Innovation takes centre stage at SIAL Start-up 2024 

April 19, 2024

SIAL Paris will once again have a dedicated space for start-ups at the show this year from 19 to 23 October highlighting the latest innovative solutions as well as the changes in sectors such as agriculture and agri-food that are driving innovation. Start-ups from France and around the world will display their products and solutions carving out the future of the industry. 

Innovation takes centre stage at SIAL Start-up 2024 

Startup Sesame is one of the leading agencies dedicated to tech events in Europe. Composed of specialists in the fields of innovation and business events, the company has launched and co-produced international conferences and start-up competitions that have brought together millions of visitors, thousands of start-ups and hundreds of high-profile speakers. Startup Sesame has been a partner of SIAL Start-up since 2020, and continues to build on its experience for each event. Ahead of SIAL Paris 2024, the SIAL newsroom spoke with Ben Costantini, CEO and Founder of Startup Sesame and its brand Sesamers, about the importance of the programme and his outlook for this year’s event. 

Startup Sesame has been a partner of SIAL Paris since 2020. How has this partnership evolved since the 2022 edition? 

We’ve learnt a lot from the 2022 edition of SIAL Paris with SIAL Start-up, which is the programme aimed at young companies. We had a lot of discussions with the various SIAL Start-up partners about how to develop the programme further and take into account aspects that could be improved. In 2022, there was a crisis phase for investment in tech in general, and now we’re in a rather positive phase, so the number of start-ups is continuing to rise. We’ve also taken into account, in a very important aspect, the needs of entrepreneurs who are a little further away from the core food industry, in particular companies that create solutions based on scientific tenders, R&D, and what’s referred to as deep tech in general terms.
We wanted to develop our ability to respond to this aspect for the 2024 edition. In 2024, we want to welcome more and more diverse companies to the show. 

Innovation takes centre stage at SIAL Start-up 2024 
Ben Costantini, CEO and Founder Startup Sesame

Could you describe the main activities and core business of Startup Sesame, as well as your brand, Sesamers, and why it was a priority for you to be a partner in this project?

We work with tech ecosystem players in general on issues related to innovation, entrepreneurship and events. We are involved in various activities, but in particular, one of our great specialties is to support event organisers and in particular trade show organisers, as well as their various partners and stakeholders, in the development of activities aimed at start-ups and the tech startup ecosystem. What makes Sesamers special is our media dedicated to tech events.

A tech event means an event where there’s a significant concentration of start-ups and which generally aims to bring these start-ups together with investors. That’s our definition, but it can take on many forms such as a small meeting, a meet-up, or a major trade show. By keeping an eye on what’s going on in the sector and writing about it, we’re able to identify new companies as they emerge. It’s a really interesting medium for discovering gems from companies at the very beginning of their story. Generally, a company will attend a small local conference to start, to make themselves known, before being covered by the press. So there’s really this whole idea of being at the cutting edge of monitoring start-ups, but also their counterparts, speakers, event formats and tech events. 

There are lots of really interesting things that we can do with our media Sesamers, for example covering and interviewing start-ups that are finalists in a competition at an event. Or we’ll highlight the fact that an investor has invested in a given company and was at a given conference, talking about a given subject. We’ll always try to find a point that’s linked to the event, but that still allows us to talk about a whole range of subjects and a whole range of different players, from major groups to the public sector, and so on. 

To bring this back to SIAL Paris and why it was so important for us to be able to continue to work and develop our partnership, it’s because we are convinced that SIAL Paris is one of the biggest trade shows not only in terms of size but also impact. We will try to set an example for other events of what can be done or accelerate the transformation of traditional industries with entrepreneurs and players who are creating the industries of tomorrow. We’re convinced that this will be achieved in part through new companies that are tackling this very issue, in the environmental game, in the impact game, etc. 

In your opinion, why is Startup Sesame a strategic choice of partner for SIAL Startup?
The first reason is our international side. Since the company was founded, it’s been part of our DNA to have a very European footprint. Our newsletter, for example, has 20,000 subscribers, 35% of whom are based in the US. In the years leading up to 2020, we organised a lot of events in Asia, including a major international conference dedicated to start-ups in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2019. In that respect, this very international footprint is quite distinctive and we’re proud of it. If someone calls on us, it’s because they want to make their project known internationally. 

Then there’s another aspect which is a bit more niche and specific, but which I think also justifies the fact that we’re not just in one sector, we’ve worked on projects in the energy, mobility and composite materials sectors for example, as well as on conferences and trade fairs in the tech sector, which is very multi-sectoral, so we’re very familiar with the issues involved in trade fairs globally. This means that we can bring elements we’ve learned elsewhere, at other shows, in other sectors. One last thing that’s important is that we’re very startup compatible: we have a certain way of working, of talking, of communicating with entrepreneurs that also helps.

Why is it so important for start-ups to attend face-to-face events such as SIAL Paris? The primary objective for start-ups at an event like SIAL Paris is the promise that they will be able to meet their customers so that they can test the market. Maybe some of them are at the stage where they’re about to start marketing something, so they are getting feedback from the market, which is very international, including all the businesses in the value chain. It’s also interesting to be able to meet other entrepreneurs and peers. Our long-term goal in developing SIAL Start-up is to become a meeting place for all those involved in food innovation and technology in Paris. 

Generally speaking, that’s why it’s important to come face-to-face, to have a personal presence, because it allows you to catch-up with people you already know and build new business relationships. When you’re developing an entrepreneurial project, the network is 95% of what you’re going to start with, and that’s how you’re going to develop it. You have to build the product, you have to develop the tech, but in reality you have to find your partners, your first employees, and consumers fairly quickly. While you can find them on the internet, in reality they’re less available and they trust you less than if you met them in real life. These first networks are  ambassadors who believe in the project.  There’s also the fact that when you come to a physical event, whether it’s for the entrepreneur or for the buyers or for VCs, for anyone, it’s actually harder to attend, it costs more money, etc. so there’s a filter that is useful. Maybe there are fewer attendees than on a virtual event, but the ones that are there have already reached a certain threshold and have the financial capacity to come to the event. It demonstrates a certain credibility and inspires trust.

