The mounting interest in all things related to the future of food and its associated technology has given rise to many Shark Tank-like pitchfests. These are events where innovators showcase their ideas in front of a panel of experts, with the hope of landing money, mentors or market acceptance.
Rabobank’s FoodBytes!, whose latest installment takes place over two days in Austin, September 25 and 26, stands out from other such events with its credibility and focus that goes beyond handing out checks to those with the next great culinary concept. As FoodBytes managing director Manuel Gonzalez said in a recent interview, the event’s goal is to create an atmosphere that focuses more on grassroots efforts more than big name industry stars. With his office based in San Francisco, the heart of all things Twitter and Facebook, Gonzalez could feel the presence of tech powerhouses, but not emerging food companies.”
“FoodBytes came about when we saw the food entrepreneur completely overshadowed by technology,” Gonzalez said. “We knew we could create a safe space for these heroes in food and agriculture to be heard.”
“We knew we could find innovators looking to help feed the world sustainability,” he added.
Rabobank, a long-respected bank and investment firm headquartered in the Netherlands, is not new to the ag-tech and food space. The company has had in recent years what it calls a “banking for food” strategy. Encompassed in that vision are four tenets of creating an ecosystem of food security — increasing the availability of food; improving access to food; promoting balanced, healthy nutrition and increasing market stability.
Gonzalez explained that FoodBytes’ first event took place in 2015 in San Francisco, and has since spread it wings to New York City, Boulder, Sydney and the Netherlands. As the event has grown, so has the geographic reach of those who apply to pitch their products. At the Austin event, there are entrants from India and New Zealand. The application process includes what Gonzalez calls as “an intensive, structured scoring system.” Judges include employees of Rabobank as well as thought leaders and researchers.
The two-day event starts with a full day of mentoring before companies take to the stage the afternoon of day two and compete. The top 10 semifinalists get three-and-one-half minutes to impress the judges, while the remainder of those companies chosen to get one minute for their spiel. Winners of the competition are awarded an invite to the year-end FoodBytes! extravaganza; a consult with branding experts and free legal assistance.
With Gonzalez so closely in tune at the ground floor with the future of food, he is able to identify what he sees as top trends. He calls out the emergence of superfoods, effectively dealing with food waste and the ability to customize meals to the individual based on AI as three of many concepts percolating at the top of the food chain.
The pitch finalists for the Austin event are:
Aspire Food Group—making protein from farm-raised crickets
D’vash Organics—creating an artificial sweetener out of dates
Frshly—developer of an automated retail marketplace for food providers and consumers
Greensbury Market—a consumer delivery service of sustainable meat and seafood
Peaceful Fruits—healthy fruit snacks with produce from the rainforest
Regen—IoT-based irrigation systems for farmers
Ripened Ventures—creating fermented drinks from poorly diversified fruits and vegetables
The Empanada Shop—purveyor of organic Mexican empanadas
Think.Eat.Live—developer of sunflower seed-based flour
Your Superfoods—manufactures protein-rich superfood mixes