Rabobank unveils 15 food & ag startups that will pitch at FoodBytes! Chicago

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

The San Francisco FoodBytes! 2019 shortlisted startups (Picture: Kassie Borreson Fotografie)
The San Francisco FoodBytes! 2019 shortlisted startups (Picture: Kassie Borreson Fotografie)

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Startups selected to pitch at Rabobank’s FoodBytes! competition in Chicago this September include a cell-cultured meat company, a business helping companies develop next generation blended products combining meat and plant-based proteins, and a firm on a mission to turn fonio - a West African ancient grain that cooks like couscous - into a household name in the US.

The 15 selected pitch companies – chosen from more than 100 applicants spanning 18 countries - have been assigned to two judging categories: Consumer packaged goods, and 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 experience at Revel Fulton Market​ in Chicago on September 18-19​.

'Brutally honest feedback'

On September 18, shortlisted companies will attend group sessions on everything from deal structuring to legal, financing, recruitment, and route to market strategy, but also get the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with mentors to secure direct feedback on products, technologies and pitches, said Nina Meijers, startup relationship manager for Rabobank's Food & Agriculture Innovation team.

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

On September 19, the 15 shortlisted startups will each give three-minute pitches to the judges​ ​​in front of the audience. 

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.

The Chicago FoodBytes! applicants included companies working on everything from novel functional food ingredients to sustainable pet food. However, food and packaging waste was a key area of focus this time around, with the number of FoodBytes! applicants overall in that sector tripling in the last three years.

Precision agriculture was also a growing area of focus this year, said Tina May, senior director of sustainability for Land O’Lakes Inc., and FoodBytes! Chicago judge.

Finding better and smarter ways to grow food is essential and it will be interesting to hear how the selected startups are revolutionizing the future of food and safeguarding the environment.”

The 15 shortlisted startups are:​

Consumer packaged goods:​

  • Yolélé Foods​ (Brooklyn, NY) is building a commercial scale supply chain for fonio, a West African ancient grain that cooks like couscous with a nutritional profile similar to quinoa.
  • Start Right Foods​ (Ballwin, MO) makes high protein breakfast waffles.
  • TeaSquares​ (Chicago, IL) produces superfood snacks such as tea-infused energy bites.
  • Tia Lupita Foods​ (Tiburon, CA) makes healthy Mexican-inspired food products including hot sauce, cactus chips and tortillas.
  • Shameless Pets​ (Chicago, IL) makes upcycled treats designed reduce the environmental impact of pet food production.

Food Tech:

  • The Better Meat Co​ (Sacramento, CA)  is targeting CPG firms and institutional food sellers with plant-based proteins that “blend seamlessly into ground meat products”​ at inclusion rates of up to 30%, to deliver healthier, tastier, and more sustainable sausages, burgers, and meatballs.
  • Evigence Sensors​ (Nesher, Israel) develops visual freshness sensors that help reduce food waste and enhance food safety and quality.
  • Higher Steaks​ (London, UK) is developing cell-cultured meat products.
  • Journey Foods​ (Chicago, IL) has developed an AI-powered software platform that supports smarter data services and product management for the packaged foods market.
  • Spira​ (Los Angeles, CA) creates functional ingredients from spirulina.

Ag Tech:

  • Agremo​ (Belgrade, Serbia) provides a cloud-based and AI-powered agriculture sensing and imagery analysis software platform for growers, agronomists, and drone professionals.
  • Capro-X​ (Ithaca, NY) mixes acid whey (a byproduct from Greek yogurt production) with bacteria and heat to transform it into 'bio-oils which could be used in biofuels or additives in livestock feed.
  • Cytophage Technologies​ (Manitoba, Canada) has developed synthetic bacteriophage products to prevent and treat bacterial infections in livestock as a new tool to meet new regulatory requirements while cutting down on the need for daily antibiotics that can lead to antimicrobial resistance in humans.
  • LocalCoho​ (Auburn, NY) produces sustainable, traceable and fresh, Coho salmon through land-based Recirculating Aquaculture.
  • SeedLinked​ (Viroqua, WI) has created a web platform that uses crowd-sourced data and advanced analytics to enable plant breeders, seed sellers, farmers and gardeners to choose, acquire, breed and sell place-adapted, specialty seeds.

The 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, go-to-market advice and recruiting assistance from some of the FoodBytes! sponsors.

FoodBytes! Chicago is supported by presenting sponsor ADM​ along with official sponsors Printpack​, Polsinelli​, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN​ and FoodSpace​, and supporting sponsors Agropur Cooperative​, Germin8 Ventures​, Creative Alignments​, the Intertwine Group​, and Boulder Food Group​. Rabobank also welcomes JBS USA​, a leading global food company, DLL​, a global finance partner, and The Food Foundry​, a Chicago-based accelerator reimagining the food industry, to the FoodBytes! family. 

Get more information HERE​​ and get your tickets HERE.

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