IFT hosts pitch competition

milk powder
Photo: zwei chen/Pixabay

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), a nonprofit scientific organization committed to advancing the science of food and its application across the global food system, recently hosted a pitch competition for startups at its IFT FIRST: Annual Event and Expo in Chicago.

Participants from the Startup Pavilion were invited to take part in the multi-stage, rapid-pitch competition. Participants were limited to 90-second pitches in the first round, but in the finale, pitch length was expanded to 2:30. Finalists from each round were decided by a panel of judges spanning academia, venture-capital investment groups, government, incubators, industry leaders, startup coaches and consultants, and product development professionals.

Prizes totaling $15,000 were awarded to the winner and runners up, courtesy of the Seeding The Future Foundation. Helaina, a biotech company working to synthetically produce bioactive proteins, took home the grand prize of $10,000. The startup recently began using precision fermentation to manufacture proteins at scale, starting with lactoferrin, a protein that supports cognitive health and antimicrobial defense while enhancing nutrient absorption. Lactoferrin, traditionally found in breast milk, has the potential to not only improve infant formula, but also enhance functional foods and nutrition at all stages of life.

SnapDNA and unClassic Foods were each awarded $2,500 as the runners-up in the competition. SnapDNA aims to revolutionize the food testing process by reducing the time needed to test for food pathogens, spoilage agents, and allergens. Through its on-site analysis technology, SnapDNA can reduce the traditional pathogen test timeline of three to seven days to less than one hour, reducing storage costs for food companies and ensuring food safety for consumers. The second runner-up, unClassic Foods, uses oyster mushrooms to create a plant-based meat substitute.

“The Pitch and Startup Pavilion exemplifies food innovation and the spirit of entrepreneurship in every sense. With the support of the Seeding The Future Foundation and its founder, Bernhard van Lengerich, we were able to add new, exciting layers to this increasingly popular event at IFT FIRST and we look forward to seeing what our 2024 global startup participants have in store for next year,” said IFT CEO Christie Tarantino-Dean.

This year’s IFT FIRST Startup Pavilion featured more than 85 food or food tech startups, nearly doubling in size from last year. Fifty-four of those startups competed in The Pitch with 14 countries being represented, including Israel, where last year’s Startup Pavilion winner, seed development and plant-based ingredient supplier Equinom LTD, is based.

All Startup Pavilion participants gained access to the “Connecting For a Better Food System VIP Networking Event,” which immediately followed The Pitch finale. This event was attended by key food ecosystem partners, including judges from The Pitch, over a dozen venture-capitalist investment firms, as well as past winners of the Seeding The Future Global Food System Challenge.

Funded by the Seeding The Future Foundation and hosted by IFT, the Challenge awards up to $1 million in prizes and grants to game-changing innovations that have potential to create significant and positive impact on the global food system.

Jim Cornall is editor of Future Food Today and publisher at Ayr Coastal Media. He is an award-winning writer, editor, photographer, broadcaster, designer and author. Contact Jim here.