Rabobank unveils 15 food & ag start-ups that will pitch at FoodBytes! San Francisco

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Rabobank unveils 15 food & ag start-ups that will pitch at FoodBytes! San Francisco

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Startups selected to pitch at Rabobank’s FoodBytes! event in San Francisco this March include a petfood start-up pioneering a novel approach to meat protein production via acellular agriculture, a snack food brand popping waterlily seeds, and a company producing pale ale from surplus bread.

The 15 shortlisted companies - whittled down from several hundred applicants – have been assigned to two judging categories: CPG (consumer packaged goods), and tech (food and ag tech), but are all eligible to receive the people’s choice award (voted by the audience across both categories).

Each will get the opportunity to participate in a two-day education, networking, and pitching event in San Francisco March 27-28​, said Nina Meijers, startup relationship manager for Rabobank's food & agriculture innovation team.

“What participants really like about FoodBytes! is that it's not just a pitch competition, it's a networking platform, a gateway for applications to network with Rabobank's broader food and ag ecosystem. For many participants, it's getting to access that ecosystem on an ongoing basis that is the most valuable part of the experience."

Applications are first whittled down by Rabobank's innovation and research teams to a list of around 40-50 candidates, which are then scrutinized by a team of 10-15 Rabobank execs, sponsors, and affiliated investment funds, said Meijers.  The judges - who are interested in companies that have gone beyond the ideas stage and have proved their proposition to some extent - are primarily looking for:

  • Management team: ​Exceptional domain and entrepreneurial experience.
  • Business model: ​Companies with a clear understanding of their costs and margin structures, competitors, and ability to scale.
  • Market opportunity: ​Judges are most interested in high growth market opportunities and high barriers to entry.
  • Product innovation: ​The judges are looking for game-changing approaches to solving problems.
  • Production validation and traction: ​Evidence companies are building a successful business and are able to raise external funds.
  • Sustainability and social impact: ​Concept is focused on the triple bottom line: people, profit and planet.

'Brutally honest feedback'

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On the first day of FoodBytes! in San Francisco​ on March 27, shortlisted candidates attend group sessions on everything from deal structures to legal, financing, and branding, but also get the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with mentors to secure direct feedback on products, technologies and pitches, said Meijers.

"They also spend time practising their pitches, and they get brutally honest feedback, which often prompts them to make significant changes to their pitch the following day."

On the second day (March 28), the 15 shortlisted startups will each give three-minute pitches to the judges ​in front of the audience. 

The 15 shortlisted startups are:


  • Hawaii-based Shaka Tea​ has created the first Hawaiian ready-to-drink iced tea, and the first brewed with māmaki, a plant that only grows in the Hawaiian islands, supporting regenerative agriculture and economic development.
  • New York based Toast Ale​ produces pale ale from surplus bread.
  • Illinois-based The Worthy Company​ has developed the Worthy Blendie Bowl, which combines fruits, vegetables, legumes and chia to create a nutritious on the go snack or mini meal.   
  • California-based GEM​ has developed ‘chewable bites of daily nutrition’ made from 13 algae and plant-based ingredients that provide 15+ vitamins and minerals per bite.  
  • Delaware-based Taali​ has developed a snack made from popped water lily seeds.

Food/ag tech:

  • California-based SnapDNA​ has developed what it claims is the fastest food pathogen test in the industry, eliminating the need to culture bacteria prior to analysis, enabling sample-to-answer test results in one-hour for key pathogens; listeria, salmonella, and E. coli. Its RNA/DNA-based patented technology is being tested by the USDA, which will validate SnapDNA products for use by government agencies including the FDA, FSIS, and CDC, says the company.   
  • New York-based Zymtronix​ has developed an enzyme immobilization platform claimed to improve the “activity, stability and reusability of any enzyme​.”
  • Colorado-based Bond Pet Foods​ ​is taking a single celled micro-organism and adding DNA sequences (which can be 3D printed using synthetic biology techniques) which effectively instruct the organism to produce the proteins found in chicken after being fed sugars and other nutrients in a big fermentation tank. The resulting protein can then be harvested and mixed with other foods to make petfood.
  • California-based Planetarians​ has developed a process to upcycle defatted sunflower seeds to create flour with twice the protein and fiber for the same price as wheat flour.
  • Israeli-based Hargol FoodTech​ has built the world's first commercial grasshopper farm for human food consumption.
  • North Dakota-based Bushel ​has built a software platform that allows grain elevators to digitally connect with their growers to deliver near real-time information that informs better business decisions.
  • California-based Osmo Systems​ has built a water quality sensing system (osmobot) to help shrimp farmers monitor ponds online.
  • India-based CropIn Technology Solutions​ is on a mission to “digitize every farm”​ enabling farmers to archive patterns and predict trends.
  • California-based Corumat​ makes 100% plant-based, compostable, packaging that it claims generates 60% less CO2 during production than plastics traditionally used to make red party cups.
  • Canada-based Healthy Cow​ ​has developed ProPreg, combination of pre-and probiotics designed to support and augment an optimal microbiome in dairy cows.

The winners


The two (or three – if the people’s choice winner is not one of the two category winners) winners will receive:

• The opportunity to pitch and network with c-level food and agriculture executives at Rabobank’s annual food & ag summit in New York City in December.

• Business consultation services, including: legal consultation from Polsinelli; go-to-market consultation from The Intertwine Group; recruiting consultation from Creative Alignments; an innovation day with ADM’s food and beverage product advisors; and access to Rabobank research reports.

Get more information HERE​.

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Kassie Borreson / kassieborreson.com / @kmbeventfotografie

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