While most startup showcases are hardcore “show and tell” with a single purpose, the Food + City Challenge prize is as much about raising awareness as it is about attracting financing.
“I have done startup meetings,” says Tom Schultz, President, and CEO of Fresh Surety, one of the 17 companies that made the finals in the 2017 competition. “If I find two or three people in the crowd of more than a thousand who say this is something I can use, it is a success. This is a disruptive technology that will have an impact effect over the next 20-to 30 years.”
Fresh Surety will be demonstrating its technology, which utilizes sensors that are able to determine the freshness of produce from farm to table. This is achieved by measuring the ambient temperature of a specific compound in the fruits or vegetables. With this new application, Fresh Surety can create an economic efficiency in the value chain. As Schultz explains, 30% of the $600 billion fresh produce market is lost to spoilage. For example, by tracking the freshness of a palette of strawberries, with all parties in the value chain—the farmer, wholesaler, and market—approximately 10% of the fresh fruit can be saved from spoilage en route to its final destination.
The ASIC device was invented by career technologist John W. Hodges. He grew up on a tomato farm and immediately saw the application of his work. But, as with many cutting-edge discoveries, the marriage of technology and business was needed to apply Fresh Surety to a broader market opportunity. That’s where Schultz –who has a long track record of bringing innovative tech products to market — comes in. “(Fresh Surety) was missing a businessman who turns great technology into a successful idea,” Schultz says.
Fresh Surety has worked with three development partners—Whole Foods, Amazon Fresh, and Watsonville, Calif.,-based berry producer Driscoll’s—to prove the sensor-based solution’s viability, Schultz adds. At the Feb. 4th Food +City challenge event, the company will show in real time how it can track the changing freshness of produce. Win, lose or draw, based on past challenge prize winners, Fresh Surely likely will be in an even larger spotlight.
The 2016 challenge prize winner, True Made Foods, a New York-based manufacturer of high-quality vegetable-based condiments, received a $415,000 investment from Black Jays Investments two months after the competition. Colorado-based The Food Corridor, a 2016 Silver Prize winner, used the exposure to its concept to move forward in a big way.
“I got paired up with Trish Wesevich, who owns Capital Kitchens, a shared-use kitchen in Austin,” Food Corridor CEO Ashley Colpaart said in an interview in late 2016. “I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor match….One of the biggest things she helped me understand is that each region — and each public health department — has its own rules and regulations. Some cities are more willing to try a new idea than others. So for us to grow, we’d need to move into cities that want to support food entrepreneurs and are willing to work with you, instead of the more stringent ones that tend to have more barriers to entry.”