Crafting Nupo Ventures: Our journey from a corporate innovation team to a venture studio


Nupo Ventures is championing the future of sustainable ventures, driving not just financial returns but making tangible positive impacts on our environment and society. We have a proven venture building framework to conceptualize, build and scale new start-ups that create sustainability impact on a variety of topics – cutting across all ESG dimensions. We work with smart, passionate, and driven individuals who want to build and grow long lasting, impactful businesses. Once the founding teams are onboarded, we support them to grow and scale businesses through access to funding, partners, and recruitment.

The genesis of Nupo Ventures

The genesis of Nupo Ventures is Olam’s Engine 2.0 initiative. In 2019, as part of the 5-year plan, Olam wanted to identify the next generation of new businesses that would take the Group into its next phase of growth in 2025 and beyond. Olam, traditionally a B2B ag commodity grower and trader, embarked on a transformative journey. As part of Engine 2.0 a corporate innovation team was set up to look at diverse set of topics:

  • From building a B2C snack brand 
  • To building a digital platform to make all commodity supply chains traceable.
  • From building a digital platform to improve our carbon emissions reporting 
  • To establishing an industry consortium to standardize sustainability tracking the in Food & Ag

We explored these topics through a Corporate Venture building model, partnering with a variety of specialist venture building firms. Through the process we learnt best practices in creating a start-up. We also tested new hiring models – attracting talent from outside Olam, folks who are best suited to scale the new businesses we were trying to build.

Through these experiences we gained confidence in pursuing venture building as our core business and hence Nupo Ventures was set up.

Formulating our vision

When we set out on the journey to create Nupo Ventures we were very conscious to build on the rich legacy that Olam has of entrepreneurship in Food & Agriculture. In 34 years, Olam has grown from a small export organization in Nigeria to a global enterprise with a revenue of $34 billion.

The Food & Ag industry is at a crossroads – suffering from deteriorating yields and land conditions while having to ramp up production to support a growing global population. Most of the production challenges are coming from the conventional farming that has happened over the last few decades. So now, the need of the hour is to think about how we can feed the world’s growing population in a more sustainable way.

As we build Nupo Ventures into an independent venture studio, we want to leverage corporate partnerships like our partnership with Olam Agri and ofi, to identify unique problem sets that other folks are not solving (well) today. Through our understanding of the sector, aspects like supply chain and leveraging our corporate market access, we want to build new start-ups that can address sustainability challenges for the Food & Ag and adjacent sectors.

Crafting Nupo Ventures
Our approach to incubation

The starting point of any incubation is the problem identification. At Nupo Ventures, we have zeroed in on three core investment themes:

  • Sustainable consumers: Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in sustainability and what they are using and consuming. This is being reflected in everyday purchases and behavioral changes.
  • Regenerative food systems: As consumers are becoming more concerned about sustainability, producers are incentivized to transition to a regenerative food system.
  • Future-ready supply chains: To accommodate and support the transition to regenerative food systems, supply chains need to become more future-ready, adopting digital capabilities to support requirements like traceability.

We delve deep into understanding market trends and signals to pinpoint promising opportunities. The following few sprints are spent identifying the right customer segment to target and interviewing as many personas as possible in those segments. We believe that the only way to build enduring businesses is to identify an acute problem that someone is willing to pay to have solved.

Once the problem has been validated in the market then we begin brainstorming product concepts which are also tested in the market, with potential customers to see which result in the strongest interest to adopt. The biggest vote of confidence is if we can get a signed contract from a customer to use the product, off the back of a concept sharing! Those are the opportunities that we search for.

The next step in the process would be starting to build the product itself and that is typically done by the Nupo Ventures team. This is also when we start to build the venture team, the actual team of people who will own and scale the venture going forward, starting with the CTO. In parallel with the development process, the Nupo Ventures team will also continue to do market testing and business development through our various network connections and corporate partnerships. The biggest focus currently is to finalize the go-to-market strategy. When we see traction in the market that is when recruitment of the venture team begins in earnest, starting with the CEO.

The MVP (Minimum Viable Product) development process takes anywhere between 6-12 months, depending on the topic at hand. Once the product is ready and the team is in place, the venture emerges from stealth mode and is launched publicly.

At this point, while the Nupo Ventures team moves on to the next problem identification, we stay committed to the success of each of our launched ventures. Not only are we part of their boards going forward, but we also support them in building up some of their ‘company’ capabilities – like operations, finance, HR etc through various stages of their growth.

The road ahead

The journey of setting up Nupo Ventures has been an interesting one. This is a start-up in itself, and I am sure we will keep evolving our operating model and processes in the coming months and years.

Currently, our team at Nupo Ventures is  the next set of topics to build our next venture. The topics under review span a broad range –

  • From thinking about how to accelerate finance to support improvement in sustainability in nature-based sectors like agriculture and forestry
  • To thinking about the needs of SME businesses in Africa

We will continue to use evidence and metric based processes to validate each topic and sequentially scale them.

We plan to launch 2-3 new ventures every year and for that we are also open to partnering with other corporates and venture studios, where we find a meeting of minds. We want to solve meaningful problems that will impact a big market and improve its sustainability credentials.

In future blogs, we will share some of the lessons we have learnt in our early years as well as topics like what does sustainability means for us. We are excited about the journey ahead and would love for you to be part of it. Follow us on LinkedIn for timely updates and dive deeper into our world.