Rabobank, the 100-year-old Dutch bank that focuses on food and agribusiness created FoodBytes! in 2015 in San Francisco. FoodBytes! is a food and ag pitch competition and networking event that brings together food, food tech, and ag-tech entrepreneurs and startups alongside investors, industry thought leaders, and media.
Rabobank’s emphasis is "banking for food" and through launching FoodBytes! they aim to provide the accessibility to a powerful network, generate more knowledge in the space, and create financial means for burgeoning food startups.
This was the first FoodBytes to be hosted in Boulder and it was held at University of Colorado at Folsom Fields’ Byron R. White Club on October 26th. This was FoodBytes’ fifth event which boasted 350 registrants.
Currently in their second year of business, FoodBytes! plans to expand internationally and their next event is in Sydney on November 3rd, 2016.
The Selection Process for Applicants:
In a private Eater interview with Manuel Gonzalez Guzman, Rabobank’s North America Head of Start-Up Innovation and Founder of FoodBytes!, Manuel shared that their application process looks at two core components. The first being: is the business scalable and showing growth? The second: what is the business’ social impact?
Manuel echoed that, "the top 25 food companies in the world only drive three percent of category growth," so he believes in the range of smaller startups that are working on innovation from the ground up, to help drive GDP growth.
After applicants come in, a panel of Rabobank experts and 90 researchers around the world look by sector and rank and select the top 10. Manuel said the top three to five rise to the top quickly, then they delegate for a day of decision-making, on the final remaining.
There were over 150 applicants from 17 countries for Boulder FoodBytes! and just 10 finalists from around the world were invited to pitch their business in a five minute segment. Another 10 runner-ups were also invited to pitch their company for 60 seconds. The 20 companies get the opportunity to pitch their business to a room full of industry insiders and thought leaders who are all working to transform the world of food.
The winners receive legal, branding, and recruitment consultation as well as another chance to pitch their business on Wall Street through an event hosted through Rabobank.
From an Airbnb-inspired approach to commercial kitchen space, to affordable real-time sensors that track perishable food from farm to grocer, to the world’s first and only insect based Bolognese sauce - the finalists at Boulder’s FoodBytes! were filled with innovation and inventiveness.
In terms of food trends, Manuel sees the following as hot topics. He believes the food startups that aim to solve the below mentioned problems are needed more than ever.
- Alternative Proteins (e.g. plant, cellular, etc.)
- Food Safety
- Solving labor problems in agriculture
- Food waste
Manuel believes amongst these growing trends that solving waste and water are perhaps the most impactful facing our food economic world.
When asked if there’s concern for the future of food, Manuel says because he sees such innovators trying to solve these problems everyday, his work actually makes him optimistic for our future because of the bright minds he gets to work with daily.
Boulder FoodBytes! Winners:
Three recipients receive awards at each FoodBytes!
The Judges Choice Award went to Mad Agriculture, a Boulder-based company that harnesses the nutrient recycling abilities of insects to turn food waste into a protein rich feed supplement which lessens the dependence on unsustainable ingredients such as fishmeal and soy.
The People’s Choice Award went to Denver-based The Honest Stand. This award was crowdsourced from FoodBytes attendees. The Honest Stand is a gourmet food company that uses whole foods that are non-genetically modified to produce products that are vegan, gluten-free, paleo, soy free, yeast free, and cholesterol free.
The third winner is their Highly Commended Award which goes to one of the 10, 60-second pitch runner-ups. FarmRaiser out of Maryland, won with their spin on the traditional bake sale that partners with local farmers and artisans to bring healthy, local food offerings to communities and students.
Manuel shares, "In our industry, growth is spurred from innovation. I truly believe that the visionary companies here at FoodBytes! Boulder are the solution-seekers who will positively transform the food and agriculture sector over the coming years."