Born in France, Isabelle Decitre has lived in many European countries before migrating to Singapore, along with her family, in 2012. According to her, there is no better country in Asia than Singapore to start a pan-Asian business. “I couldn’t dream of a better place for entrepreneurs from foreign countries,” she told e27 over a telephone interaction from Singapore. “It is much better than any countries, because it is small. Small countries can make a difference if they are countrified in the right manner.”
Meet Decitre, Founder and CEO of ID Capital, a startup investment company with a focus on foodtech and agritech business in Asia, bringing sustainability to the food-chain. She moved to the city-state to set up a consulting and investment business. Over a period of time, it became an investments-only business. “Asia has always fascinated me. The people, the diversity, the vibrant startup ecosystem, and the entrepreneur-friendly atmosphere — all these made the region attractive. While Europe is better in terms of mobile and internet penetration, Asia is more dynamic and offers more opportunities. In Asia, you have the freedom and liberty to try out things. It may work or may not work. By failing, you will get some learnings and next time you will do better,” she said.
Although ID Capital was established back in 2012, the company maintained a low profile for the first two years, as it was studying market opportunities.
“The agritech and foodtech landscape is very fragmented in Asia Pacific. There are very few VC funds that invest in these sorts of businesses,” she said.
“When we started, we got a lot of interest to make venture investment or directly invest in agritech and foodtech startups. However, it was not so easy to align with them on an investment thesis and ask them to bring money into my fund and invest together. I had a lot of pressure from many people to set up a VC fund, or to start an incubator/accelerator, too. But we had a single focus on investing in startups that bring in sustainability to food and agriculture segments,” added Decitre.
Unlike a conventional VC fund, ID Capital does not maintain a corpus. “We are not a proper VC fund. We are doing deal-by-deal investment, sometime by ourselves and sometime syndicating other investors who are interested in these sorts of businesses. We invest only in startups that bring new dramatic sustainability to the food chain. It can be very diverse.”
ID Capital is focused on the Series A stage of a company. It looks to invest between US$2 million and U$5 million each.
Decitre believes that in countries like India and China, the foodtech segment is yet to evolve. She sees a massive opportunity and great relevance for ID Capital in these countries. “Barely four weeks into our Future Food Asia Award, we received applications from 14 Asian countries. It is quite diverse in the scope and country by country. This proves that there are definitely revolutions in the making in agritech and foodtech in Asia. We hope that ID Capital will encourage more entrepreneurs to delve into this space,” she noted.
The Future Food Asia Award aims to accelerate open innovation in agritech and foodtech across Asia Pacific, with the goal to catalyse and align an ecosystem to cope with the challenges of food.
ID Capital is already in talks with some companies for potential investments in India. The company will invest not just in software companies but in hardware firms too.
“We basically focus on companies where tech is an enabler. Technology comes at the very opportune moment, where food processing cannot go to the next stage without tech. There are billions of people to feed in the world and there needs to be disruption. How do you bring disruption? Tech is one way. It is not that tech is the only one, but from an investor perspective, it is one of the best ways to invest in a startup.”
Talking about the Indian market, Decitre pointed out that the foodtech segment lacks smart capital. “I really like the startup ecosystem in India. It is strong, and the presence of multinational companies and SMEs make it stronger. But VC money is very hard to find here. I think VC money is twice more important in a country like India.”
She also believes that existing foodtech companies in India are doing nothing particularly positive. “It is interesting when you talk of food tech you talk of food marketplaces and food e-commerce. We don’t include food e-commerce unless these are farm-to-fork business models. We deliberately decided to focus on vertical that brings sustainability to food chain. In most cases, pure food e-commerce platforms or business are doing nothing wrong but nothing particularly positive with respect to sustainability.”
Decitre has had a 20-year corporate career in the luxury and beverage industries before moving to Singapore. Her last responsibility was SVP Marketing & Communications for the Cognac brand Hennessy, as member of the Executive Committee. This included significant involvement in the upstream sector of viticulture. Prior to this she was with Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Dunhill and Boucheron, in different senior capacities (supply chain director, retail network director, CMO).
After careful research for an emerging sector to invest in she was convinced that the foodtech and agritech sectors were bound for dramatic change. For the next two years, she reviewed venture deals and invested as a private investor.
“When I decided to start ID Capital, I had had interactions with various government entities and people in the civil service in Singapore. I got the support of the Singapore Economic Development Board very early on and I am blessed because it is a big endorsement. It shows the seriousness of the government in solving food-related problems.. It is not just my story but the story of many people of different origin,” Decitre commented.
With 4.5 billion people in a fragmented region, APAC needs a more developed innovation ecosystem to address local challenges, such as its lower per capita GDP, vastly varying geographies, and evolving food consumption patterns. About 67 per cent of the world’s 1 billion hungry reside here and 37 per cent post-harvest losses in agriculture production. ID Capital aims to make a change by identifying and investing in companies that can bring sustainability and in turn, eliminate poverty.