How PepsiCo is accelerating sustainability and innovation
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Accelerating sustainability, encouraging innovation

Accelerating sustainability, encouraging innovation

Aamer Sheikh, CEO Middle East, PepsiCo, tells Gulf Business about the MENA edition of the mentor-led Greenhouse Accelerator programme and its focus on sustainability

Neesha Salian
PepsiCo Greenhouse Accelerator

Tell us about the Greenhouse Accelerator programme and how it has helped previous winners.
The PepsiCo Greenhouse Accelerator is a global, mentor-led accelerator programme to help startups grow through collaboration, investment and nurturing innovation. The programme launched in Europe in 2017, and with five editions under its belt, the PepsiCo Greenhouse Accelerator programme has seen 48 emerging startup brands deliver an estimated combined sales growth of over $20m in revenue.

Over the past five years in other markets, the programme has invited 48 companies to participate in the six-month mentorship experience. Each year, one company wins $100,000.

In partnership with the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) and Food Tech Valley, the inaugural MENA edition launched in November 2021 and supported 10 companies from the region who share the company’s vision for a more sustainable food system. With the 2021-2022 edition of this year’s Greenhouse Accelerator programme, PepsiCo has adopted an approach to working collaboratively with small businesses to champion sustainability and drive innovation, starting with sustainable packaging and circular economy solutions.

As one of the region’s largest food and beverage companies, we know we have a critical role to play to help build a circular and inclusive value chain that inspires people to make choices that are positive for the planet. Innovation is an important part of our efforts in building a more sustainable food system. We want to nurture the next generation of innovators by supporting start-ups and entrepreneurs to launch and grow new businesses that are changing the future of the global food supply chain.

 Why is it important to collaborate with startups, particularly in areas such as sustainability, agriculture and circular economy?
At PepsiCo, we think great solutions can be built and launched through collaborative efforts. Through our global end-to-end strategic framework, PepsiCo Positive (pep+), we are striving to build a positive value chain by contributing to a more circular, inclusive, and sustainable supply chain for packaging – a vision where plastic never becomes waste. Bringing the Greenhouse Accelerator programme to the region and theming the first edition around the circular economy, was a natural step in this journey.

An interesting MAGNiTT study I recently read, is that startups in the region have attracted more than $1.2bn in funding in the first half of 2021, a 64 per cent year-on-year growth and a 12 per cent increase from $1bn raised in all of 2020. That indicates their potential to drive wide-ranging economic growth.

Collaborating with start-ups is a great direct way for us to engage with founders, who are pushing a sustainability agenda with progressive perspectives and ideas. As we are striving to drive a circular economy in the region, this programme has helped identify like-minded partners who can help drive this forward with agility and can empower stakeholders across the value chain to create the kind of systems and positive incentives that drive real change.

Who could apply?
We encouraged startups and small businesses in the early growth stages from across the region to apply. There were some minimum requirements like:

  • They had to be a licensed business in one of the participating MENA region countries
  • Their sales revenue in the last financial year had to fall within a certain range, or they had to have a validated prototype for use in the market within the next six months
  • They had to be willing to work with PepsiCo Greenhouse Accelerator mentors
  • They had to have an idea or innovation that could meet the edition specified for them

What were you looking for in the winning startup of the latest MENA edition?
The winner was chosen by a diverse judging panel, including a senior partner from Global Ventures, a high-ranking representative from the Technology & Innovation Department at Saudi-based SABIC, the co-founder of VentureSouq, the chief sustainability officer from Bee’ah, a representative from the Arab Youth Council for Climate Change, and our own sustainability lead for PepsiCo in the region.

They looked at several important criteria including the startup’s revenue volume growth as compared to last year, the most effective use of the initial $20,000 grant, collaboration with the mentors over the last six months, and the progress based on their top two objectives.

But I think what made Nadeera, the winner, stand out, is that they are looking to change the way waste is recycled in communities. That is the most critical issue when it comes to driving a circular economy is finding ways to incentivise consumers to recycle more and sort their waste responsibly.

Read: UAE startup Nadeera receives $100,000 grant from PepsiCo to scale circular economy solution

Nadeera’s product ‘Yalla Return’ – is the first ‘Trash for Cash’ system in the MENA region which provides customers cash rewards based on the number of recyclables they turn in.

Supporting great initiatives such as Yalla Return is essential to our pep+ journey, and one that we have already brought to life in Lebanon earlier this year. This is a great partnership that supports building a circular economy and provides innovative solutions around plastic waste collection and recycling as well as supporting local communities.

When will you announce the next cohort?
The Greenhouse Accelerator MENA Sustainability edition programme is a three-year initiative and will eventually identify solutions for agriculture and water management that will help PepsiCo achieve net-zero emissions by 2040 and become net water positive by 2030 in line with pep+ targets. Stay tuned because we’ll be announcing details for the next one soon.

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