LiveKuna: A Sustainable Food Startup For The Future

COVID-19 may have put pressure on venture capital, but thanks to high growth potential, sustainable startups are still an appealing investment. During the pandemic, with many customers turning to healthier foods, a young brand called LiveKuna became a safe bet for the NYC-based 13 Ventures fund.

Strategy Behind An Investment
In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, 13 Ventures was focusing on sustainable startups with a strong online presence. LiveKuna, the first brand in the U.S. to combine chia with probiotics in a superfood blend, fully satisfied their criteria.

The company was first launched in Ecuador. “We were intrigued by the powerful nutritional qualities of the little chia seed and decided to learn more about it,” said Santiago Stacey, co-founder of LiveKuna. “We found out that Ecuador was among the largest producers of chia in America, but 99 percent of seeds were exported.”

In 2014, its first year, the startup grew by 800 percent, further evidence of its high potential. Later, the startup’s team moved to the U.S., where they participated in the Food-X accelerator program.

What Are The Risks?
Identifying risks is also an important part of the decision-making process for impact investors. COVID-19 exposed many pitfalls of the global supply chain, and startups in the organics industry were affected as well.

During the pandemic, LiveKuna had to implement new safety protocols and ensure that their supply chain was not compromised by crop shortages.

The company also experienced delivery delays: Ecuador introduced export restrictions to prioritize produce that spoils faster, such as bananas. “In some cases, waiting times increased 20-30 percent,” said Santiago Stacey.

Identifying An Opportunity
When 13 Ventures analyzed LiveKuna’s business, they were impressed with everything it had managed to accomplish. In 2016, the company integrated quinoa and other value-added products. It has made it onto the shelves of 650 convenience stores in Canada, as well as Walmart in the U.S., one of the country’s largest retail chains. LiveKuna is also expecting to turn a profit by the end of 2020.

The 13 Ventures fund spotted an opportunity to help the startup with e-commerce and expansion into large U.S. supermarket chains, where the cost of entry is high for most small sustainable brands. With this aim, LiveKuna is planning to raise a Series A round in the coming months.

“We are also planning to expand our network of farmers in Ecuador and create more opportunities for them,” said Stacey. “Volcanic soil is the reason why we are focusing on this part of the world. It’s rich in minerals and vitamins, and year after year the soil is only getting better, while in many other counties it’s exhausted by the agriculture.”

From Idea To Product
Transforming a new concept into a sustainable company can be a challenge. LiveKuna’s founders managed to attract the attention of Ecuador’s first early stage investment fund, Alianza para Emprendimiento (AEI) and received a $400,000 investment to kickstart their business. Many other innovators aren’t so lucky.

In recent years, however, new programs have emerged to help bridge the gap between idea and product. For aspiring innovators, these programs open a path to their own businesses; for investors, they provide an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of promising projects.

One of these platforms is Ideanco Climathon, a workshop and hackathon, designed to figure out entrepreneurial ideas for tackling climate challenges. In order to make the Climathon a reality, Ideanco, a global consultancy, cooperated with the London-headquartered knowledge and innovation community Climate KIC, as well as the New York-based V Startup Agency.

Innovators aged 16 and up are invited to participate, and the winning team will join Ideanco’s own incubation program. Previously, the company’s climate impact events generated an investment intent of $47 million from international investors in the U.S., UK, and China.

The next event will run in 2021, simultaneously in nine cities: New York, Beirut, Boston, Dubai, Tampa, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, and San Diego. Participants will focus on key challenges that form the crux of climate change: agriculture, mobility, and air pollution.

By Victoria Zavyalova, co-founder, V Startup Agency
First published on Benzinga