Interview With Ernesto Aguiar, Head of Tastech by Sigma

In this interview, Ernesto Aguiar, Head of Tastech by Sigma, discusses Sigma’s efforts to foster innovation in the food industry through its Tastech program. Now in its fifth year, Tastech is Sigma’s global open innovation platform aimed at collaborating with startups to address key challenges in the food sector. Ernesto provides an overview of Sigma’s operations, the program’s inception, and the specific qualities they seek in startups.

The conversation also goes on to cover the evolution of the Tastech program and its impact on participating startups. Ernesto offers practical advice for startups that are considering applying to the program, shares success stories from previous cohorts and discusses Sigma’s perspective on the current agrifood tech ecosystem.

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Ernesto Aguiar

Tribu (T): Ernesto, can you provide a brief overview of Sigma for those who might not be familiar with the company and its operations?

Ernesto (E): Sigma is a company dedicated to the production, marketing, and commercialization of a portfolio of more than 100 food brands present in 17 countries. Our most recognized brands include Bar-S, FUD, Campofrío, Oscar Mayer, Tangamanga, and Aoste.

Ernesto Aguiar

(T): How does Sigma collaborate with startups and venture capital firms in the industry? Are there specific investment or acceleration programs that you offer?

(E): Sigma’s main commitment to the entrepreneurial ecosystem is the Tastech by Sigma program, a global open innovation platform that annually opens a call to revolutionize the food industry with the help of startups from around the world.

(T): Could you tell us about the inception of the Tastech program? What was the inspiration behind starting this initiative?

(E): This year Tastech celebrates its fifth anniversary. In 2019, after an intense internal analysis, we detected the need to start innovating with the support of third parties; in this case, entrepreneurs.

Doing so would allow us to permeate Sigma with an entrepreneurial culture, access new technologies, and above all, make our infrastructure available to the best entrepreneurs in the world to scale their solutions and grow together.

(T): With the call open for the 5th cohort of Tastech, what specific qualities or innovations are you looking for in the startups that apply?

(E): This year, we are looking for startups with a high degree of differentiation and innovation that can surprise us in four challenges:

  • New business models. Innovative business models that converge our capabilities and experience with emerging trends, technologies, and consumer preferences.
  • Future Foods. Technologies to develop innovative food solutions and products that address key nutritional challenges and align with changing consumer preferences for healthier and more sustainable food options.
  • Power Connections. Disruptive technologies to improve operational efficiency, optimize sales channels, and leverage technology to drive innovation in various aspects of our operations.
  • Artificial Intelligence. Cutting-edge artificial intelligence technologies to optimize and improve critical operational processes within Sigma.

(T): What is the deadline for applications to the 5th cohort, and how can interested startups apply?

(E): Applications will be open throughout the month of June 2024, closing on the 28th.

(T): Over the past few cohorts, how have you seen the Tastech program and the participating startups evolve?

(E): I believe that year after year we have been able to evolve our model to meet the needs of startups. For example, at the end of the first cohort of Tastech, we identified the need for a corporate venture capital fund to invest in outstanding startups from the program.

Then, we created a methodology to quickly and efficiently test technological solutions that brought immediate benefits to the company. Now, we are implementing a methodology to scale the technology of startups to Sigma’s 17 geographies.

All these initiatives aim to support the growth of entrepreneurs.

Sigma representatives and Kigui founders discussing ways to help reduce food waste.

(T): Do you have any recommendations or advice for startups that are considering applying to the Tastech program?

(E): Of course! After five years the best advice I can give to entrepreneurs is to take the time to research the corporation in depth, since during the stages of analysis and evaluation of the participants, the startups that stand out are those that have a personalized proposal for growing together.

Also, I invite them to be flexible and transparent with their operations and even possible challenges they may be facing as a startup; this honesty allows for better collaboration.

(T): Given that investments in startups have slowed recently, particularly in the agrifood tech sector, what are your views on the ecosystem for the next few months?

(E): I believe that 2024 will be an intense year in the world of investments. Despite seeing a slowdown, I think we will see interesting deals moving quickly in response to the uncertainty generated by a year with presidential elections in various countries such as Mexico and the United States.

Corporations and investors will be increasingly focused on evaluating opportunities that show innovations to achieve a more sustainable food system that addresses the health and well-being of the user.

(T): In your opinion, what role do large regional corporations like Sigma play in the current agrifood tech ecosystem?

(E): I never tire of repeating that corporations are a fundamental piece for the development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Given the notorious challenges of government support for entrepreneurs, corporations can intervene through acceleration programs, investments, and collaboration agreements with entrepreneurs to continue driving the agrifood entrepreneurial ecosystem.

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(T): How does Tastech support startups in overcoming challenges related to scaling and market entry?

(E): The core part of Tastech by Sigma is a pilot test developed between the startup and an internal area of Sigma where we open the doors of our infrastructure so that entrepreneurs can scale their solutions in our laboratories, plants, and even distribution centers.

This test, in addition to personalized mentoring, provides entrepreneurs with invaluable insights to prepare their market entry and even rethink their business models.

(T): Can you share any success stories from previous Tastech cohorts that highlight the impact of the program?

(E): Of course, the first success story was with The Live Green Co, an artificial intelligence startup for the reformulation of more natural additives, which became the first startup invested in by Sigma.

We maintained a commercial relationship with TASU, a dehydrated fruit snack startup that we helped enter all our points of sale in Mexico. In the second cohort, we collaborated with Tastewise, a startup with data insights technology based on artificial intelligence, which is now being implemented globally at Sigma.

Other success stories include the startups we have invested in to co-create new products together, such as Change Foods and Chunk.

(T): Looking ahead, what are your goals for the Tastech program, and how do you envision its future impact on the agrifood tech industry?

(E): I like to think that in the very near future Tastech will be a catalyst for significant advances in the agrifood tech industry.

Tastech’s methodology will continue to bet on new technologies, and we will facilitate their integration into Sigma’s operations. Our goal is to accelerate the adoption of innovative solutions that address critical challenges such as food security, supply chain efficiency, and sustainable production practices.

We believe that Tastech will play a crucial role in shaping a more resilient, sustainable, and technologically advanced food ecosystem.

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Ernesto Aguiar


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