Rabobank North America Wholesale’s FoodBytes! and Food Vision USA’s TrailBlazers are two such competitions that can connect entrepreneurs with other industry players to help them elevate their business to the next level and provide the exposure necessary to make it in the competitive food and business industry.
FoodBytes! creator Manuel Gonzales told FoodNavigator-USA after the first FoodBytes! event last year, the event is about entrepreneurs who are willing to take risks and develop ideas in the food, beverage and tech space that go beyond simply selling a product to offer a solution to a problem or fill a consumer need.
As such, Gonzales said, FoodBytes! is unique in that it really focuses on the entrepreneurs more than celebrity judges, futurists or companies that have already made it big. He added, everyone who is there who is not an entrepreneur is there to listen and try to help.
But gaining access to this elite group and the help they offer isn’t easy. At the most recent FoodBytes! event in New York City earlier this summer 120 startups from around the world applied – and only 20 were selected to pitch and compete for one of three awards – the Judges’ Choice, People’s Choice and Highly Commended.
To find out what it takes to make the cut and then the pitch, this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast features the Judge’s Choice winner from the New York City FoodBytes! event – Bruce Rasa, who is the CEO of AgVoice. He described what the event was like, what motivated him to compete and shared advice for other entrepreneurs considering pitch slams.
“The New York City event was pretty fascinating. It was, I think, about 400 people. It was standing room only” and included representatives from a “fascinating array of innovations” who were able to gain visibility and connect with others in the audience, Rasa said.
Like others at the event, Rasa says he was driven to apply for FoodBytes! primarily for the networking opportunity it provides, and secondarily for a chance to meet potential investors.
“We wanted to meet with other innovators in the food category that wanted to do things in a new and better way. We found that absolutely in spades” at the FoodBytes! event, he said. “It was a great event and Rabobank’s team and their partners really have pulled together a magnificent eco-system there to basically have an international coalition, for lack of a better term, for people to meet” and explore ways to make food and agriculture better.
For its part, what AgVoice does better than other voice-activated data collection and analysis tools – and why it won the coveted Judge’s Choice award – is help food and agriculture professionals gather highly technical data about their products’ using only their voices, but without compromising language specificity.
Rasa explained that off-the-shelf voice services like Siri and Alexa won’t work for many experts in food and ag because they simply don’t recognize the words that they use. To steal an example from the medical world, an over-the-counter technology would recognize a search for heart attack, but maybe not for infarction.
“So, there has been this open opportunity for someone to create a specialized lexicon to address this industry,” and provide it in a way that leaves experts’ hands free so they can do their jobs effectively, he said.
“Part of the reason that matters [is] … some of these people are out in the sun, enormous field and they have their gloves on, they have a full size iPad and a paper checklist in their hands. The problem is these are experts and they actually really need both their hands free to inspect the plant and to look at the weeds, diseases or insects to recommend better decisions immediately to grow a better crop,” he said.
Currently, AgVoice’s services are focused on creating customized dictionaries for different industries and groups, such as the Dairy Farmers of America. But, eventually, Rasa says the company will offer subscription services to access those databases.
What it takes to win
Obviously, AgVoice is providing a solution to an unmet need per Rabobank’s requirement for FoodBytes! but so were a lot of the pitch slam competitors, which included Nom Noms World Food, Real Oyster Cult, Victory Hemp Foods and others.
So what else made AgVoice standout to the judges? Well, Rasa says, a lot of the magic is in the actual presentation and driving home how a product provides a solution to an unmet, real world challenge.
“A lesson that we learned … was to keep the presentation extremely short, extremely visual and make sure that the narrative is what people follow. Not try to solve for everything and throw all the data on the slides itself,” he said.
He also recommends real world examples that are easy for the audience to relate to.
As a winner of the FoodBytes! competition, AgVoice will receive $2,500 of PR and brand storytelling counsel from Fresh Ideas Group, branding consultation from Nucleus Maximus, legal consultation with Holland & Hart and a tour of Hain Celestial Group’s headquarters for a behind-the-scenes lunch and learn.
But what Rasa said he was most excited about as a winner was the chance to pitch his company again on Wall Street later this year at Rabobank’s exclusive annual meeting and the chance to work with ADM.
If all this sounds like something you are interested in, you still have time to apply for the next FoodBytes! event, which will be in Austin, Texas, Sept. 26. Rabobank will accept applications through this Sunday Aug. 6.
While you are at it, apply to FoodNavigator-USA’s TrailBlazer challenge, which will take place at our three-day conference Food Vision USA in Chicago Nov.13-15. The deadline for the TrailBlazer competition also is coming up fast with your stories due by Aug. 7. Apply to be a trail blazer here.