Sustainable food and agriculture entrepreneurs yesterday showcased solutions to improve the way we grow food and feed the world at FoodBytes! Chicago, a live pitch competition and business mentorship platform presented by Rabobank, the world’s largest food and agriculture bank. The 15 selected startups each had three minutes to pitch on stage before a panel of judges, which included investors and executives from leading, global food and ag companies.
Tia Lupita® Foods (Tiburon, Calif.) won the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) Award for its use of drought-resistant cactus; LocalCoho (Chicago) won the Food and Agriculture Technology Award for sustainably producing fresh Coho salmon, and Capro-X (Ithaca, N.Y.) won the People’s Choice Award by upcycling dairy food waste. Following the event, the entire group of selected startups will receive ongoing opportunities for networking and mentorship as part of the FoodBytes! alumni community.
“All of the startups we watched at FoodBytes! Chicago showcased some of the most innovative solutions we have seen yet when it comes to building a more nutritious and sustainable food supply,” said Darren Streiler, investment director, ADM Ventures, who served as a judge on the panel. “The key trends that emerged among our pool of applicants this year centered on plant-based and functional foods, climate-resistant crops, food waste and precision agriculture.”
Here is a closer look at some of those trends on display at the event and the startups behind them:
Climate-Resistant Crops & Sustainable Food
With major crop yields decreasing by 5 to 10% because of warming temperatures around the globe, Tia Lupita® Foods has created tortilla chips using drought-resistant, nutrient-dense nopales (cactus), while Yolélé Foods is creating a supply chain for fonio, an ancient supergrain that grows prolifically in Africa year-round. Each food was ranked 12th and 16th, respectively, by the UN as some of the most sustainable foods of the future. LocalCoho presented its innovative, MxCell® Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) technology to create one of the most energy-efficient, close-loop aquaculture systems in the world.
Alternative Proteins & Functional Foods
The Better Meat Co., Higher Steaks, and Spira are driving innovations in the alternative protein and ingredient space, which captured 13% of all food and beverage startup investment in the past year. These companies, respectively, produce plant-based proteins for blended meat products as well as cellular pork and spirulina-based, functional ingredients for foods in place of animal compounds. TeaSquares presented superfood snacks made with green and black tea for natural, sustained energy throughout the day, while Start Right Foods showcased its line of protein-packed, gluten free waffles and waffle sliders for a better-for-you breakfast to fuel active kids and adults. Journey Foods introduced its AI-powered software platform—a virtual food scientist—that food manufacturers can leverage when researching and developing new, healthy food products that they want to ensure will sell.
Food Waste & Upcycling
With Greek yogurt production generating 2 million metric tons of acid whey in 2015 alone, much of which cannot easily be discarded, Capro-X introduced its WheyAway technology that ferments and distills whey on-site for natural bio-oils that can be reused in food and beauty products as a replacement for unsustainable palm oil derivatives. Shameless Pets also focuses on upcycling discarded food manufacturing byproducts like egg shells and apple pulp for dog treats. Evigence Sensors showcased its color-changing sensors that indicate when produce, meats, seafood are not held to proper temperatures to reduce spoilage and improve food safety.
Animal Welfare & Precision Agriculture
Based on the global concerns about antimicrobial resistance and the need to reduce antibiotic use in animal production, Cytophage Technologies has developed natural bacteriophages to treat and prevent infections in livestock without the need for dangerous daily doses. Agremo introduced its cloud-based, AI-powered imagery analysis software platform to help growers improve yield and protect soil health without chemical inputs. And, SeedLinked showcased its web platform that connects sustainable plant breeders with seed sellers, farmers and gardeners to regenerate the specialty seed market using locally-adaptable seeds.

Watch all the pitches from FoodBytes! Chicago on the Facebook Live Stream.