Ellen de Brabander (PhD)

Investment Committee Member (Newtrition) & Technical Due Diligence

SVP R&D PepsiCo, Board Member of New York Academy of Science, former CEO EIT Food, former CTO DSM and CTO Merial

What makes a startup exciting for big food corporations? 

Two things: their breakthrough ideas and the passion with which they work. Big food corporations have a core business on which to focus much of their time. Startups, on the other hand, benefit from being able to dream big from the beginning, and are flexible enough to pivot quickly. While dreaming big is important, in today’s startup landscape, the ability to scale and grow is equally important. Startups that address a real consumer problem and combine that with passion, energy, and focus are the ones that can really go all-in and will ultimately differentiate themselves. 

What was your vision when creating EIT Food? 

About 5 years ago, it became very clear that the food sector is a critical industry to achieving the UN SDGs, specifically in terms of sustainability and solving obesity & malnutrition. At the time, the main innovation focus in the EU was geared towards climate, digital, energy, and pharma. The food sector though very critical from an economic point of view was struggling with increasing complexity (e.g. new channels), lack of consumer trust and slow adoption of new technologies (e.g. digital). EIT Food was born out of a mix between the food sector’s need to transform and the opportunity to transform. With new sources of capital funnelling in, top talent was being attracted and innovative solutions were born.  

When did you know you wanted to make a career out of food? 

I never really did! I’m one of the few people who is not confined to one industry because of my technical background. I’m able to work across a range of industries. Having come from the animal health and pharma industry, I was able to transfer best practices from one sector to the next. This is how I noticed that the food sector is so behind in terms of leveraging digital technologies and bringing breakthrough innovations to scale. It’s catching up quickly now, but 4-5 years ago it wasn’t on anyone’s agenda.