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Sani Ibrahim
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa,University
Agricultural economics and extension
100Level, Nigeria.
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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 Idenaco’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.

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