Yili partners with StartLife and Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

The Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), University of Cambridge. Pic: Yili/IfM
The Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), University of Cambridge. Pic: Yili/IfM

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Chinese-headquartered dairy company Yili is officially partnering with the agri-foodtech accelerator StartLife in the Netherlands.

Yili is also joining the Open Innovation Forum, an industry network for food and FMCG companies at the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), which is part of the University of Cambridge in the UK. Through building this wider innovation ecosystem, Yili said it will enhance collaborations across Europe to work on the challenges faced in the food and agricultural sectors to deliver healthy solutions to consumers.

The collaboration with StartLife enables Yili to tap into the innovation ecosystem of agri-foodtech start-up and scale-up companies. Together with entrepreneurs, Yili said it will also brainstorm and facilitate exchange of new ideas across the industry. Yili Innovation Center Europe and Startlife are both based on the campus of Wageningen University & Research in Food Valley in The Netherlands.

Gerrit Smit, managing director of Yili Innovation Center, told Dairy Reporter, “Our aim is to help the start-ups get success. Best would be to have success in bringing the new inventions to the market. Yili is great in that part and by making it a success, all parties involved will benefit. Yili’s strong network can also help start-ups to get in touch with other companies which can help to upscale their new technologies. So all in all, that is the purpose of an active ecosystem: to make things work!”

Through becoming a member of the IfM’s Open Innovation Forum, Yili said it can collaborate with industry experts and academics, gaining access to the latest industry insights, tools and techniques.

IfM’s Open Innovation Forum also provides a platform for collaboration opportunities among companies at full range of activities in the food, beverage and FMCG value chains. The forum helps members combine their internal thinking with external insights, ideas and paths to market, and Yili said it strengthens the company’s membership in the Corporate Venturing Leadership Forum originating from the Cambridge ecosystem as well.

Through these collaborations, Yili said it gains access to innovative agricultural and healthy food start-ups to help overcome future challenges faced by the industry, including challenges emerging in the next decade and beyond. Yili said it wants to be a catalyst for enabling start-ups to gain access to the fast-growing healthy food market in China and the rest of Asia.

Yili invests in this type of work quite strongly, Smit said, “because we realize - as pointed out also frequently by our chairman Pan Gang - ‘No innovation, no future’.”

On the timescale, Smit said, “It is fair to say that in most cases the working with start-ups means that technologies and new ingredients are in early stages of developments. So often a lot of work needs to be done, including the regulatory aspects, to get a new opportunity to the market. Also, the mentioned upscaling is a challenge in itself. So, in most cases this will take a number of years, but that is all in the game if one takes the point seriously of: ‘No innovation, no future’.”

StartLife is Europe’s longest running and leading agrifoodtech accelerator. Its mission is to support founders in accelerating their agrifoodtech startups that help, shape, a sustainable food system. Since 2010, StartLife has built,supported and funded more than 300 agrifoodtech startups propelling breakthrough technologies in food & agriculture.

IfM Engage partners with organizations across industry, government and academia to support them in solving complex challenges, using approaches and knowledge developed at the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), a division of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering.

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