WeWork is launching WeWork Food Labs and an accompanying accelerator program to support early-stage sustainable food startups. And they’re looking for entrepreneurs innovating plant-based and cell-based meat.
Let’s back up.
In June of 2018, WeWork swallowed a news cycle whole when the multinational, multibillion-dollar company announced that it would no longer buy meat.
The announcement came after WeWork commissioned a third-party sustainability audit and discovered that meat was a major contributor to their carbon footprint. (WeWork has also committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2023 and to eliminating single-use plastics from their workspaces. Woot.)
WeWork Food Labs Manager Tessa Price told me, “It felt like a really straightforward commitment to say, ‘Okay, we no longer spend our money on meat.’”
There was just one slight snag. After decades of steadily increasing meat consumption (globally and in the United States, at a population level and per capita), the food system was—and still is—optimized for the production, delivery, and sale of conventional meat products. Finding sustainable, alternative sources of protein was trickier than they anticipated.
So now, WeWork is expanding the scope of their sustainability work, not only to source sustainable food but to help develop the supply chain.
Enter WeWork Food Labs and the Food Labs Accelerator.
According to Price, “The entire focus is giving brands who are truly trying to positively impact the entire global food ecosystem a leg up.”
What does that leg up look like? WeWork Food Labs will include subsidized workspace and access to mentors, advisors, and industry experts. WeWork Food Labs will also offer resources ranging from R&D kitchen space and production space to introductions to co-packers and co-manufacturers and even distribution opportunities.
Price explained, “There are so many resources that early-stage food startups need access to and that it's nearly impossible to gain access to as a team of one or two founders.”
The first WeWork Food Labs program soft launches on May 1st and will open in its flagship Manhattan location this October.
Additionally, WeWork Food Labs will house an accelerator program (which, BTW, is accepting applications through May 15th). A cohort of eight startups will work through a five-month program, tailored to achieving goals that each company specifies at the outset. WeWork will invest a million dollars in the initial cohort.
The Food Labs and accelerator are modeled on the “industry-agnostic” WeWork Labs, which offer a similar suite of resources, programming, and subsidized workspace.
The WeWork effect is potentially massive.
The labs are, in some ways, a return to WeWork’s roots, when they primarily catered to freelancers, creatives, and founders. As WeWork has expanded across the world, the company has taken on more and more corporate tenants and is partnering with bigger and bigger companies. But having a foot in both worlds is what makes WeWork so potentially game-changing.
WeWork has 400,000 members in 425 locations across 100 cities and 27 countries. WeWork spends millions on food each year. Their members spend billions on food eaten in WeWork buildings. In the global economy, WeWork is a certified influencer.
And WeWork is acutely aware of this. Price pointed out, “If we can start to positively influence the global food consciousness by making sure that there are more sustainable, nutritious, and accessible food options in our buildings, that could have a real impact.”
WeWork Food Labs and the accelerator represent an opportunity for a selection of good food startups to launch further, faster. But the potential WeWork effect is much more than that.
By both developing and patronizing the supply chain for sustainable proteins (and empowering its corporate tenants to do the same), WeWork is accelerating the transition to a sustainable global food system.