Tag Archives: Startup Mentor

These Foodtech Startups Successfully Recruited Their Seasoned Mentors


It’s widely known that startups benefit from advice and guidance by experienced entrepreneurs and professionals. Sometimes the spark between a mentor and his mentee light up to such extent that the mentor ends up being recruited by the startup. It happened to foodtech startups Cano-ela and Greencovery. When interviewing them about the change of roles, we noticed an interesting overlap.

Cano-ela spurs growth with Benjamin Maclean as Chief Commercial Officer


In the Spring of 2021, StartLife welcomed dr. Juliana Romero Guzmán and dr. Alberto Masetti Niccolai into the sixth edition of StartLife Accelerate with their one-year old startup Cano-ela; a Wageningen-based foodtech startup that developed a patented tailor-made process to extract innovative food ingredients from oil-rich seeds, focusing on Canola.

Though Canola, a variant of rapeseed, is a relatively new crop (1978), it has already become one of the world’s most important oilseed crops. In fact, with a market size of 69 million metric tonnes rapeseed in 2020, it’s the third biggest seed in the world, after palm and soy! But canola is so far only used for its oil. The full-usage of these crops represents a huge market that offers great opportunities for ambitious and sustainable entrepreneurs.

And as it happens to be, Juliana and Alberto are ambitious and sustainable entrepreneurs. By disrupting the traditional oil seed industry, they have set sail to become a game changer worldwide and remove refined ingredients from the food supply chain entirely. With such high ambitions, Juliana and Alberto welcome all the support they can get.

StartLife connected the founders of Cano-ela with two startup mentors. One of them is Benjamin Maclean, a strategic business development specialist within the food science sector (FrieslandCampina) with a proven track record of launching new products and building new dairy ingredients factories.

Before connecting with Cano-ela, Benjamin had mentored various startups already. “I really love startups. The entrepreneurial spirit and drive of startup founders is very energizing and ‘contagious’. And the vibes between Juliana, Alberto and myself have been exceptional good from the get go,” said Benjamin.

“Last summer we had a BBQ at my house, with self made plant-based burgers. This was a final confirmation of our joint passion for food innovation. It also was the moment that Juliana and Alberto asked me to join the team to accelerate Cano-ela’s growth.”

Benjamin MacleanJuliana: “As our startup mentor, Benjamin has provided us valuable strategic advice in combination with a big doses of enthusiasm for Cano-ela. He is a very enthusiastic person who is prepared to go the extra mile. After conversations about actions we should undertake, he immediately picks up his phone and starts organizing and getting things done.”

“Any business, but in particular startups, need people which such entrepreneurial aptitude. And, in addition to his professional input, we also have lots of fun together. It feels like the perfect basis to execute all our ideas.”

“Benjamin has all the expertise and connections to help make this dream come true!”

In the coming two years, Cano-ela is focused on upscaling its technology. In the meantime they will explore the possibility of building their own factory.

Juliana: “We understand this is a huge undertaking, which will also takes it time. But Benjamin has all the expertise and connections to help make this dream come true. And also his business development skills and ability to connect with people are very valuable to us. So it’s my greatest pleasure to announce here and now that Benjamin has accepted to becoming our Chief Commercial Officer!

Benjamin commented: “Finally, the word is out and I can start sharing this wonderful news with everybody. I am so proud and excited to join the Cano-ela team. Soon will also finish my Global Executive MBA at Copenhagen Business School, which will give me a lot more time on my hands.”

“I look forward to helping Cano-ela grow and fulfilling our shared ambitions to remove refined ingredients from the food supply chain! It feels great to be working on sustainable food solutions and contribute to the plant based protein transition!”

Greencovery powers up with Petra Vossenberg as Market Innovation Lead


In 2018, dr. Carlos Cabrera was following a postdoctoral study at Wageningen University & Research when he decided to start his own foodtech company: Greencovery. With this company he helps food manufacturers to upcycle their food side-streams to new high quality ingredients with the use of proprietary technology.

“Our technology allows food producers to unlock new value from their food side-streams whilst diminishing food waste, carbon dioxide and water consumption at the same time,” Carlos explains. How great is that!

In the fall of 2018, Carlos joined the first edition of StartLife Accelerate, which helped him get his company on track. Fast forward, in October 2020, StartLife introduced Carlos to one of its new startup mentors: Petra Vossenberg, a Wageningen University alumna and former Global Open Innovation Manager at FrieslandCampina who had just become a freelance innovation consultant. It turned out to be a match made in heaven, sort of speak.

Greencovery Team in Laboratory

Carlos was really happy to connect with Petra as his startup mentor. “Petra has been active in the food industry for quite some time already. She knows the industry really well and also how players in the market operate. She has a keen sense on finding new business opportunities and with her excellent people skills building partnerships is pretty much second nature to her. Thanks to her technical background she fully understands all the important processes and requirements involved in our upcycling business. That is so much more than I had bargained for.”