What are the advantages of having a space dedicated to start-ups at SIAL Paris? 

The concentration and density of start-ups is what makes a tech event worthwhile. SIAL Paris isn’t a tech event, that’s not its basic ambition, but the density adds to the value and attracts players from the tech ecosystem. In particular venture capital investors, but also open innovation directors, accelerators, etc. In fact, there are a whole host of players that by having a place with a focus, it’s easier to attract their attention and it makes it easier for them to meet with start-ups and organise itineraries. It also makes it easier for journalists who want to meet certain start-ups in a certain field to come and meet with really interesting companies in a morning for example.

All of this is what makes for diversity,  having a dedicated space, but it also makes it possible to create a programme of conferences and events aimed specifically at start-ups and this ecosystem. So in fact, having it all in the same place and having a small stage to feed them with subjects that speak to them and are important to them, helps to ensure that the space is effervescent over a long period, and that it’s not just a case of visitors coming for an hour to see the companies then leaving. It has a vocation, which is  an enormous virtue when your objective is to federate the ecosystem, to succeed in bringing together players who today are a little further away from the show.

Why is it important for SIAL Paris’ historic participants to meet start-ups during the show? 

It’s about getting a head start, understanding what’s going on, but also who you can work with. When a company is at the beginning of its career, it’s going to be careful about testing win-win partnership models, things that aren’t just based on the pure sale of the product, because they’re in the process of launching, they want to understand the markets, they’d be interested in having a partner who can help them distribute in a given territory. So this enables them to form partnerships under conditions that may be commercially more advantageous with other established players.

There’s also an aspect which, for us in any case, is part of the long-term vision of this type of development, which is to educate the incumbent players about what tech is and what start-ups are and how their structures can contribute to it, participate in it, among other things through the development of investment capacities in start-ups, so that they’re going to put money into companies from the beginning, to help them finance themselves and have a privileged strategic relationship with them. 

There’s also another aspect, which is perhaps more specific to SIAL Paris because of its international dimension. It also allows the historical participants to get a better idea of the trends in certain countries. SIAL Innovation already provides insight into some of the trends,  but here with the start-up area exhibitors can see who is working on what and where in the world. This gives perspective, which is a key part of what we do.

This year, for the first time, projects in the early stage will also be exhibiting in the start-up space. Why is this important? How will it encourage innovation? 

In fact, it’s not exactly that there weren’t early stage start-ups before, but what we realised is that for a start-up in its initial phases, five days at the show is very complicated financially speaking, even in terms of human resources, there aren’t enough people in the team to run a stand for that long. So there are purely practical and logistical constraints. 

As such, this year we developed an offer that allows you to come for just one day. This may seem anecdotal, but it’s not. SIAL Paris is an important show with a lot of important names.
When companies come for just one day, they’re still going to be able to meet with investors etc. So they have the same type of experience, just that the duration of their exhibition is reduced to make it easier​​—and of course more affordable—for new companies starting out to take part in the event. So we rotate through a series of spaces that are allocated to a different company each day. In a single day, you can meet hundreds of potential prospects.

For the sector, this means we’re going to be able to highlight companies that are often working on truly disruptive technologies, in particular with a scientific R&D base. If, for example, a company is in the process of developing a certain alternative protein and they’re in the process of starting tests outside the lab, they might not be able to come and exhibit for five days. On the other hand, if we create an offer dedicated to them, it can be done. These are the players who will be supporting the exhibitors of tomorrow, except that they may be exhibiting in 10 years’ time. So it’s extremely strategic to succeed in talking to them now and forging links with the structures that will support them.

How important are private equity or venture capital funds to the programme? 

We addressed this audience in 2022, and we learnt a lot from it.  It’s not that easy to invest in this category, in food tech in general. There’s generally a lot of investment at the very beginning, it’s a booming sector, and that’s great. But what’s happening is that we either have people who are going to invest very, very far upstream in the science-based projects, Deep Tech, etc., so that’s pretty well structured, or we have more downstream phases where the companies have developed their business. So it’s more likely to be private equity that’s going to take a company to a global scale, for example. And it’s going to go along with a stock market listing. In this case it’s more likely to be brands aimed at the general public. But the rest is in between. So in the course of a company’s development, that means once they’ve already got their prototype and are ready to sell, distribute and so on, that’s more difficult. And that makes it all the more important for us at SIAL Start-up to work on the presence of investment funds, which are the ones that invest in and support the companies in these cases.  This is the same phase in which we have the majority of start-up participants. Most of these companies are less than five years old, and they’re coming to the show for the first time. It’s exactly this in-between phase. It’s really important to make it easier for these companies to meet investors. From that point of view, it’s also super relevant for VCs to put deals on the table for them, with companies from all over the world.

We want to make it easy for investors to find their way around, we are creating moments where they can meet, talk about their subject, talk about their challenges. When you’re an investment fund in food tech, there are very specific inductions, and sometimes it’s not as easy to evaluate a company in this sector as it is a software company for example. So we’re also going to be looking at all these issues in the context of conferences, with the aim of giving VCs the reasons they need to invest in foodtech.

The role of SIAL Paris in business is undeniable. Its role in social and economic transformation is a work in progress, it’s not something that’s set in stone, and having these players who are farther removed from the trade show world is how we scale up in terms of transformation. In any case, that’s what we believe.

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