While the average person might not understand the nuances in heating fluids for manufacturing purposes, there’s a big shift happening toward sustainability in the industry. Induction Food Systems, a Raleigh-based startup that is presenting at Venture Connect on April 7, is answering that call for sustainability.
In making anything from milk, shoes or fuel, companies must heat fluids to achieve different material properties, Induction Food Systems’ CEO and Co-Founder Francesco Aimone said.
His startup has created an advanced fluid-heating system for industrial customers. The way they do this is by harnessing electromagnetic energy to heat fluids from the middle out, which delivers an almost 20 times improvement in how efficiently manufacturers bring fluid to temperature, dramatically impacting production. That means lower energy costs and less carbon sent into the atmosphere.
“We’re tackling a multi-billion dollar problem, and it’s a specialized space that most folks don’t see,” Aimone said. “But that’s absolutely fundamental for how we make everything from food to fuels.”
The technology was originally developed by Co-Founder George Sadler, an academic, food scientist and chemist who had been working in partnership with the FDA to validate new processing technologies. Sadler, believing the world would turn electric, thought we needed a better way of doing thermal processing, especially for fluid foods (think beverages, syrup, soups, sauces, etc.). Induction Food Systems was officially founded on that premise in 2017.
The startup’s been on a growth trajectory since then. After commercializing its technology, Induction has found uses beyond food, including for specialty chemical manufacturers who need to heat difficult-to-heat products.
“We’ve been doing it for a long time, but the world is starting to electrify and realizing they need better solutions on the environmental side to reduce how much carbon they’re putting into the air as a result of just making or just heating what they’re doing,” Aimone said.
Through the Techstars accelerator, Induction Food Systems saw their first angel investments in 2018 and began testing with enterprise customers in 2019. To date, they’ve raised $650,000 in funding and deployed their first unit to a customer last month.
Unit prices can range from $80,000 all the way $500,000 depending on the specific needs of each customer. Induction Food System’s current six clients’ industries range from specialty chemicals to food and beverage companies.
During market discovery and while working directly with a client, Aimone said it is crucial to focus on your listening skills.
“When you’re speaking to a new customer, stop selling, start listening,” Aimone said. “It’s the most important thing a founder can do.”
This way, you can understand the challenges that clients are facing and what they truly need, Aimone said.
“One of the earliest mistakes I made was saying ‘I know how your process works better than you do,’” Aimone said. “That’s a big mistake. Listening is the number one skill to have as a founder, especially as you’re looking to a market that’s pretty risk-averse.”
Aimone also stresses the importance for founders to keep your connections in the loop. Fostering relationships long-term can end up landing more capital than any well-rehearsed pitch to a stranger.
“If you build a relationship with that investor and say, ‘Hey, we started at zero. Now we’re at three. It’s taken us a while, and we’ve learned a lot along the way. We’re going to raise a seed round now.’ You’re more likely to get a yes because they’ve seen you execute,” Aimone said.
Induction Food Systems weathered its own share of challenges when the supply chain saw extreme shortages as a result of the pandemic. But Induction got creative in how they could serve clients when things were short, Aimone said. And the time enterprise customers spent hunkered down at home meant they had more time to engage with Induction Food Systems, giving a larger boost to the sales pipeline than Aimone expected.
Looking ahead, Aimone sees Induction Food Systems as part of a larger movement.
“We see the future of manufacturing changing and we want to be a part of that,” Aimone said. “Not just a part of it, but a key factor in helping it get to where it needs to go to be more sustainable.”
Induction Food Systems’ initial offering is just the beginning of driving greater sustainable change. This year alone, Aimone said Induction Food Systems intends to grow revenue to a quarter million and get to five units of production in the field.
At Venture Connect, Aimone hopes to connect with investors who see the value in Induction’s promise of a more sustainable future.
“I think what I’m looking forward to the most is being able to understand the excitement from the investors in the crowd around sustainability,” Aimone said. “It’s one thing to say we like sustainability on a website. It’s another to see where they’re putting their time at the conference.”