Growth, waste and social impact. FoodBytes!, a pitch competition-meets-networking event for startups, witnessed these messages become recurring themes at their transformational event in Boulder Oct. 26.
More than 350 people went to the University of Colorado’s Byron R. White Club for the fifth FoodBytes! event which was hosted by Boomtown sponsor Whole Foods Market. FoodBytes! Boulder was designed to connect food industry leaders and investors with startup companies that are innovating and disrupting the food chain with groundbreaking ideas in food, agribusiness and technology.
About 18 months ago, Rabobank, the leading global food and agriculture bank, created FoodBytes! to address global food security and find the most innovative entrepreneurs in the food and agriculture technology industries and connect them to investors needed to bring their idea or product to market. Much like Boomtown does with healthtech, IoT and adtech startups, FoodBytes! strives to provide entrepreneurs with the resources they need to succeed.
10 game-changing food and agriculture companies from around the world aimed to tackle these three food concerns during their five-minute pitches.
One of the event’s judges, Manuel Gonzalez, North America head of startup innovation at Rabobank, says innovation is important not only in the food and agriculture industries, but in general. “Growth comes from innovation,” said Gonzalez. “85 percent of GDP growth is the product of innovation.”
10-year food industry veteran, Alex Hanifin, co-founder of Alpine Start, was just one of the companies that pitched at FoodBytes! She recently left her job to grow a new company poised to disrupt the instant coffee industry. Hanifin and her business partner discovered a new way to brew coffee beans — locking the flavor in — and packaged their coffee into convenient single-servings.
“We found that in the instant coffee market, the options that were currently available were just bad, and we saw sort of a white space,” said Hanifin. “We decided that we wanted to make a good instant coffee — purely for our own needs — and it turns out everybody else wanted it.”
As evidenced by Hanifin and Alpine Start, innovation leads to growth.
The Honest Stand, winner of the People’s Choice Award by FoodBytes’ attendees, is another company hoping to change the food industry. The company creates comfort foods out of plants and is growing at a smaller level.
“We’ve grown really slowly at first to make sure we have all of our ducks in a row and we can scale to demand,” ‘said The Honest Stand co-founder, Alexandra Carone.”We wanted to grow slowly enough that we were maintaining transparency in the processes and ingredients, which is important to us.”
One of the big themes throughout FoodBytes! Boulder was food waste. It is considered by industry leaders as one of the biggest issues surrounding global food security.
“How much we waste and what we consider waste has a huge impact on the world,” said Gonzalez. “More than one-third of the food that is produced in the world is wasted.”
ReGrained harvests beer grain from local craft breweries. The company repurposes the grain used and pairs it with other simple, organic ingredients to create healthy snack bars.“Food waste alchemy is a modern-day gold rush,” said Dan Kurzrock, co-founder of ReGrained. “It’s the future.”
The company that ultimately won the top prize of the day, the Judge’s Choice Award, was Mad Agriculture. The company is attacking the food waste problem with bugs.
“Bugs are the backbone of the ecosystem,” said Philip Taylor, Mad Agriculture’s CEO and co-founder. “Food waste is a valuable but untapped resource that usually ends up in landfills.”
Mad Agriculture harnesses the nutrient recycling abilities of insects, specifically black soldier fly larvae, to turn food waste into a protein-rich feed supplement for livestock, so the world can depend less on unsustainable ingredients like fishmeal and soy.
New challenges are arising from an increased demand for food, changing consumer preferences and the need for sustainable food production. All of the participating companies aimed to address one, if not all, of these challenges.
One of the aspects that makes the food and agriculture technology industries different from others is how universal food is.
“Agriculture — we’ve forgotten — is the essence of our existence,” Mad Agriculture’s Taylor said. “Food is something we need, along with water and air. Food is at the heart of our existence and how we eat largely determines how the world is used, so we better eat well.”
The Honest Stand’s Carone agrees. “Being able to innovate on products that already exist and technologies that already exist and turning it into something to reach more consumers and help more families, friends and significant others enjoy meals together is something that is really special and I think timeless.”
Without the vital resources provided by organizations like FoodBytes! Boulder and Boomtown, startups could be at risk to fail and when talking about an issue as grave as global food security, failure is not an option.
“After all,” said Carone, “people are always going to have to eat.”