By Draper Startup House
How one VC is shaping the consumer landscape towards a better-for-you future, one startup at a time
Early last month, DSH Ventures hosted its first global pitchathon. While we heard six amazing startups pitch, the voice of VCs often go by unheard, although they play an integral role in the entrepreneur ecosystem, enabling startups to grow and scale.
As a 2-part special feature on investor judges who graced the event, we sat with Gurdeep Prewal, the Co-founder and Managing Partner of Rocanà Venture Partners to find out: who are they, and how are they shaping the landscape in the ecosystem?
Entrepreneurial venture capitalists on a mission towards better consumer living
Rocanà was born out of a humble partnership between Gurdeep Prewal and Sumesh Sachar, both professionals who made their marks in their respective industries, but were seeking fulfilment beyond successful careers. While angel investing in a portfolio of companies, an unexpected ride into the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry began to take shape as more light was shed on the massive problems within the food system that were brewing beneath: the repercussions of fast consumption and over-consumption in many respects.
As investors supporting startups, Gurdeep and Sumesh saw their chance at building a better world that was more habitable for all by not just investing in startups that could scale, but in ventures that were innovating on sustainable consumption. This set the dynamic duo off on their next chapter through investing as a fund, co-founding Rocanà Venture Partners, with a renewed purpose and mission that served the world by building a healthier and more habitable environment.
Fueling progress and thought through mindful consumption
Starting with supporting a lifestyle of better consumer living, Rocanà’s current focus is on startups in the food and beverage consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry, mitigating the impact where consumption is vast and fast.
“Meat is the new tobacco”
While it may be an unpopular opinion, Gurdeep, parallels present-day views of meat to that of tobacco and cigarettes.
“When we were pitching to raise our first fund, I used to say “meat is the new tobacco” and I would get some pretty strange looks. There was a time when one could eat meat freely and never think about the consequences. The meat industry is also very powerful; they lobby hard at the highest levels and put out very convincing advertisements that encourage indulgence. Things are changing rapidly…consumers are starting to become more mindful and many of them feel some guilt about excessive meat consumption and meat companies are on the back foot with respect to how they market their products. This is not too dissimilar to what we saw with the tobacco industry and cigarettes.”
The prevalence of factory-farmed animal products to keep up with the pace of ever-increasing demands has brought about detrimental impacts on the environment. However, this also meant that meat and dairy alternatives would be increasingly sought for. One such area of interest lies in plant-based products — as observed in Beyond Meat’s success, which has since created a ripple effect, therefore validating its demand.
Rather than equating the support for plant-based alternatives as an open-call to go vegan, Rocanà urges consumers to be more mindful about the way resources are consumed on this planet. In close alignment to their vision, the opportunity Rocanà embraces is cleaning up the food system while fuelling sustainable consumption.
Integrating this with the greater mission, Rocanà’s long-term approach sees the fund investing in other verticals, such as new age health and wellness experiences, personal and beauty care products with natural ingredients, that contribute holistically to the creation of a better living environment. Investing in Asia, through its Singapore hub, will also feature more prominently in Rocana’s next fund as the rapidly rising middle income class collides with more conscious discretionary spending.
Enabling change: Daring to be radically different
To keep up with the trends of tomorrow that contribute to sustainable living, Rocanà, as early-stage investors, strictly invests in authentic brands that are truly innovative. Their portfolio of companies consists of either “category creators” or “category disruptors”.
One such example of a category creator is Olipop, a healthy tonic serving as an alternative to soda, which falls in a new class of healthy beverage that combines the benefits of prebiotics, plant fiber, and botanicals to aid digestion and regulate gut health. The rise of functional beverages with gut health benefits is a booming category and Olipop is leading this movement.
Contrastingly, a category disruptor is Good Catch: a plant-based seafood company that is one of the first to disrupt traditional players in the seafood industry. It’s been widely reported that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our world’s oceans. Nearly 90% of the world’s marine fish stocks are now fully exploited, overexploited or depleted.
“Very likely the fish on your plate has come from a fish farm. Yet, many of us continue to believe that eating seafood is “healthy”. However, the same vicious cycle that we created with factory farming of land-based animals is happening with your seafood as well. Seafood also continues to be amongst some of the most mislabelled foods in the grocery stores.”
Staging early stage startups for success by investing in product and founder
Beyond investing in true innovation in the industries, Gurdeep shares that in the process of investing in early stage startups, the focus lies on the product and founder. In alignment to Rocanà’s mission on healthier consumption, the product needs to be truly disruptive and authentic, having also been validated by the market. To ensure success in these startups, Gurdeep highlights that leadership in founders is key:
“At the end of the day, we’re really investing in the people to help stimulate the change that we desire, more than anything else, because at this early stage in a venture, most likely, things are not going to go as planned. There’s going to be a bit of a roller coaster ride to get to the success that everybody wants.”
“ As a founder, you need to have very strong character, resilience, ability to manage different stakeholders, ability to find that fine balance between total conviction on the idea to push through, but also at the same time, having flexibility to pivot and adjust when necessary, so you don’t end up driving into a wall.”
Rocanà’s philosophy is just as much entwined in the founders leading its mission of shaping a better world. Investing in startups aside, their journey thus far includes a successful first fund of raising capital from a number of strategic and mission-aligned investors, including many in Asia. Similar to entrepreneurs fundraising for a startup, the obstacles faced were not too different — Gurdeep recalls persevering through “having to take a lot of hard ‘NO’s from investors,” and the overall process of closing a fund spanning more than a year. Now “meat is the new tobacco” seems to be an obvious statement.
Navigating with the Rocanà vision, on a steady momentum, the firm is set to raise their second fund next year, with plans to expand to Asia in sight, and exploring verticals to venture progressively into.
About Rocanà Venture Partners
Rocanà Venture Partners is currently based in the U.S. and invests in leading early-stage startups targeted at mindful and sustainable consumption, building up better brands for a better future. To find out more, visit https://rocanaventures.com/