and compostable.
Applicants have to pass FS6’s selection criteria and demonstrate a desire to be coached on how to advance their idea. The ideal candidates focus on achieving “a positive impact on the environmental, physical or social health of our food system,” says Lynde. Then, FS6 has to be able to help applicants achieve their milestones and provide them with a good network. “We might not be able to help an entrepreneur for a variety of reasons having to do with the stage of the business or because we don’t feel that our network is strong enough in a particular area,” adds Lynde. And the accelerator emphasizes cohort diversity, including entrepreneurs from different regions, who are focused on improving different aspects of the food system.
FS6 utilizes the concept of blended capital to develop innovative financing approaches for its entrepreneurs and scale food system impact. “Blended capital can certainly mean financial support from a range of different kinds of sources, such as government and philanthropic, but can also mean access to human, social, and intellectual capital,” says Lynde. She points out to the need for “patient financial capital in the early stages of a company’s lifespan that understands that sometimes it can take longer for a product or service to gain traction or prove a concept” due to growing seasons and other constraints.
Blended capital is just one potential advantage within the wide network of the accelerator. FS6 has “active partnerships and collaborations” with investors, philanthropists, policymakers, nonprofits, companies, and universities. Corporate mentor programs with industry partners, for instance, provide assistance to startups on topics such as branding and go to market strategy. “Often times we provide the neutral ground for unlikely allies to meet, and this can be the most fruitful area for disruptive collaboration and unexpected innovation,” says Lynde.
Lynde advises entrepreneurs to do as much diligence and research on potential investors, as investors are doing on them. “The relationships that entrepreneurs enter with investors can be some of the most important relationships they will build in their lives and will last a long time,” she adds. Lynde also recommends startups to find customers and validate their ideas at the earliest possible stage. “The greatest learning is derived from solving real problems with real customers – that’s the foundation of any great innovation,” she concludes.