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August 4, 2023
In an effort to help startup companies, the nonprofit Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) hosted its first-ever The Pitch competition at IFT FIRST, held in July at McCormick Place in Chicago. The exhibit hall featured a Startup Pavilion consisting of 86 companies from 14 countries. Fifty-four emerging food and food tech businesses that were exhibiting in the pavilion competed in The Pitch for an opportunity to win a $10,000 cash prize.
The competition spanned three days, with groups of contestants pitching for 90 seconds to a panel of judges, ranging from government officials, venture capitalists and product development professionals to industry leaders, startup coaches, consultants and professors. Condensing their business visions into such a short time span was an incredible feat for the entrepreneurs, as each company had a distinct mission and set of goals.
Five rounds of the competition took place, with a dozen participants—BlueNalu, Climate Partner, Divestiva, Fuddies, Fusion Foods Group, Helaina, Lemnature Aquafarms, MontBlanc AI, RedLeaf Biologics, SnapDNA, Sustain-A-Grain and unClassic Foods—chosen to advance to the finale. Each finalist brought something different to the table, from plant-based ingredients created using sustainable practices to innovative technologies primed to push forward the future of food production.
The finalists pitched to a panel of five judges, including Angela Cauley, founder and executive director of the George Washington Carver Research Institute; Chris Downs, IFT president and director of Food and Beverage Accelerator (FaBA) at University of Queensland in Australia; Dan Ripma, VP of S2G Ventures; Staci Seibold, senior director of client and technical services at Partners in Food Solutions; and Pete Speranza, CEO of Wicked Kitchen.
Biotech company Helaina, which specializes in creating proteins at scale via precision fermentation, was awarded the $10,000 grand prize. Helaina COO Paola Delgado highlighted the company’s primary ingredient Lactoferrin, a bioactive protein found in breast milk, which she said regulates iron levels, improves nutrient absorption and supports cognitive health. The company, founded in New York City in 2019, is developing the protein at scale to be used in infant formula and functional foods for all ages.
“My mother was a nutritionist in a soup kitchen, where I saw firsthand the effects of anemia,” Delgado explained in her extended pitch during the finale. “This is the future of food as medicine.”
Technology company SnapDNA and alt-meat manufacturer unClassic Foods were each awarded $2,500 as the runners-up. SnapDNA aims to revolutionize the food testing process by reducing the time needed to test food for food pathogens, spoilage agents and allergens. Through its onsite analysis technology, the company can significantly reduce the traditional pathogen test timeline—from three to seven days to less than one hour—which the company said can reduce storage costs for food companies and help support food safety. San Francisco-based unClassic Foods creates meat alternatives using oyster mushrooms.
“The Pitch and Startup Pavilion exemplify food innovation and the spirit of entrepreneurship in every sense,” Christie Tarantino-Dean, CEO of IFT, said. “With the support of the Seeding The Future Foundation and its founder Bernhard van Lengerich, we were able to add new, exciting layers to this increasingly popular event at IFT FIRST, and we look forward to seeing what our 2024 global startup participants have in store for next year.”
Heather Carter is the associate editor of Food & Beverage Insider at Informa Markets. She has worked in B2B publishing for nearly a decade, covering a variety of topics, from tile and bedding to the food & beverage industry. Reach her at [email protected].
Associate editor, Food & Beverage Insider
With over a decade of diverse professional experience under her belt, Heather has journeyed from the bustling world of local news reporting to the intricate realms of trade publishing. She has covered a wide array of topics, ranging from architecture and design to the food and beverage industry.
During her illustrious career, Heather also ventured into the realm of public relations, where she gleaned invaluable insights into the art of strategic communication and brand storytelling. Yet, her heart has always been anchored in the vibrant world of F&B, a passion deeply ingrained in her roots as the daughter of a seasoned chef. She has always held a profound appreciation for the role food plays in shaping cultures and connecting people.
With each story she tells, Heather seeks to illuminate the profound impact of food and beverage on people’s lives, celebrating its ability to evoke emotions, foster connections and weave the fabric of our shared human experience.
As Food & Beverage's associate editor, she co-publishes a weekly news column, Business Bites, which showcases the latest industry news, highlighting key business updates, food and beverage innovation, industry events and more. Some of her other articles touch on important topics, such as ultra-processed foods, plant-based foods primed to change the food landscape, international flavors and ingredients, as well as better-for-you CPGs. She also frequently covers top trends at various industry events and has moderated first-of-their-kind education sessions at Informa events.
She can be reached at [email protected].
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