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Just Eat uses startup accelerator to stay ahead in foodtech

Online food ordering service’s head of corporate ventures explains how helping startups through its accelerator programme helps it to keep in the centre of the food technology ecosystem

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Many people think of digital food delivery company Just Eat as a startup, but in reality the firm is 15 years old.

When the online food delivery marketplace first started, Just Eat was at the cutting edge of the food technology, or foodtech, ecosystem with not much else available in the market.

Stuart Mainwaring, head of corporate ventures at Just Eat, explained that after becoming a public listed company, the firm had to begin operating differently as startups became a fundamental part of innovation and collaboration.  

While startups are “do it today” and “here and now”, Just Eat has to develop slightly more slowly as its priorities shift now it is not a startup, said Mainwaring.

“As you grow as a business, there are certain hoops you have to jump through,” he said. “We started to move at a different pace.”

To ensure Just Eat is still at the forefront of foodtech and is aware of what is happening in the industry, Mainwaring heads up the Just Eat accelerator programme, which is designed to help others in the foodtech industry grow and expand.

For 10 intensive weeks, startups are based at Just Eat’s London office and are allowed access to the firm’s teams for mentorship and advice.

Just Eat also brings in external experts to help mentor the startups, and gives them access to its partners, which include Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Community focus

But community is the main focus on the Just Eat accelerator, with the startups encouraged to interact and share their experiences when building their businesses.

Mainwaring said: “It’s a community. Having them in the same room for the first part of the programme went well because it means they started building relationships with each other and they have created some really good friendships.”

As part of the accelerator, Just Eat exchanges £20,000 worth of funding for 5% of a startup’s business, but Mainwaring stressed that the firm is not just in the startup game to snap up any new company before it can dominate the market.

Just Eat will often partner with startups to keep up to date with how the food technology space is moving, see what innovations are in the pipeline and to help to drive innovations forward.

“We don’t innovate in a bubble,” said Mainwaring. “It’s also about driving those innovations because otherwise we just become our own business that develops our own products and you do end up becoming a bit blinkered.”

Mainwaring said that although London has a vibrant foodtech community, the pace of innovation has been flat over the past five years.

“There are a lot of great businesses out there that are finding the first stage of building a business tough,” he said.

Just Eat has been innovating through its use of partnerships, and in a demo space at the end of 2016 showed how its application could be paired with technologies such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple TV and the Xbox One to deliver an experience customers want on a platform that is most convenient.

Many believe retail is moving towards an experience-based model, which will force retailers to collaborate to properly utilise customer data and grow retail ecosystems.

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Just Eat has “always worked with startups”, said Mainwaring, who added that the future of foodtech lies in collaboration between firms.

“With all the stuff we do, it’s better to do stuff with other people than do it on your own,” he said.

When Just Eat launched in the UK 11 years ago, its first month’s turnover was just £34 – hard to believe now.

Restaurant partners around the globe help Just Eat ensure that it offer as much food as it does, and it does not consider its partners as just other businesses that “plug into the platform”, said Mainwaring.

To illustrate its commitment to technology innovation, Just Eat has demonstrated the possibility that in the future, its restaurant partners could use augmented reality technology mixed with big data to see how changes could impact their businesses.

2016 Just Eat startups

The 2016 Just Eat accelerator hosted five startups in its last cohort, all of which are aiming to use technology to solve real-world issues and problems faced by both consumers  and businesses in the food industry. The 2016 startups were:

City Munch

An app that offers customers real-time deals in nearby restaurants to drive customers into particular restaurants that might be seeing downtime. It addresses the “natural bargain hunting” attitude of customers by giving them deals on their meal, while also helping restaurants to attract customers during quiet periods.

Fanceat

Fanceat uses vacuum packaging technology to allow consumers to order and cook food from Michelin-starred chefs at home. The service enables customers to submit an order from the menu at a partner fine dining restaurant which will then be prepared and packaged by the restaurant’s chef. The consumers can then cook the fine dining meal at home using instructions provided by the restaurant.

GoKart

GoKart is an app for restaurants that allows them to place produce orders through their smartphones rather than over the phone. Previously, many restaurants would call a supplier and leave a message to order some produce, which can sometimes be unintelligible or left without the identity of the person placing the order. The app makes it simpler and easier, and ensures orders are fulfilled on time.

Nutrifix

With global mobile health applications tipped to be an £83bn market by 2020, Nutrifix aims to help consumers eat healthily without calories being the main focus. This app allows users to select their food goals, such as vegan or gluten-free, and will direct them to nearby fast-food restaurants that will enable them to eat healthily and within their personal goals.

Share Dining

This is a digital marketplace that helps commercial kitchens to rent out unused kitchen space to food businesses that might need it. This works well for restaurant kitchens that can rent out space to nearby popup restaurants to cook or store food during the lunchtime rush.

Mainwaring said the accelerator was designed to help businesses that may not otherwise have made it past the startup stage.

“Our programme is about helping people make that leap of faith,” he said. “We wanted to find a better way of working with startups, and directly working with them on the accelerator programme helped us really understand what they need.”

The next Just Eat foodtech accelerator programme is due to start in spring 2017. ....................................................................................................................................... .................................

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