On the heels of a successful inaugural year, this spring WeWork Labs—The We Company’s platform supporting early-stage startups in 49 locations across 32 global cities—is launching WeWork Food Labs, which provides dedicated space, community, and programming to entrepreneurs working to address the biggest challenges in food today.
The platform will support a community of startups in industries from hospitality, consumer goods, and kitchen appliances to supply chain management, agricultural technology, distribution software, robotics, and beyond. It’s the second innovation lab developed by WeWork Labs, following one devoted to new advances in mining in Brazil.
For Roee Adler, global head of WeWork Labs, the ethos behind WeWork Food Labs is a natural extension of the company’s commitment to sustainability and early-stage entrepreneurs. “Those ideas intersect at Food Labs,” he says. “How we approach food and sustainability today will have an impact on us for generations to come.”
With growing greenhouse gas emission rates, a rising global population, and environmental concerns around food waste, the food industry is ripe for innovation. This presents The We Company with a unique opportunity to disrupt the space and leverage a dynamic community of entrepreneurs on a global scale, despite the challenges normally associated with the industry. “In a way, building a food startup is much more difficult than building startups in other areas,” says Adler. “Facilities can be expensive, equipment is required, [and] procurement of customer pipelines can be difficult.”
The WeWork Food Labs flagship location is slated to open in late 2019 at WeWork 511 W 25th St in New York, adjacent to the High Line in West Chelsea. It will provide members with a custom R&D space, pantry, private dining room, merchandising area, and indoor-outdoor event space. An inspiring workspace will include dedicated desks, private offices, conference rooms, phone booths, a photo studio, and a podcast studio. Members will have subsidized access to farm space, commercial kitchens, and maker spaces.
The lab will support a general Food Labs program, accessible through paid membership, and the Food Labs Accelerator, which will follow a traditional accelerator model. The first participants will follow a structured curriculum over five months, starting in October. WeWork will seed $1 million in equity investments.
“The companies we’re looking for are innovators,” said Adler. “They will bring the future and the new ideas. We will provide them with the tools and resources they need to create sustainable solutions that address challenges both within our own community and on a global scale.”
The accelerator is accepting applications through May 15.
Food-tech veteran Menacham Katz, who was tapped to head WeWork Food Labs, is aiming to build a community of policymakers, venture capitalists, and university partners to help bring members’ ideas to life. “We’re in a unique position to provide an environment to collaborate and grow,” Katz says.
Some of these partner companies include The Spoon, as well as global investment firm Unovis Partners and its VC fund New Crop Capital. The latter will join the space to assess WeWork Food Labs startups for potential future investments in sustainable and plant-based solutions.
“We believe the broken global food system is ripe for innovation and large-scale disruption, and fixing it poses a vital economic and ethical imperative of our time,” said Dan Altschuler Malek, senior venture partner at New Crop Capital. “We are thrilled to partner with WeWork Food Labs and join their mission in powering the future of food.”
WeWork Food Labs is also forming an advisory board of policymakers, educators, chefs, and industry experts, including Samantha Wasser, founder of vegan fast-casual chain by CHLOE, and food scholar and New York University professor Marion Nestle.
“We thought that if we could bring the best and the brightest food startups into one physical community and provide the facilities that they need, then something really interesting could happen,” says Adler.