What’s Next for NCFIL Food-Tech Pitch Contest Winners
December 13, 2023
Prizes from the 2023 Food-Tech Pitch Contest and Workshop at the North Carolina Food Innovation Lab will enhance three North Carolina companies’ efforts to take their products or services to the next level.
We caught up with representatives of The Sweetpotato People, RhizeBio, and Jabin Beverage Co. recently to find out more about their workshop experiences and what they hope to accomplish with their awards.
Jennifer Brulé weighed in for The Sweetpotato People, a company that pairs old world culinary techniques with innovative food technology to create sweetpotato snacks. For winning first place in the startup stage category, the Davidson-based company won a day of free access to the NCFIL production environment, valued at $5,000. Brulé is founder and chief culinary officer.
Josh Toal responded for RhizeBio, in Mount Holly. The company took the top prize in the early-stage development category: three hours of consultation, valued at $1,000, with NCFIL experts. RhizeBio is developing and commercializing services to farmers to allow them to evaluate the performance of biological fertilizers and stimulants in promoting crop health and yield on their unique farms, and Toal is cofounder and chief operating officer.
And Homayoon Ershadi of Apex responded for Jabin Beverage Co, which won $500 from Westrock Coffee Co. for best beverage product. Ershadi is founder and chief executive officer for Jabin, a functional beverage startup focused on bringing to market a Persian recipe that's been relied on for centuries to help athletes and adventurers recover after exercise.
The pitch contest, NCFIL’s first, was held Oct. 10-12. Plans are underway for another pitch event in October 2024.
Why did you enter the Pitch Contest and Workshop?
Brulé: We entered the pitch contest because it’s a wonderful opportunity to not only share one’s idea but to practice the all-important pitch. We never dreamed that we’d win, but we’re so honored because other entrants had impressive products, ideas and skills.
Toal: We were referred to pitch from the Flywheel coworking station based in Winston-Salem. Pitch practice is key for development of your mission and story. Practice, practice, practice – pitching anywhere and everywhere. I have given pitches to trees, empty parking lots, you name it – all in preparation for amazing events like the NCFIL workshop.
Ershadi: This event was the perfect stage for us to showcase our product and innovations to the industry while also receiving feedback from a talented panel of judges.
What about the experience was most beneficial?
Brulé: Practicing and practicing our pitch in preparation for presentation.
Toal: The most beneficial experience was working through the Q&A details. We are always looking for areas to improve and better our company. I also really enjoyed the feedback from the judges.
Ershadi: Outside of the actual experience of pitching our product, this event was a great opportunity to network and meet so many incredible individuals in the food industry.
How do you plan to use your award?
Brulé: Mainly listening. My partners and I were just talking about how the resources and collective knowledge at NCFIL will advance us years ahead of (where we’d be) if we tried to bring our products to market alone. NCFIL is a state treasure!
Toal: I plan to spend time with NCFIL with a pitch practice workshop in the near future, working through business model questions and finalizing pitch materials.
Ershadi: This funding will go towards our research and development efforts, helping to bring more innovations to market and scaling them.