IFT FIRST Startup Pavilion highlights innovative solutions to today’s pressing challenges

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags IFT First startups Innovation

The Startup Pavilion at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual Food Improved by Research Science and Technology (IFT FIRST) conference in Chicago this month will be twice as big as it was at last year’s annual conference, reflecting the urgency and creativity around this year’s theme: ‘Innovation in a Time of Crisis: Can We Future-Proof the Food System?’

“This theme really talks about sustainability and resilience,”​ and where the food industry is coming and where it is going, Mandy Zaransky-Hurst, senior vice president of marketing, communications and business development at IFT, told FoodNavigator-USA.

“There is a whole narrative arc that went into how the program was designed based on this question, and we thought about the theme as a response to natural, social, political and economic crises in the world that are ongoing. So, when you think about the last few years, we had COVID and geopolitical [crises] as it relates to Ukraine, and economic crisis, supply chain challenges. This is a range of crises that ultimately impacted what and how eat,” ​and we want to spotlight how new companies are brining new solutions, she explained.

In response, nearly 100 startups from at least 13 countries will showcase innovations ranging from cell cultured and alternative proteins to AI technology for R&D professionals in the Startup Pavilion​, which attracted almost 7,000 visitors last year to see the 48 featured companies.

Among participating startups offering their answer to IFT FIRST’s theme this year are several focused on promoting more sustainable crops and food production systems, including CarobWay (S3471Q), a food- and agri-tech company focused on carob as a “sustainable super-crop, CropEats (S3471BN), which sources underutilized seasonal crops to create healthy muffin desserts, and Montana Pure Protein (S3471AL), which uses pulses to create gluten free organic protein concentrate and starch flour and fiber ingredients.

Alternative proteins also will be prominently featured in the pavilion, including Lemnature AquaFarms (S1778), which creates minimally processed protein and fiber powders from vertically grown, harvested and processed lemnaceae, Cella Farms EQUII (SB471E), which is a food-tech company pioneering a microbial protein technology to ferment grains and create high protein flours, BlueNalu (S3471BA), which creates cell-cultured seafood, and recently rebranded Land Lovers (formerly Alchemeat) (S3471N), which makes plant-based steak.

Upcycling – one of the fastest growing claims in the market – will also appear at the Startup Pavilion with Apparo, Inc. (S3471G), which upcycles sunflower seed meal into protein ingredients, Nutraberry (S3471BH), which upcycles Pacific Northwest berry seeds saved from the creation of seedless purees to create single digit micron sized berry seed powders or the functional food market, Paragon Pure (S3471B), which is launching a structured vegetable fat from upcycled rice bran, and Upcycled Foods, Inc, (S3471H) which is a frontrunner in the space and will showcase its divers and growing portfolio.

The Pitch

As part of the Startup Pavilion experience, IFT will host a massive pitch competition in which upwards of 80 to 100 startups will compete for $10,000 cash prize presented by the Seeding the Future Foundation.

More than 20 judges from R&D to academics to government officials and marketing coaches will evaluate participants’ vision of how their businesses are an example of the future of food.

The multi-day pitch competition will culminate in an invitation-only VIP event hosted by Seeding the Future Foundation that will also winners from the challenge from this and previous years to network with investors and other key industry stakeholders, including investors, marketing executives and incubators.

Securing a spot in the pavilion

Recognizing that many startups have limited funds, IFT makes tabletops available to them in the Startup Pavilion by application for less than $600, which includes two tickets to he event.

“The gola is that they get both exposure and the attendees get a chance to really learn about their innovations,”​ Zaransky-Hurst said.

She encourages other startups interested in a spot in the pavilion next year to reach out as the IFT will begin review applications for next year’s FIRST conference in the fourth quarter of this year.

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