NCFIL’s Food-Tech Pitch Contest Ripe with Innovation
November 15, 2023
The Food-Tech Pitch Contest and Workshop at NC Food Innovation Lab (NCFIL) brought great products and aspiring minds to the NC Research Campus October 10 and 11. The pitch contest entries displayed the burgeoning diversity and range of food innovation in North Carolina.
Attendees heard valuable insight from venture capital investors, economic development experts and Maacha Le Blanc of Mili Mylk and Lee Cooper of Barvecue, successful NCFIL clients who followed the path from ideation to commercialization.
The pitch contest was divided into start-up stage and early stage development. A slate of leading international food innovators served as a panel of judges. They brought experience and a critical eye to each project, ultimately selecting a winner in each category.
The judges were Thierry Duvanel, Director of Innovation for the Buhler Group; Mariliis Holm, Co-Founder & Partner of Sustainable Food Ventures; Julie Emsing Mann, Plant-Based Education and R&D Advisor; and Chris Thoen, Senior R&D and Innovation Executive.
Promising Pitch Contest Participants
Ten young companies sent representatives to deliver ten-minute pitches for their business, including their product, their challenges and their future direction.
- IngateyGen, pitched by Hortense Dodo, is working toward peanut allergy attenuation through CRISPR edited plants.
- Haw River Mushrooms, pitched by Laura Stewart, is working toward vertical integration of prepared foods products that utilize their mushrooms.
- Kimo’s ONO Grindz, pitched by James ‘Kimo’ Olds, is ready to take his Hawaiian Hot Sauce to the next level.
- Aberland, pitched by Eric Gulledge, is developing wheat through a cell culture fermentation process and exploring product possibilities.
- Jabin Beverage Company, pitched by Homayoon Ershadi, hopes to see their fermented Persian beverage replace sugar-filled sports drinks.
- New South Sweetpotato People, pitched by Jennifer Brulé, plans to capitalize on the existing NC sweetpotato harvest by reimagining the utility of sweetpotato in prepared food products.
Early Stage Development
- Buckin’ Good, pitched by Kinga Gorniak
- RhizeBio, pitched by Josh Toal
- Cerelo, pitched by Chad Ceremuga
And the Winners Are…
Startup Stage category winner New South Sweetpotato People was awarded one day of free access to the NCFIL production environment, valued at $5,000. RhizeBio took the top prize for the Early Stage Development category, three hours of free consultation with NCFIL experts, valued at $1,000. In addition to the personalized feedback from the judges delivered to each pitch contestant, these winners will work with NCFIL to move their product toward commercialization.
Westrock Coffee Company sponsored a cash prize of $500 for the best beverage project, which was earned by Jabin Beverage Company.
A Feast of Client Products
The refreshments at the two-day event provided an opportunity for NCFIL’s talented culinary staff to highlight client products developed with the assistance of NCFIL in the past five years. These included coffee provided by Westrock Coffee Company; overnight oats featuring Elari and Noble Oat products; street tacos, flan and hummus with Innovopro ingredients; Miyoshi oil used in yum yum sauce, popcorn and vegan lemon bars; Barvecue Pulled BVQ and Carnitas with Ashby’s hot sauce; “Chick’n” salad from Haw River Mushrooms; and mocktails from Spirits of Alchemy.
This event was a first for NCFIL, a vision of NCFIL Executive Director Bill Aimutis and Bühler’s Thierry Duvanel. Plans are already underway for another pitch event. Mark your calendar for October 11, 2024.
If your entrepreneurial idea is ripe now, contact NCFIL and see how you can work with us to take your product to the next level.