Fidele el Achkar is the CEO and co-founder of FoodSight – a food-tech startup enrolled in the third batch of Berytech’s Agrytech Accelerator Program. In her blog post, Fidele describes in her own words the journey of becoming an agri-food entrepreneur and launching a business in extremely challenging times.
Whether you’re someone with an idea that was never written down or put into action, or someone who has been preparing a startup or a side project just for the sake of change or to generate some additional income, good ideas often come and go.
But what if they didn’t? What if you took steps to pursue your ideas and see if they were good?
The thing is, we’ve been there!
Eighteen months ago, I saw the gaps and the many challenges facing the Lebanese agri-food sector and, based on my experience in the F&B industry and my social engagements, had an idea in mind that could resolve some of these challenges. But, like many of us, I didn’t know how to translate it into an innovative and practical solution.
I had the vision to support small food enterprises, promote food safety, share technologies and knowledge. Here FoodSight was born.
We are a consulting services company providing food safety, and quality and regulatory compliance services to food manufacturers through a combination of technology and access to top talent.
This innovative solution is supporting the agri-food sector by providing unique services and freelance diversified expertise while assisting food manufacturers in reaching, understanding and fulfilling the regulatory requirements, procedures and certifications, with the following goals:
- Helping them get ready to comply with any local or international regulation and by that increase their chances in outer markets,
- Helping them reduce rejections and complaints by improving the quality of their food products and by that improving their market positioning, and
- Allowing them to access an online platform that helps them increase productivity by reducing wasted time and effort.
All that, through an online platform offering a dynamic, efficient, cost-effective, and fully accessible work environment, while creating more job opportunities for industry experts who will join this platform as freelancers.
The Start of a Journey
The first step was to decide on my willingness and dedication to go for it.
So many questions were raised: where to start, do I have enough time and money, what skills do I need to turn my idea into money, what other people would think, is it the right time to do it, etc.
And I started to have answers for these questions the moment I decided to take action. Participating in the Agrytech Hackathon organized by Berytech back in August 2019, and being selected within the top 10 finalists, was a short challenging experience that made us want to further explore our idea with all its opportunities, leading to building a successful business.
Here comes the second step, which was to work on developing the mind and the idea.
To accomplish that, we had the chance of being enrolled into Berytech’s Agrytech Accelerator Program – Batch III. We were prepared for serious work and commitment, but we had not imagined at first the huge success we would reach today, nor that the road would be as challenging and tough as it has been!
Starting Phase I of the program in October 2019, in parallel with the Lebanese Revolution, was a push for us since we believe that change is needed, and it starts with each one of us building solutions answering the current problems.
During the first two months, we went through the third step in the process of turning our idea into a startup, which was market validation. We were able to have a deeper look into the market, the pain points of the food chain stakeholders and their needs, to validate our idea, and to build a prototype.
The high interest we received made us work even harder during Phase II of the accelerator program. The economic crisis did affect the market level of responsiveness, but despite that, the lockdown gave us more time to better shape our idea in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well which stressed the need for our platform now more than before.
So, this step helped us identify the true pain points of our customers in the current situation, shorten the time for the go-to-market, and move to the fourth step which is to identify our target market and formulate our value proposition.
Given the current conditions we are living in, we had to revisit our business and revenue models, perform deeper market validation, test and get feedback from users on so many levels and at different stages, draw our startup’s sales and go-to-market strategies while developing our MVP and launching our marketing and traction campaigns. During all this time, the Berytech team managing the Agrytech Accelerator Program supported our startup’s early stages through education, mentorship, financing, and investment readiness. The experience was a process of intense, rapid and immersive education, accelerating the life cycle of our to-be company, compressing years of learning-by-doing into just a few months!
All the struggles we faced during these times did not affect our dedication and insistence on pursuing this bumpy journey, although one of the co-founders had to step down due to personal reasons related to his family, and Nathalie joined the team just when the Beirut blast happened.
Now this event was something out of the ordinary, and not something we were able to cope with as fast as we had to during all the previous problems faced. All things considered, as resilient as we Lebanese people are, we had to move on with our successful yet-to-be business, but now with more careful and sharp steps.
Becoming an Entrepreneur
My personal entrepreneurial experience was not easy. Juggling between a full-time job and many humanitarian and social engagements… It was multitasking at its best.
Launching a new business in the best of times is a hustle. How about kicking off this venture during the toughest of times, amid chaos and crisis.
Many friends and family members questioned my insistence, commitment and capability of pulling this off. I had to make sure to always work the extra mile to make things happen, keep on pushing through, especially in response to the high market demand, our passion and dedication to be part of the agri-food revolution.
This applies as well to the co-founder Nathalie. FoodSight is her second entrepreneurial experience since she had to close her first business end of 2019 due to external factors, and after five months of facing failure, she did not quit but grabbed the opportunity to become a co-founder with FoodSight and this time starting from experience and not from scratch.
Now let’s reflect on when is the right time to take action and turn your idea into a viable business? Where to start building your dream?
We established our business in the middle of chaos! We are not crazy, we are just different, and risk-takers but we calculate our risk. As two women in business, we are driven by our passion to make a difference and embrace the change. All the obstacles we face, we see as challenges that increase our persistence, problem-solving skills and willingness to continue. We want to be part of the change and that’s what we have been doing with FoodSight.
We believe that our solution will disrupt the way food safety is tackled in the region, create business opportunities, and have a strong social impact.
The hustle was real and tough, especially as two women in tech managing a software startup with no prior experience in software development, and while our backgrounds fit more in other areas such as business development, food technology, business consultancy, franchising, and marketing.
We wanted our journey to be interesting, so we could motivate young people and encourage women to believe in their abilities, work on growing their skills to become achievers!
And our hard work paid off.
Accomplishments of 2020
We participated in the STEP Anywhere first virtual conference and were selected within the top pitching startups. We were also selected within the top five regional finalists in the Seedstars global competition. We won the title ‘Lebanese Agripreneur of the Year’ with the opportunity to represent Lebanon in the global Future Agro Food Challenge competition happening in October 2021.
Today, eighteen months since we started with our idea, FoodSight is a launched business, and our platform is up and running online with 200 registered users between manufacturers and multinational experts.
The idea of FoodSight started with one main goal: building a solution for the current problems of the food industry. We have put all our efforts towards building this solution and reaching our goal after we saw that there was a need now more than before for such an innovative and practical solution.
Lebanon, and the agro-food businesses specifically, need more definitive and practical solutions. FoodSight will be here to always connect them when they need results!
You can check out the FoodSight website here.