The green startup transforming sustainable food production

To celebrate Earth Day, we catch up with Alejandro Wonenburger, Co-founder and CEO of Bridge incubated, Spanish startup Plant on Demand. He tell us about the team's journey into building an environmentally conscious startup, the transition towards a more sustainable, local and respectful production and consumption system and gives advice for first time social entrepreneurs looking for funding.

Meet Green FoodTech startup, Plant on Demand

Global entrepreneurship support is one of the most efficient vehicles to generate systemic change.

According to recent studies, 75% of executives in investment companies think sustainability performance should be considered in investment decisions and, in Europe alone, there are at least 800 climate tech startups with more launching each year.

Amongst Europes green startups however, is Spanish startup Plant on Demand who incubated with Bridge through Future Cities a program by Via Celere, Ashoka and Bridge for Billions to transform urban sustainability.

When the team learned how lack of access to adapted technology affects the competitiveness and efficiency of many local producers, they were determined to create a food-tech solution that benefited our planet and equally importantly, those farming it.

We caught up with Co-Founder and CEO, Alejandro Wonenburger, to learn more about Plant on Demand and the team’s journey so far.

1.Alejandro, Plant on Demand is on a mission to build digital tools to make local and sustainable production and consumption affordable and convenient. How and why did this mission come about?

For a long time, coming from different backgrounds, angles and perspectives, what we all had in common as a team before starting this entrepreneurial journey was our love for nature, our passion for technology, and our desire to see a more conscious and aware society.

We felt that there was a complete disconnection between our species and its natural surroundings, and that caring for the earth was becoming more of an obligation for survival than something we would do out of gratitude for all the abundance that planet Earth has always had available for human beings:

  • We felt that the greatest gap was found in one of the most fundamental aspects of this relationship with nature: the way we grow and consume food.
  • We saw people going to the supermarkets, complaining about the prices, without thinking about the amount of labor behind the food they were about to buy.
  • We saw children not knowing how an orange tree looked like, or not knowing that aubergines grow from plants, or that potatoes are roots that grow beneath the soil.

Seeing this made for a a very moving and powerful starting point, as we realized that within this gap, the lack of adapted technology for smaller farmers and producers was a constricting factor that would push them to sell their produce to bigger retailers, leaving them in the shadows of the unknown, as their faces, personalities and stories would get lost behind the supermarket aisles.

We saw the potential that technology could bring to those smaller, family owned businesses, in helping manage alternative ways of commercializing their products whilst keeping their productions economically and humanely sustainable.

2.What kind of technology is plant on Demand providing to users so far? And how is it empowering it’s users to make more sustainable choices?

We are currently providing small producers and farmers with a cloud-based software system that enables them to create, run and develop a multi-channel sales operation.

As an alternative to selling to bigger retailers and distributors, farmers need to keep a balanced clientele portfolio, dedicating some of their sales efforts towards end consumers, consumption groups, smaller, local and specialized stores and horeca clientele.

It is very hard, in a context where there is low (though growing) domestic demand for organic produce to run a profitable farm just by selling to end consumers.

Unlike other countries that have adopted CSA (community sustained agriculture) models, in Spain farmers find it hard to reach a comfortable level of certainty when it comes to selling just directly to end consumers.

They’re pushed to find alternative sales channels that can also buy bigger product quantities, and ensure they don’t waste any food. 

Our technology helps them exactly with that, running different customer segments simultaneously from a unified digital framework, farmers can set multiple pricing lists for the different kinds of clientele they have, multiple sales conditions (delivery and payment methods) and manage them independently, but in a way they stay interconnected.

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The Plant on Demand Instagram

3.Due to Covid-19, E-commerce has experienced huge growth. What would your advice be to other founders looking to launch an E-commerce platform?

If it were founders looking to launch a food-related E-commerce platform, I would of course tell them to get in touch with us! Jokes aside, I would recommend entrepreneurs jumping onto the e-commerce world, to focus on allowing their clients to be able to truly and genuinely connect with the origin and story behind the products they want to sell.

