Fresh: Takeaways from our first pre-studio program

January 20, 2023

Reflecting on the First Fresh Program

Our mission at Fresh is to build transformational ventures that can accelerate a circular and regenerative food system. 

To that end, each year we select and invite 25-30 individuals – each of whom share a strong mission drive and are ready to dive into building a new venture – to join our venture building program. At the end of the program, we continue working with the best teams in our studio towards launching a venture from scratch.

The first Fresh pre-studio program, which came to a close in May 2022, was quite a journey. In this blog, we share the experience of our first cohort – what it looked like for participants to take the leap, understand a problem worth working on, find a co-founder, and start their quest to transform the food system.

Digital pre-program: Grounding knowledge

The 2022 Fresh pre-studio program had to adapt to the realities of Covid-19 and thus had two phases. It started online in the Fall of 2021 and continued in-person in Rotterdam in February 2022, based out of the dynamic environment of Blue City.

The first part of the program equipped the cohort with the knowledge they needed to further and more deeply navigate the food system. Fresh deliberately chooses people with a strong mission drive, but not everyone with aligned intentions starts with equal expertise or knowledge. We want to help all participants to broaden their horizons so they can focus on what they feel is most important to address, not just on what they already know. Jointly zooming in and out on the food system both helps create a shared language whilst also also uncovering the (potential) connections between their expertise field and other parts of the system.

“One of the biggest values I got from the Fresh program were the people and the network. The people you meet through it and just having all these interesting conversations, and just being able to get knowledge much more efficiently because rather than having to do research yourself you can just talk to someone who already knows the topic.” - Chris Bloomfield, co-founder of Clover.

The online portion of the Fresh program brought together just over 30 potential founders to learn about the fundamentals to transform the food system.

Starting in September 2021, the first Fresh cohort joined online for a part-time course around four topics:

  1. Food system knowledge baselining and sharing high-potential opportunities
    Fresh gave a deep-dive to founders about the terrestrial system, the aquatic system, and the landless farming solutions that could make a difference. 
  1. Co-founder matching
    To get kick-started with co-founder matching, founders were given tools to better understand themselves and how they want to build or add to a team.

  2. Training in systems thinking & venture building
    The digital program offered some crash courses on systems thinking and analysis as well as the basics of building a high-impact venture from scratch. 
  1. Personal mission development
    As a lead up to choosing a topic to dive into, founders were challenged to identify and enrich their personal objectives and passions. 
“The digital program was very in-depth. I felt like I was learning so much. That was really useful when the program started as I realised I was able to follow sessions about specific topics, like nutrient density, without any confusion.”
- Zuzanna, founder of HarvestCare

Getting together in Rotterdam

While the online part of the program focused on furthering a deep expertise in the food system, the second and bigger in-person part of the program helped founders find themselves in a pressure-cooked situation and collaborate with mission-aligned peers.  We see in-person engagement as crucial to building working relationships and creating the early seeds of a strong team. 

In this phase of the program, Fresh helped founders understand and interact with the food system in the real-world, guide them in deeper research for problems they wanted to focus on, and develop solutions that have potential to genuinely shift the way the system operates.  

Getting Real World Insight 

Founders engaged with dozens of guest speakers and program partners who could add colour to their understanding and direction to their inquiry. They visited regional farms and spoke to founders of successful organisations, many of whom were in their shoes just a few years ago. 

In the first month of the in-person program, our cohort paid a visit to a multitude of organisations that are paving the way toward a regenerative future to learn more about their challenges what is needed in the space. Founders visited farms practicing regenerative agriculture, organisations building bioreactors, brewers of regenerative soy sauce, and food forests making both an ecological and business model come to life. 

Cohort network effect and FOMO

In the early stages of venture building, having quick access to the pioneers, potential customers and experts is crucial in accelerating your journey. Fresh has built up a strong ecosystem, filled with people that want to help others succeed. However, the value of a cohort becomes evident when 25 experienced and driven people come together, all very well networked within different fields of expertise which creates an abundance of opportunities to talk to experts or learn alongside other cohort members. It even got to a stage where we all got together and needed each team to focus purely on the expertise they needed with fear of missing out in meeting and visiting experts & pioneers. 

“It was very inspiring to see that, actually, it's already happening. It makes you think of all the possibilities. So I would say it created a more open mind, and the biggest takeaway is we just have to do it and it's going to be a hell of a ride. Because everyone just started and learned along the way. I would say that's also the only way to go. Seeing and meeting these entrepreneurs was a motivation for me to decide to become an entrepreneur. I was also really inspired to see so much love in the craftsmanship of these businesses.” - Daniel, co-founder of Clover

Development mode

After identifying a specific problem and working to thoroughly understand its dynamics, the last two months of the program were devoted to identifying and validating a suitable solution and further exploring co-founder relationships. 

In this phase of the program, things become quite iterative. Founders are digging into particular solution directions, getting feedback from experts, and refining or switching direction altogether. Founders are also more consciously exploring complementary founder teams.

“This well-known Einstein quote was shared in one of the Fresh presentations: ‘If I have to solve a problem, I'll spend 99% of the time understanding the problem and 1% solving it.’ And I feel that Fresh really made sure we did that. It’s important if you want to bring about successful systemic change. The key takeaway for me was to take the time to understand what you are really trying to do.” - Daniel

Fresh Ecosystem Day

The last day of the program is what we call Fresh Ecosystem Day. Individuals and teams present their process and final concept to the broader network of partners, funders, and other key stakeholders. For teams, it’s an opportunity to both receive immediate feedback and find aligned organisations with whom to collaborate. 

Last year, Fresh Ecosystem Day took place at Blue City. 11 groups shared their final concept in the morning, followed by two rounds of small group input in the afternoon from aligned stakeholders. 

In the end, Fresh began working with four exciting ventures in the Fresh Studio, which you can read more about here

Next Fresh Program: Spring 2023
Would you like to join our next cohort?
Apply here. The deadline for the 2023 program is March 1st, with an early deadline on January 31st.