“We appreciated all the advice Petra gave us as startup mentor, but we also needed more hands-on support.”

After the three month initial startup mentorship ended, Carlos did not ask Petra to continue as his mentor but to truly join the Greencovery team and to take on the the role of Market Innovation Lead.

“We appreciated all the advice Petra gave us as startup mentor, but we also needed more hands-on support. Thanks to the mentorship, I knew that Petra had all the competencies needed to find food producers that are interested in upcycling their side-streams and also to find new applications to the upcycled ingredients. And, also, that she is a great person to work with. I would have been crazy not to try and get her become more involved,” said Carlos.

Rather than hiring Petra as an external consultant, Carlos wanted Petra to really become part of the team. “If Petra would be a hired consultant, our working relationship would have been project oriented and, as such, more detached. I want her to be involved for the long term and also create a setting in which we are more flexible further developing her role of market innovation lead.”

It’s not the first time that Carlos attracts corporate talent into his startup. Two years earlier, Carlos convinced Juan Cajiao, former Head of Growth at Twill-Maersk, to become co-founder and Commercial Director of Greencovery.

Petra VossenbergPetra is not surprised. “Carlos is an ambitious entrepreneur with a clear drive to make things happen. He has a lot of technical knowledge and his ability to generate new ideas is truly inspiring. Carlos is also pleasant to work with. He is open to thoughts and ideas, shares responsibility and gives a true sense of co-ownership.”

What does the future have in store for Greencovery? Carlos: “Thanks to Petra, we are now in advanced stages of conversation with a good pool of potential customers that are interested in our latest project which involves natural umami extracts. We have also set a clear dot on the horizon, which involves bringing our own first on-site implementations.”

And what about Petra? “It’s really rewarding to actively contribute to the valuation of side-streams and building a more sustainable food system. And I really like being part of the Greencovery team. We are in fact already talking about doubling my involvement,” Petra admits. Carlos shows a big, happy smile.

Magical formula?

It doesn’t happen every day that startup mentors become a staff member at the company of their previous mentees. It’s not something that StartLife strives for. Neither do we discourage it. What happens, happens. And if it helps accelerate the business of the startups, why not?

When writing this article, we did notice some rather interesting overlap between the two stories however. Two Latin-American entrepreneurs (Juliana and Carlos), who both studied at Wageningen University and have a Phd degree, successfully recruited their startup mentors, who both worked at FrieslandCampina, which has it’s R&D centre on Wageningen Campus. A coincidence or a magical formula? Who knows.

Want to know more about startup mentoring by StartLife? Check StartLife’s mentor program.

Note: Photos of Greencovery by Nils van Houts, edits by StartLife. Photos of Cano-ela by Mohammed Gharyeb.


p.s. Stay up to date with the latest news about and for agrifood startups, scale-ups and more via StartLife’s Linkedin or Twitter account or via the StartLife newsletter (8x a year).

6 Do’s And Don’ts In Startup Mentorship

Do's and Don'ts in startup mentorship

Behind every successful entrepreneur, you can be sure to find one, if not many, invaluable business mentors who shepherded them along the way. Mentors can do wonders for you and your startup, but there are rules of engagement to be taken into consideration. Caroline Bijkerk, who connects StartLife’s startups with mentors, highlights six important do’s and don’ts in startup mentorship.

1) Ask!

A mentorship is mentee driven. This means that you, as mentee, are in the driver’s seat. If you are looking for feedback, ask for it. If you want to be connected with a particular person or organization from your mentor’s network, ask for it. Don’t expect your mentor to guess what’s going on in your mind; take the initiative, schedule (regular) meetings with your mentor, share what you are working on and if you have specific needs, ask if and how your mentor can help you. But before asking, make sure your mentor knows what your goal is.

2) Be prepared!

If you could have a 10-minute session with one of the most influential entrepreneurs in the world and could ask any question or make any request, would you prepare for that meeting or would you waste these valuable minutes by hoping something valuable may just come up during that meeting? I am sure pretty sure you would prepare! Treat the meetings with your mentor in the same way.

Mentors are more than happy to make their, often limited, time available, but it only works if you are well-prepared. So have your pitch deck ready and make sure that you know what you want to ask or discuss. You might for example say, “I’m at this stage with my business right now and this is what I am looking to achieve. I know you’ve worked on X,Y,Z. Can you share with me how you dealt with the following three issues?”

3) Have no fear, share it!

