As part of IFT's mission to encourage entrepreneurism and innovation, the IFTNEXT Food Disruption Challenge is designed to help emerging and investment-ready food companies gain visibility and make strategic connections.
IFT is seeking out start-up companies whose primary business focus is in the food science or technology domain covering any component of technology which enhances the science of food.
The competition, which is open until 10 January, will take place in two stages. Six finalists will chosen to participate in a six-week mentoring program where they will receive guidance from business experts.
From there, finalists will be chosen to present their innovations in a high-profile pitch competition at IFT19 in New Orleans in June next year. A panel of judges representing influential sectors of the food and related industries will select the recipient of the IFTNEXT Future Food Disruptor of the Year award, which includes a $25,000 cash prize.
“While some competitions can be time-consuming, the IFTNEXT Food Disruption Challenge is designed for applicants to go through three phases before being selected as a finalist. A smaller group of applicants move on from each phase to the next, as the questions and judging become more in depth, so that those who do not qualify or may not yet be a good fit do not waste unnecessary time with the entire process. This also helps to ensure that our finalists are high caliber applicants whose companies embody the characteristics the competition is looking to recognize,” Erin O’Connell, program manager of knowledge & learning at IFT, told FoodNavigator.
Building your network
Events like this provide start-up companies and food founders with access to learning opportunities as well as the ear of potential investors at the event itself.
“Pitching at an event like IFT19 gives companies wide exposure both on site and through the promotion leading up to the event. It is a great opportunity for founders to share their passion and vision with an engaged audience, as well as to make strategic connections with possible investors and seasoned industry professionals who can provide guidance, share networks, and broaden perspectives,” she explained.
Participating in ecosystems like pitching competitions can be “extremely valuable” for start-ups because it enables them to build their networks, gain insights into the competitive environment and share knowledge and experiences.
“Engaging in these types of competitions and ecosystems can be extremely valuable for start-ups, largely in terms of building their network, understanding the competitive landscape, and getting connected to folks who can help them continue to grow and move forward,” O’Connell said.
“For example, finalists of the IFTNEXT Food Disruption Challenge will be exposed to a wide field of food industry professionals and have opportunities to connect with experts, mentors, potential clients, and professionals to build their team.”
Getting involved in pitching competitions may seem intimidating and as a small business you are likely to be working to a shoestring budget with zero time to spare. But if you are serious about making your mark on the food sector the benefits are hard to ignore, O’Connell continued.
“Pitching competitions provide a unique opportunity to increase awareness about your company, get experience presenting to various audiences, network with industry professionals, and gain traction. Even if you aren’t yet ready to pitch your own company, attending these events can be extremely valuable as you plan for that phase with your business.”
What makes a good pitch?
Entering a pitching event, competition is likely to be fierce. So how do you make your pitch stand out?
O’Connell suggested that judges – and potential investors - want to understand the personality and drive of the founder as well as the business case and innovative ideas.
“Show your passion and know the business and landscape it falls within. It’s important to be able to speak to the logistical aspects of the business, show your commitment to the company, and explain how it will have a positive impact or solve problem that is not being addressed or can be addressed in a new, better, or more creative way,” she advised.
“The most successful pitches include applicants that provide information about the company, its finances, and its viability, as well as create a story that shows the passion for the product, service, or technology, and how it will impact the lives of consumers and the world as a whole.”