Dr. Chris Aurand, Open Innovation Leader, Thai Union
SPACE-F is the first global FoodTech startups incubator and accelerator in Thailand, bringing together leading FoodTech startups and corporates through an innovative mentorship, business connections, and co-working program – established through the cooperation of Thai Union Group,
the National Innovation Agency, Mahidol University, and supported by industry leading corporates.
In the interview, Dr. Chris Aurand shares some insights about the relationship between Thai Union and SPACE-F and tips for aspiring FoodTech startups.
Please explain what Thai Union does.
Thai Union Group PCL is the world’s seafood leader, bringing high quality, healthy, tasty, and innovative seafood products to customers across the world for 45 years since 1977, when the company was founded.
The company’s global brand portfolio includes market-leading international brands such as Chicken of the Sea, John West, Petit Navire, Parmentier, Mareblu, King Oscar, and Rügen Fisch, Thai-leading brands SEALECT, Fisho, Qfresh, Monori, OMG Meat, Bellotta and Marvo, and ingredient and supplement brands UniQ™BONE, UniQ™DHA and ZEAvita.
In 2015, the Global Innovation Center was established as the Global Innovation Incubator, a center for research and the development of products for Thai Union's brands around the world. It was also created to combine modern nutritional science and production innovations to develop products that address the needs of consumers and the global food industry. The center also uses technology and innovation to improve production processes, providing additional benefits and value to customers, consumers and stakeholders.
What kick-started Thai Union’s interest in working with startups?
Innovation plays a critical role in advancing the growth of companies and economies alike. As innovation serves a key role in shaping the future of Thai Union and provides a competitive advantage for the company. Our Global Innovation Center (GIC) pursues pioneering research and technology development to constantly push innovation as part of Thai Union’s mission to be
the world’s most trusted seafood leader.
Housed in over 5,000 square meters of space in central Bangkok, the GIC provides an expanded capability to engage in research related to the fundamental studies of our raw materials, new processing technologies, and the utilization of rest-raw materials to create added value. A key component of the GIC’s activities involves translational research to bring new innovations to
Thai Union is also committed to Open Innovation, embracing cooperation with external parties including universities, research institutions and FoodTech startups. In today’s world, Open Innovation is becoming increasingly important, providing exposure to innovative ideas and technologies and in turn helping accelerate our internal innovation efforts.
Our engagement in SPACE-F is an important part of our Open Innovation strategy. One of the main activities of our Open Innovation efforts is to work with innovative FoodTech startups through the SPACE-F program, helping to advance our collaboration networks and innovation opportunities.
SPACE-F also exposes us to investment opportunities while nurturing deep-tech startups in the food industry and accelerating startups to grow seamlessly beyond Thailand. Creating a win-win situation for the benefit of all parties involved.
In what ways do you support the entrepreneurs in the SPACE-F program?
Thai Union supports startups through the SPACE-F program with our partners. Thai Union provides an opportunity for startups to work directly with our R&D team and conduct proof of concept trials in real world environments with our Business Units.
What do startups receive for joining SPACE-F?
Startups that join SPACE-F will have the opportunity to access the program's partners and work with leaders in the food industry to prove their business concepts by tapping into the wealth of market and scaleup knowledge these leaders hold. Startups will have the opportunity to showcase
their companies to investors, participate in networking opportunities, and join a vibrant network of FoodTech startups that can provide support and answers on how to grow their startups.
What does Thai Union stand to gain from supporting the startups?
If you have had the privilege of working with a startup, you are acutely aware of the passion and energy they bring to the relationship. The passion and new ideas that startups bring to the working relationship with Thai Union can inspire employees to look outside of their everyday activities, leading to true novel innovations. Thai Union gains an opportunity to develop new business concepts that would not traditionally fit into our business, subsequently growing our business into new sectors.
What, if anything, has surprised you the most about working with startups?
No matter how many startups you have worked with, it is always refreshing experience firsthand the passion and determination, founders have to make their company a success. For example, Alchemy a Singaporean startups from SPACE-F’s first cohort as developed a functional ingredient that lowers the glycemic Index of rice and other carbohydrate rich products. Alchemy has had successful market adoption of their product by lowering the glycemic index of foods while
maintaining a great taste, though they were not satisfied. Therefore, the founders reexamined their value proposition and adjusted their proposition to a solution that reduces the sugar content of food while maintaining a great taste. This change of their value proposition has achieved accelerated the growth of their business, highlighting their passion for their business by being willing to examine their core message with a critical eye and adjust it accordingly.
From your experience, what are the 3 main qualities that make a startup successful?
1. Perseverance and the willingness to pivot their company into new areas when things aren’t
2. Passion for what they are doing.
3. Ability to build a team that will compensate for your weakness and challenge the way you
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the food industry in 5 years?
The biggest challenge the food industry will see in the next 5 years is the impact of climate change and the shift in consumer demands for sustainable food. It will require dramatic changes to be made in the food system. Aspiring entrepreneurs should look at how to feed the growing world
population in a more sustainable way. New alternative protein sources will be needed that have a lower carbon footprint and can be produced locally to offset the use of soy and pea proteins. This will help support the growth of local industries while reducing the impact that the food system has on the environment.
Lastly, what advice would you give founders interested injoining future Batches of SPACE-F?
The hardest step in the journey of an entrepreneur is the first step. There are lively startups communities that is more than willing to help you bring your concept to market, you just need to be willing to ask for help.