With the challenges facing the world being so varied and complex for corporate sustainability teams, deciding where to focus their attention is a huge task and tackling every facet of sustainability alone is unviable.
For that reason, many companies are building bridges with their supply chain, customers and industry peers to forge a common approach, working together to further their impact on society and the environment.
Working with startups can prove especially effective as these small and nimble organisations can bring innovative ideas, technologies and approaches that can be tested and then scaled inside global companies with local presence.
One example is AB InBev. In 2018, the global beer company set its 2025 Sustainability Goals. From water stewardship to climate action and product circularity, the company knew that it needed to work in collaboration with others to deliver on its goals, including entrepreneurs and startups.
As a result, AB InBev launched the 100+ Accelerator in 2018. It aims to support entrepreneurs and startups in solving pressing global sustainability challenges, including:
- Circular Economy: Seeking out ways to reuse packaging, improve packaging systems by increasing recycled content, implement new systems of recycling infrastructure and eliminate weight and other components.
- Water Stewardship: Creating and implementing sustainable and energy-efficient practices to build a more water secure world.
- Smart agriculture: Helping farmers produce higher yielding, higher quality crops – sustainably – by leveraging science, technology and financing.
- Climate action: Finding more affordable, renewable forms of energy that can change how companies power their production, manufacturing, logistics and more.
- Inclusive growth: Finding innovative solutions for societal equity, workplace inclusion, economic prosperity and long-term environmental health.
- Biodiversity: Solutions to protect, renew and grow the biodiversity of all ecosystems amid dramatic declines in populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians.
AB InBev’s 100+ Accelerator
The 100+ accelerator provides funding and support to innovative startups that can support AB InBev and its partners’ sustainability journeys. It includes startups ranging from seed to series B stages of funding and runs over an annual lifecycle as follows:
- Define challenges: Narrowly defining the priority challenges for the year with the help of industry experts and internal local partners
- Source solutions: Engaging with entrepreneurial communities and startups from all over the world to source a top notch cohort for the program
- Virtual programme: Training in business operations, negotiation, leadership, communications, finance, marketing and pitching to investors
- Local pilot: Implementing local pilots to validate solution viability and product/market fit, with up to $100K Investment
- Set up to scale: Upon pilot completion and successful results, preparing to scale through a larger commercial engagement with one or more of the partners
The programme is run by a multifunctional team , including a lead and co-lead, a finance director, project managers who help guide the selection process and pilots, and marketing & social media managers. The team also draws on the support of members of AB InBev’s sustainability teams and the wider business as it implements the pilots.
Launching and expanding the accelerator
Since launch, the accelerator has worked with over 70+ startups that represent more than 20 countries. The program has piloted and scaled dozens of sustainability-focused projects around the world. In 2021, the 100+ Accelerator partnered with The Coca Cola Company, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive, helping further give strength and scale to the initiative.
The process of bringing the extra partners on-board began with a workshop bringing together representatives of 100+ and all of the partner companies along with consultants from the non-profit Aspen Institute to set a vision and define the aims of the partnership.
The above challenges tackled by the accelerator were the result of collaboration with these partners to complement the new partners’ sustainability strategies.
Finding and assessing startups
The accelerator’s success relies on identifying some of the most innovative and impact-driven sustainability startups around the world and connecting them with the challenges AB InBev and its partners aim to help solve.
Startups invited to join the accelerator should demonstrate the opportunity to have an impact in one or more of the challenge areas outlined above. In addition, key criteria that startups are assessed for include:
- Ready to go to market: Startups that have already launched their product or are ready to go to market
- Strong teams: Companies led by passionate entrepreneurs who have surrounded themselves with diverse talent that are in the best position to succeed
- Traction: Startups that have demonstrated traction in the form of IP, revenue, clients, pilots or established contracts will have the best chance of getting accepted
The 100+ team finds potential candidates through several channels:
- Social media, including posts on its own accounts as well as those of its partners – which have huge global reach
- Local business teams, who have particular insight into their local startup ecosystems and can spread the word through events and media activity
- Referrals from venture capital firms the accelerator has relationships with
- Networking at events
Once applications are in, the 100+ Accelerator team evaluates the candidates based on defined criteria. Following a rigorous review process and shortlist interviews with the Steering Committee, the startups are selected for the cohort.
