A different kind of hackathon

In the creative industries center C-HUB the „Food-to-Market-Hack“ is kicking off in March. The event is organized by Startup Mannheim on behalf of WILD Flavors & Specialty Ingredients, which is located in Eppelheim, and is part of the ADM food corporation. We sat down for a talk about the hackathon and the chances they see for startups in the food sector with the organizers Attif Gharbi, Maria Uhlmann and Jonas Neidinger.  


Is a food-hackathon going to be 50 people meeting up in a large-scale kitchen? 

Attif Gharbi: The event isn’t about cooking, but rather focuses on a Go-to-Market perspective. We’re on the lookout for startups with fresh ideas, that want to push innovative products. We want to help tackle the questions of how to market the products, which target groups are relevant and the best approach to promote the products. Is „Hello Fresh“ the right place to start, or rather Lidl or Nestlé?

Jonas Neidinger: This is why we chose the title „Food-to-Market-Hack“. Hack comes from hackathon, which are events that take place to program prototypes. We aren’t interested in prototyping though, but rather in coming up with marketing concepts.


The organizers: Jonas Neidinger, Attif Gharbi and Maria Uhlmann


And how does the event work?

Attif Gharbi: We have innovative and market-ready products. And we search for the right people to market these products with passion. We aren’t interested in people that are only here for the 4000 Euro prize. We want to find the people that are missing a certain product, or that are intimidated by the expensive process connected with pushing a product to market readiness. It’s cool if participants have experience with start-up culture. And it’s generally a great deal for anyone that wishes to become their own boss.

Jonas Neidinger: We don’t let out information regarding the products before the event. Only once everyone is on site do we present the products involved. We are planning to present three products to the teams by our experts and afterwards the teams can choose which product they wish to pursue. To be passionate about what you are selling is very important for a statups success. These are the kind of people we are looking for, people that are convinced of the products viability and are ready to give it what they’ve got.

Maria Uhlmann: We don’t want to push our way of thinking, which is why we let the teams make their own choices. We want to allow for fresh perspectives, be it Store-in-store concepts or any other way to tackle a product. Before a product will hit the shelves it must have become part of the mainstream, which will take two years. Startups have a very different dynamic — large food manufacturers will take long periods to develop a product. we want to find people that make things simpler.



Where will the event take place?

Maria Uhlmann: The main event will take place in C-HUB, in the Mannheim Jungbusch, over the course of two days. After that we are planning to support start-ups directly in cooperation with Startup Mannheim. We will support the startups all the way to the market.

… and also on their way towards investors?

Jonas Neidinger: Where appropriate, of course! Or we might help with the initial production phase, or such things. Though we aren’t interested in giving anyone a free ride. We take a very good look a the concepts and in the end securing financing is usually not a big deal, as the expensive development and testing phases have already been cleared with our products. Our focus is not on investing and later opting out with a profit, but rather on really creating and pushing lasting concepts and products. Our partner Startup Mannheim will help with office infrastructure, counseling, workplaces and so forth.

What audience does the food-hackathon target?

Maria Uhlmann: Anyone that feels like it could work for them: designers, marketing experts, young people with good ideas. If you’ve got passion and ideas, then submit an application! By the end of the workshop there might be a design or a new channel of distribution.

What chances and perspectives do startups have in the food sector?

Jonas Neidinger: In Europe the market for beverages is quite saturated. The range of products is stagnating. But Kelloggs for example recently bought a startup for 600 million dollars, that basically only produces one product: protein bars. These guys had started their business in their garage and marketed the bars directly to stores and gyms. They had put together the packaging in Powerpoint, but in the end the product was well received and the success was great. The large comapnies are pursuing the growth strategy of keeping an eye out for successful new products and integrating these into their product ranges.



How many products are accepted in the long term?

Attif Gharbi: A very small proportion. Which is why innovative marketing concepts are so important. We have a big innovation driver. It’s comparable to fashion: Jeans and t-shirts are like coke and OJ, they will always have a market. And on the other hand we have hip products that will only last a season, such as energy drinks with very unique flavors.

Jonas Neidinger: … Curry flavor for example …


Jonas Neidinger: We see cool concepts all the time that are not well received by our clients. This led us to get involved with Startup Mannheim, as we can connect directly with people that are keen on starting up. Along with good product concepts we offer appropriate technical support, contacts and know-how regarding food legislation. What am I allowed to put on my label, and what must be on it? These kinds of questions are not trivial and should be dealt with accordingly! This is the support we offer start-ups when launching their products.



Should a startup find great success, how are the rights of use distributed?

Attif Gharbi: It always depends on the individual case. But to break it down I will give an example: We develop a recipe for a soft drink, and so the intellectual property and copyright for the recipe belongs to us. A startup then brings the a product to the market, including the brand name and marketing concept, so the property right consisting of an exclusive right to use that trade mark belongs to the startup.

Interview: Paul Heesch / LA.MAG

Photos: Julian Beekmann

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