Six forward-thinking entrepreneurs pitched their companies in the inaugural Food Disruption Challenge competition at IFT18 on Tuesday morning, and Renewal Mill, which uses a by-product of soy milk production called okara to create a gluten-free flour ingredient, emerged as the winner of the $25,000 grand prize. C-fu Foods, which uses a patent-pending process to develop textured insect protein suitable for a wide variety of applications, was chosen by audience vote as the winner of the $5,000 People’s Choice Award. Successful fashion entrepreneur and bestselling author Daymond John, a panelist on the popular television show “Shark Tank,” served as emcee of the event.
Sumit Kadakia, cofounder of Renewal Mill, began his 4-minute pitch by explaining that the company is “redefining mass market nutrition,” by utilizing the nutritious by-products left over from food processing. “This wasted nutrition has both environmental and social consequences,” said Kadakia. But, with the its patent-pending technology, the company can take that food waste and produce a variety of nutritious milled products. Starting out, Renewal Mill is working with soy milk manufacturers to utilize the pulp left behind to make Pure Okara Flour, but the company hopes to work with other food waste forms to create even more nutritious ingredients. For example, Kadakia shared that the company has a partnership with Ripple Foods—makers of pea protein dairy alternative products—to capture the split pea starch.
For now, though, the company is focused on its okara flour, which offers a high-fiber alternative to refined flour and that, according to Kadakia, “doesn’t change the taste, texture, or appearance of the product it is used in.” To showcase okara as a “premium ingredient base,” Renewal Mill has created a single-serve cookie pack that is gaining traction in convenience and corporate food channels. At the end of the day, however, Renewal Mill wants to be an ingredient company. As Kadakia explained to the judges, in five years 70% of its sales will come from sales of its ingredient(s). The start-up expects to make $130,000 in revenue this year and be profitable (at about $2–$4 million in revenue) in about two years. In between now and then, “we need to create a market for these ingredients ourselves,” said Kadakia, by showcasing the technology and low price point that sets it apart from other alternative flours on the market.
The Future Food Disruptor of the Year™ was chosen by a panel of six judges who quickly deliberated and cast their votes after the pitch session. While the audience waited to learn the judges’ decision, John shared some of his thoughts about successful entrepreneurship in an interview with IFTNEXT Think Tank member Peggy Smedley. Today’s entrepreneurs are focusing heavily on incorporating a social responsibility element in their business plans, he noted. “Young entrepreneurs are all trying to add social causes to what they’re doing,” he reflected. “Yesterday’s consumer was [about] ‘what have you done for me lately?’ Today’s consumer is [about] ‘what have you done for anybody lately?’”
The pitch competition judges included Jennifer Bentz, senior vice president of R&D, innovation and insights for Tyson Foods; Jeff Grogg, founder and managing director of JPG Resources; J. Skyler Fernandes, cofounder and managing director of Venture University; John Ruff, IFT past president and former senior vice president of Kraft Foods; Nicole Schumacher, chief marketing officer, PRE Brands; and Natalie Shmulik, CEO of The Hatchery.
Participants in the Tuesday morning pitch event were chosen in a process that spanned several months, featured two elimination rounds, and initially drew 65 applicants from around the globe. The six finalists participated in a six-week mentoring program in which each was matched with a mentor and received the benefit of insights shared by several subject matter experts on topics ranging from fund-raising to food processing.
Other companies that participated in the pitch competition included the following:
- Inductive Intelligence, a start-up whose packaging technology makes it possible to safely and conveniently heat foods and drinks in disposable packaging using a wireless phone battery charging device.
- Nebullam, a food technology company that developed a new vertical farming system that employs a combination of high pressure aeroponics and artificial intelligence.
- Rise Products, which uses a patent-pending process to convert organic by-products into healthful food products, starting by turning spent barley from craft brewers into flour.
- Re-Nuble, an agricultural technology company that uses an inexpensive, patent-pending process to transform food waste into chemical-free, organic fertilizer for both soil-based and hydroponic cultivation.