Each candidate selected for the cohort is matched with a local team within the corporate partner(s) who have selected them, which will support them during the pilot rollout.
Supporting the startups to grow their capabilities
Every startup that joins the programme receives funding and support to help them scale up their solutions through the companies’ supply chains. This includes a training programme supported by external partners to help expand the companies’ capabilities.
The sessions cover a range of areas including:
- Public Speaking
- Financial modelling
- Leadership development
- Negotiation skills
- Pitching strategies
The 100+ team also helps guide the startups as they go through the process of launching a pilot programme and beyond.
Running pilot projects
The participants work with the local teams they have been matched with to scale up their product or service and deploy it in that particular market, including funding up to $100,000 provided by the respective corporate partner.
Pilot structure depends on the nature of the startup’s solution and its stage of development, but some examples have included:
- Implementing data-based solutions using sensors in the bottle wash process at an AB InBev facility in Brazil to help reduce water use in the cleaning process
- Designing, installing and testing lightweight and flexible solar panels at an AB InBev brewery in China
- Creating a water-soluble and biodegradable alternative to single use plastic to replace poly bags for Colgate-Palmolive and stretch film for AB InBev
Support for long-term growth
Startups with successful pilots have the potential opportunity to continue working with their corporate partner and the Accelerator. To date, more than 50% of the cohort members go on to continue working with their partner company.
The 100+ team supports them during this ongoing work, including advising on collaboration with the business teams, preparing white papers that document how the solutions fared during the pilots, and advocating on their behalf as they search for additional funding from investors.
How 100+ supported Chanzi to scale up its efforts to tackle waste and carbon emissions
Tanzania-based Chanzi uses black soldier flies to convert organic waste into protein-rich animal feed. In addition to providing a cheaper source of food for farmers, this can make a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions as the waste will no longer break down and release methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.
Working with AB InBev and Unilever, Chanzi was able to open a new facility in Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, which is processing approximately four tons of the companies’ waste each week. Thanks to the pilot’s success and the support of further funding from P4G, Chanzi now aims to open five more facilities across Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa, with a long-term plan to open 47 total sites.
In its first three cohorts, the 100+ accelerator has supported more than 70 startups with over $10m in equity-free funding. These startups have gone on to raise more than $300m from other investors as they scaled up their operations with the help of the four partner companies.
The startups are already having a tangible impact all around the world, with notable successes including:
- Collection of more than 1,000 tons of glass waste in Brazil
- Introduction of returnable packaging in the United States
- Recycled electric vehicle batteries that store renewable electricity in China
- Implementation of green and profitable cleaning solutions for brewing operations to eliminate chemicals use in Colombia
The 2023 cohort will include 45 startups looking to make a similar impact.
Advice for others
Having overseen the progress of 100+ since its inception, Carolina Garcia, the accelerator’s co-lead and AB InBev’s Director of Sustainable Innovation, shares some tips for companies looking to partner with sustainability startups:
- Think like a startup: Innovation often fails to succeed on the first attempt. Be prepared to tolerate and learn from that failure and work together to continue co-developing the solution.
- Collaborate with your peers: This can be challenging in a corporate environment, but when it comes to driving sustainable outcomes it’s important to collaborate. The more companies that adopt sustainable approaches, the better outcome for the planet and its people.
- Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good: Pilots should move quickly and test their hypotheses to determine if further investment and time is worthwhile.
The challenges that startups are invited to address will continue evolving to reflect the changing priorities of the partners and the changing sustainability challenges the world is facing. The 100+ Accelerator aims to become a reference for other companies and startups, and is hoping to expand its corporate partners. In addition to current FMCG companies, the 100+ is open to welcoming partners from other industries, reflecting the wide applicability of the solutions that are being developed by the accelerator.