Aug 27, 2019 • By

Growing good food ideas

Can food be life-changing?

For the one of 9 million kids and adults in the U.S. with dysphagia, or difficulty chewing and swallowing food, the idea of eating a crunchy, flavorful food bar was out of the question before The Eat Bar.


Co-founded by Tia Bagan, The Eat Bar was one of this year’s Minnesota Cup Food, Agriculture and Beverage division’s 10 semifinalists. It’s attempting to fill a new space in the food market for individuals with dysphagia. The unique, calorie-dense bar melts quickly and provides a crunchy alternative to purees and thin liquids – and that’s providing life-changing joy for its consumers.

Bagan’s startup was one of the three semifinalists to advance to the final round of this year’s entrepreneurial showdown in the Minnesota food space, after winning the pitch slam competition on August 22, at our World Headquarters in Minneapolis.

The 10 MN Cup semifinalists competed to advance to the coveted final round for a chance to win $30,000 in seed capital toward their businesses.

The finalist that wins the Food, Agriculture and Beverage division gets the chance to win across all five divisions as the MN Cup Grand Prize Winner and secure an additional $50,000 in seed capital.

Run by the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, the startup competition is designed to provide mentorship, funding, pitch coaching and access to experts to support a thriving innovation community in Minnesota.

That’s why 301 INC, General Mills’ investment capital arm, has sponsored the event for six years. Because being an entrepreneur in the food space isn’t easy.

“It’s hard to run a business in general,” says Pete Speranza, business development lead for 301 INC. “You have to wear 55 hats to try to start a business. You’ve got to be so courageous, and you’ve got to be out there on a limb, every minute, to actually make this thing work.”

Sampling products

This year’s 10 semifinalists gathered to showcase their products during a networking and sampling hour, followed by the pitch slam contest. Each startup had three minutes to “pitch” their businesses and field questions from the audience.


At the end of the evening, MN Cup announced the three who will advance to the final round: The Eat Bar was joined by Nexyst 360 and Sanos Nutrition. Each of the three finalists is guaranteed $5,000 in seed capital, with the chance of winning the division and that $30,000 prize.

Bagan says the seed money would help market The Eat Bar to a wider audience.

“We’ve found right now a lot of our business is word-of-mouth. We’ve had a lot of earned media, just wonderful articles written about how we’re helping people. But the more people we can get to, the more people we can help. And that’s our ultimate goal,” she added.

Learn more about the MN Cup, including all of the 2019 semifinalists, at

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