The best advice I could give them would be: you have to build a solid value proposition around the story, identity and people behind your product. 

I would also invite them to dedicate some time understanding SEO mechanics, social media and social paid strategies, and of course exploring what potential competitors are doing in that regard, and try to differentiate from them building the story behind the products they want to offer.

I believe we are going through a phase in society where E-commerce has brought everything one could think of buying scarily close to us.

In order to stand out from the rest, you must have a compelling story. And not only from a marketing perspective. You truly need to build your story. 

Genuinity is something that big e-commerce sites will never be able to compete with, because it isn’t something you can pay for or build in a marketing strategy if it isn’t truly there. It is something you can’t buy, you either have it or you don’t.

And genuinity is something that comes from warm hearted, well intentioned individuals that truly want to make an impact in the world.

4.When building Plant on Demand you decided to look for a group of people who shared your values of working to create value for society. How did you go about building your team?

In our case, and this is something we are very grateful for, building the team has been more of a spontaneous process than an effort of recruiting the right people.

We were a tight small community of individuals with different backgrounds and specialization areas, and we happened to have most of the ingredients needed to build a software company. We then learned that those ingredients were lacking and missing a lot of experience and knowledge, but those stories are for another time!

Our greatest challenges to team-building are around keeping a balance between our personal and individual relationships with each other, as we are all close friends, and our work relationship.

Sometimes, the trust and care we have for each other plays against us, as we take liberties we wouldn’t otherwise take in a more formal working environment.

The people that have joined the project outside our circle have been very hard to find.

You don’t easily come across senior full-stack developers willing to overwork underpaid for a dream, but we have been lucky and persevering in our efforts and so far and they have brought great results. And we feel very fortunate and grateful for it.

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Plant on Demand receives the award for best food startup from Ftalks’20

5. Congratulations on being accepted into the EIT Food Seedbed program by The European Union and for the MARES Acceleration program. How do you think incubation at Bridge with the Future Cities program helped prepare for these following steps?

Thank you very much!

I believe the greatest takeaway from the program was the foundation to build a more professional approach to our entrepreneurial venture. That was key.

Though it is a process we keep working on, and it is something we keep building, we went from being a group of bright people with enthusiast ideas, to becoming a team with a clearer value proposition and objectives for the future.

We learned about roadmapping, prioritization, business modelling, financial projecting, and we gained a deeper understanding of what it would take to actually build the company we were dreaming of.

6.As part of the EIT Food Seedbed program POD received funding. What advice do you have for other social entrepreneurs looking to get funding for their businesses?

I would tell them to focus on developing a solid and very clear value proposition that they can easily build a set of strong metrics or indicators upon.To try and build it quickly so as to test the market readiness for their idea as soon as possible, and identify potential pivoting alternatives in the case that they can’t find some traction on the initial idea.

I would also tell them to work very closely with key agents in their targeted market to validate and test hypotheses and assumptions, which are our strongest allies, but can also be our biggest enemies if not validated thoroughly.

Find these key agents, and bring them the possibility to gain ownership on the mvp or the idea, as this is essential (under our own experience) to quickly build a prototype or mvp that can be used for further validation.

Funding entities will look for traction metrics, a strong team, but more than anything, a solid and clear demand for the value proposition and a strong go-to market strategy to capitalize on.

Finding metrics early on is hard, but key for gaining access to funding in good conditions. 

7.We’re very excited to see what’s to come for Plant on Demand. Can you give us a look into what’s next for the company?

We are currently building a multi-user approach on our architecture so that we can enhance cooperation amongst producers and farmers.

After a very long customer discovery journey, we found that the market we are trying to approach and penetrate, one of the key elements is facilitating collaboration amongst the agents in the value chain, so that’s where our focus currently lies.

We are also working on building strategic alliances and partnerships with other startups that have services that can complement our own value proposition, so we are very excited about collaborating with other projects. It’s a  very enrichful process, as you get to learn where other companies stand as they navigate a similar same journey to our own.

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