Start Up Forum for Aspiring Leaders and Mentors (SUFALAM) 2024 concluded with a take-home message that Innovations, Collaborations and advanced technologies in different facets of Food Processing are the key drivers for transforming Start-ups in the food processing domain to established food businesses. 

The two-day event held on 13th and 14th February 2024 in New Delhi was inaugurated by the Union Minister of Food Processing Industries, Sh. Pashupati Kumar Paras in the august presence of Sushri Shobha Karandlaje, Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare and Food Processing Industries, Smt. Anita Praveen, Secretary, Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Dr Harinder Oberoi, Director, NIFTEM, Kundli and Sh. Minhaj Alam, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Food Processing Industries. 

The event witnessed participation from over 250 stakeholders, comprising of start-ups, senior executives from Food Processing companies, MSMEs, financial institutions, venture capitalists, and academia. 

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Spanning over two days, the event consisted of three knowledge sessions, two pitching sessions, two-panel discussions, networking sessions and an exhibition. During the knowledge session on Start-up - overview and benefits, the participants were apprised about the role of Startup India, different programmes for mentorship and innovations under Startup India and how the initiative is helping to foster the start-up ecosystem in India. 

During the other knowledge session on Food Regulations, the participants got a fair idea about various regulations, certifications and compliances in the domestic, import and export of different food products as per FSSAI and EIC regulations. Newer insights about different schemes under APEDA for the promotion of export of fresh as well as processed food products were Business and Financial Modelling for Start-ups”, various tips were given to the start-ups on preparation of the business plan showing viability and sustainability in each aspect of the business, importance of free cash flow in financial planning in any business and proper cash flow management. 

The panel discussion on transforming food systems focused on the diversification of raw materials, climate-resilient options like algae and millet, and creativity in entrepreneurship. Design of processing machinery, raw materials, and innovative Agri-Tech solutions were highlighted to meet food safety standards and optimize supply chains. Interventions in raw material sourcing, exploring opportunities in protein-rich foods and sustainable packaging, and collaboration for sustained innovations were also touched upon. 

During the session on Start-up Conclave for Food Processing Entrepreneurs, India's potential as a food innovation hub, stressing the need for convergence among industry, start-ups and institutions were discussed. Key discussions centered on the importance of sustainable packaging aligned with consumer preferences and compliance standards. Start ups were urged to play a proactive role in sourcing quality raw materials, collaborating with farmers, and venturing into protein-rich foods and affordable nutrition-based products. The session concluded with a strong emphasis on collaboration across sectors for sustained innovation, particularly through credit innovation and cross-industry partnerships. 

The two pitching sessions, scheduled on each of the two days saw twelve selected start-ups pitching their ideas to a panel of food technologists, top banking officials from SBI and HDFC Bank, VCs, NIFTEM faculty and industry professionals. Six start-ups were offered mentoring support in product refinement, market linkage as well as investor connect. The panellists welcomed this initiative and offered support in such future endeavours for guidance and mentorship to promising small ventures. Overall 38 exhibitors including 26 start-ups, nine PMFME beneficiaries and three Government agencies showcased their products, schemes and technologies during the two-day event. Besides, there were separate networking sessions between the Start-ups and Industry where discussions revolved around the hand holding and technical support to the start-ups.  

SUFALAM 2024 has served as a catalyst for transformative discussions, shaping the trajectory of the food processing industry towards innovation-driven growth, and fostering collaborations among the start-ups and start-ups, Industry and Academia.

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