Supporting future stars in food
From beers and breads to ciders and spreads, we recently checked out some of the brightest food, agriculture and beverage entrepreneurs in Minnesota.
It was the at the “2015 Pitch Slam” hosted by Minnesota Cup and 301, Inc., the new business development division at General Mills.
“These companies that are here today are doing something innovative. They’re doing something different. They’re tackling new markets,” said Melissa Kjolsing, director of Minnesota Cup. “And they’re really emphasizing some of these trends that you’re seeing when it comes to local, natural, organic, gluten free, sourced ethically – things like that.”
The Minnesota Cup Pitch Slam is an initiative through the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota that supports emerging entrepreneurs from across the state through events, educational programming and the annual new venture competition that provides them with tools, resources and support to launch and accelerate the development of their new ventures.
Two years ago, Pete Speranza, operations business manager for 301, Inc., was on the U of M campus during a Minnesota Cup event. He noticed that General Mills sponsored the event but learned that no one from the company was directly involved with the competition itself.
He changed that.
“Working with 301 Inc., one of our roles is to be on the tip of the spear for General Mills looking for young brands, new entrepreneurs, new spaces to play,” Pete says. “I said ‘How about we’ll sponsor this new food division? We’ll also be judges and mentors, and we’ll actually help you communicate it in the community to get the best and brightest to the table?’ So that’s exactly how it was started.”
In 2014, Minnesota Cup launched the first Food Agriculture and Beverage (FAB) division competition, with 301, Inc. as the lead sponsor. Prior to the development of the new division, entrepreneurs with food ideas submitted their ideas in the general category.
“Two years ago when there wasn’t a food division there were five entries in the Minnesota Cup. And now two short years later, we’re up over 80 entries,” says John Haugen, vice president of new business development for General Mills. “It allows us to see what’s trending overall in the food category and the other thing is it really exposes us to some great entrepreneurs who have real passion and creativity around building these businesses.”
Food enthusiasts from Boulder, Colorado, Austin, Texas, and New York City flew in last week to see what the 10 semifinalists in the 2015 competition brought to the table.
“This is a really great opportunity,” said Andrew “Buddy” Kincheloe, of Buddy’s Small Batch Nut Butter. “For people to take their time to drive into town, fly into town, to listen to us is really, really exciting. Whether they like my pitch or not, it’s just a really cool opportunity to be able to talk to these people and share everything about me. What I am is everything in those jars.”
He added, “General Mills and these bigger companies are now realizing how much smaller companies, and these artisan products made by passionate people, how important and influential they can be in this community.”
Minnesota Cup is community driven and dependent on volunteers.
“This year we’re boasting more than 350 volunteers that span industry, academia, they’re investors and successful entrepreneurs themselves. Like Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP – Angie is one of our judges,” said Kjolsing. “It’s amazing that these people who are running businesses and doing their thing find time to support entrepreneurs and innovation in our backyard because that’s the future and everyone wants to see Minnesota as a successful place.”
The three companies headed to the final round of judging, at the end of August are:
Led by Dustin and Grace Vanasse of Maplewood, Minnesota, Bare Honey is a producer and manufacturer of gourmet honey spreads and infusions.
Joyce Foods, based in St. Paul, are the producers of Gardip, a light, fluffy garlic dip with a lemon twist. Matt Joyce leads the team as founder.
SIMPLS takes the experience, variety, freshness and quality of a farmers market for a convenience store format. Founded by Ryan Rosenthal and Michael von Fange, SIMPLS’ first store is in Minneapolis.
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