The five startups were selected as recipients or finalists of the people’s choice awards at two inaugural FoodBytes! events hosted earlier in the year by Rabobank and SF New Tech, at which 40 companies networked and pitched their food and agriculture-related products to representatives of Rabobank and investors. The 40 firms were selected from hundreds of applications vying for a chance to present their innovations during a 60-second or 10-minute presentation, said Manuel Gonzalez, managing director and Rabobank’s West Coast Head of Corporate Clients.
Gonzales was the brains behind FoodBytes, which he created as a “very dynamic, fun” way to introduce entrepreneurs in the food and agriculture segment with potential investors or mentors. “Most people don’t like long speeches, so we adopted a forum that is either 10 minutes – a five minute speech with five minutes of Q&A – or a 60-second speech,” which also allowed more companies to present in a short amount of time so that there could be “less talking and more doing,” Gonzales told FoodNavigator-USA.
He said Rabobank selected companies to present at the two FoodBytes! events in 2015 based on their personalities, ideas and the segment in which the operated, more than on their size or revenue to date.
“We see ourselves as agnostic. It is up to the consumer and investor to decide what they like and we just want to bring them a wide array of entrepreneurs and ideas to select from,” he said.
The top five companies that caught consumers and investors eyes as the winners and runners-up of the FoodBytes! People’s Choice Award are:
Tiny Farms – A startup dedicated to farming insects as sustainable protein that can help fill the potential protein shortage as the world’s population grows, a company representative said at Rabobank’s client appreciation event. “There are already 2 billion people on this planet who eat insects as part of their regular diet, and there are now almost 40 startups in the US and Canada that are creating and marketing products using this,” he said. “We are building insect farms here in North America to help fill that need.”
MycoTechnology – “We are fungi fermentation specialists. We use fungi as a way to modify the taste of agricultural products – specifically to reduce bitterness in various agricultural products as a way to reduce sugar,” the CEO and cofounder Alan Hahn said. “Our specialty product is a bitter blocker made from a mushroom extract. We use it in a wide variety of applications: stevia, monkfruit, and it works in alcohols and other substrates to reduce the lingering after taste. So we can work with major food companies on this application.”
Patrick’s Fine Sodas – “We are basically reinventing and disrupting the soda industry by creating a probiotic platform that tastes better than soda” and brings together two major current trends: the rise of probiotics and the decline of sugary drinks, said Shawn Patrick, the firm’s CEO and founder. “We are raising our half million seed round to take our platform to market,” including four launch flavors and “more on the board,” he added.
AGERpoint – “We are a company that focuses on data and analytics for growing crops” by using technology and laser scanners to create a full picture of vines and trees so that producers can use a handheld device to easily analyze all the attributes of a specific plant, such as its biomass, how many grapes are in every cluster, how many clusters there are and the size of the grapes, said CEO Thomas McPeek.
Back To The Roots – After discovering how easy it is to grow gourmet mushrooms, the founders of Back To The Roots launched a line of grow kits for mushrooms – and now other plants – to help bring consumers closer to their
food, said a company spokeswoman. She explained that the company expanded into the grocery aisle this year with Stone Ground Flakes and a line of Breakfast Toppers, and it is working with schools to teach future generations about where food comes from, as well as serving its cereals in school cafeterias.
Rabobank will sponsor three FoodBytes! events in 2016, and will begin accepting applications in the spring, Gonzales said. He added that Rabobank hopes also to host a FoodBytes! event in Amsterdam soon so that it becomes a global event.