Remember that there is no such thing as a stupid question! In a safe setting, all discussions are confidential and you can share your every thought and idea. If you are struggling in your startup journey, tell your mentor about your fears and doubts. Mentors have often overcome a lot of mistakes and hurdles themselves. They fully understand how hard it can be to get to the top and they have also had their fair share of doubts on their journey. As your trusted advisor, a good mentor always motivates and encourages you to make your own decisions and turn them into actions in the end.

4) Build a diverse pool of mentors

Don’t limit yourself to just one business mentor at the time, as there is no one-size-fits-all mentor. Much benefit is to be gained from a pool of mentors, who act as your personal advisory board. Mentors with varying fields of expertise, such as sales & marketing, research & development and leadership experience, can absolutely work together. Sometimes mentors even prefer working in pairs in order to leverage synergies for their mentee.

Also be aware that during the different stages of your startup’s life cycle, you will face unique challenges. Make sure to regularly reassess whether your current mentor is still a good fit for your current challenges and needs. A good mentor will be happy to discuss this with you, without taking offence, provided that you are respectful and explain why you feel it might be time for a different mentor change mentors.

5) Allow yourself to be challenged

When you search for a mentor, don’t try finding one who thinks the same way you do. A mentor with different experiences and personality can shed an entirely new light on matters. Embrace differences in perspectives and be open to critical feedback, then you will learn the most. Also take into account that you can learn -different but equally valuable things- from the experience and feedback of entrepreneurs who are at the same stage of developing their business as you are, in other words peer-to-peer learning.

6) Give back

It’s a common misconception that mentorship is a one-way transaction. Mentors can, and should, also benefit from your relationship. Most startup mentors enjoy being closely involved with your innovative adventure and take pride in seeing you, their mentee, make progress. Startup founders are known for their energy, drive and enthusiasm. It is not uncommon for mentors to get an energy boost and newfound enthusiasm through the conversations with their mentees.

You can show your gratitude in different ways, like adjusting your schedule to fit their availability, forwarding an article on a topic they are personally interested in or sending an e-mail few days after the meeting to let your mentor know how the last meeting has truly been of help to you and that you look forward to your next one. Make sure to be sincere though.

How to find a good mentor for your agrifood startup?

You have just read six important do’s and don’ts in startup mentorship and you feel you are ready to take on (extra) mentors. How do you go about finding a suitable mentor? We briefly discuss two options.

1) You can find mentors on your own. Maybe you already have some entrepreneur or expert in mind. Remember the first do: (just) ask! But when you do, also make sure to be….prepared! How will you respond if a mentor asks for remuneration? What will you agree upon with regard to confidentiality?

2) You can also use startup mentor programs offered by intermediaries. These programs have already lined up a pool of mentors who are willing to help out and who have already agreed to a set of mentorship rules. You can easily find numerous programs using a search engine like google. Some offer free mentorships, some ask for remuneration and others require an equity share. It’s up to you to decide what value you see in the mentorships offered.

At StartLife, we offer agri and food startups the possibility to connect with well over 30 high level startup mentors! They have extensive domain expertise and experience, and are keen to support innovative startups that are out to make a difference. Visit StartLife’s startup mentor program page to find out more.


p.s. You can also follow StartLife on LinkedinTwitter or stay up to date with the latest news about and for agrifood startups, scaleups and more via the StartLife newsletter.

Meet Your Mentor – Matchmaking Event

StartLife's Meet Your Mentor matchmaking event

On Tuesday 20 April, we are organizing a virtual matchmaking event for StartLife’s affiliated agrifood startups that are interested in a mentorship with one, or more, of our startup mentors.  Seats are limited, so make sure to sign up fast!

If you are looking for a mentor as an objective sparring partner, who may provide you with market, technology and/or business insights, share their experience with you and possibly be able to connect you to relevant contacts , then make sure to sign up for our matchmaking event ‘Meet Your Mentor’. The event takes place on Tuesday 20 April 2021 from 16.30 – 17:40 (CEST).

Meet these startup mentors

Our pool of high profile mentors has seen a large increase over the past weeks. On 20 April we offer you the chance to personally meet some of the following mentors  (more to be confirmed soon):

How will the matchmaking take place?

The matchmaking session will start with a plenary introduction (15 minutes), followed by the 1-on-1 speed-dating sessions (3 rounds of 15 minutes each) and will end with a short wrap-up (10 minutes).

After you’ve completed registration and once the matchmaking platform is online, you will receive an invitation to create your personal profile and choose which three mentors you would like to meet. You may also leave your options open and have us randomly connect you with one or more mentors. You never know what pleasant surprise that may lead to, as is always the case with serendipity.

After the event, you can let us know which mentor(s) you would be interested in. If the interest is mutual, we will set up a mentorship for you in accordance with our startup mentor program.

For whom?

This event is only available to startups that are already affiliated with StartLife and are interested in an (additional) mentor. Please sign up via the form below.

Sign up for ‘Meet Your Mentor’