Catalyst’s Kapil Desai judges AgTech & Food Tech pitch competition at Forbes Mixing Bowl event

A Day Of AgTech And Food Tech Discovery

By Michael Rose

Forbes and The Mixing Bowl gathered 140 thought leaders, investors and industry executives at Forbes on Fifth in Manhattan to explore how information technology can be harnessed to solve challenges in food and agriculture. At this thought-provoking event community participants engaged in a substantive dialogue on the role of technology in “changing food & farming at scale” and the “fight for the fork”. These themes were explored through a series of moderated discussions, the Blender Business Pitch competition, and interactive breakout sessions. Photos from the event can be found here!

Setting the Table

The day kicked off with Paul Noglows, Executive Director of Forbes Live, setting the table by interviewing Brita Rosenheim and Seana Day, Partners at The Mixing Bowl and Better Food Ventures where they track more than 3,000 Food Tech and AgTech start-ups, illustrated through their through their Market Landscapes. Paul and the event participants queried Seana and Brita on “What is hot, where are they seeing the most activity these days, how would they assess investment, acquisition, growth, and innovation in the sectors, does the hype curve Seana has written about on apply to Food Tech or food media, and what sectors do you find worrisome these days?” One of the concerns Brita and and Seana voiced was the overfunding that has occurred in both on-farm data management tools and food delivery startups.

Food & Farming at Scale Discussion

The day’s first moderated discussion exploring tech’s role in food and farming at scale was kicked off with perspectives from Chloe Sorvino and Maggie McGrath, journalists from Forbes that have been writing and covering the food and agriculture spaces. Additionally, the table was set with comments from Edible Manhattan’s Brian Halweil and Emma Cosgrove, who had written about contrasting views on food and farming on the East and West Coasts in an article on or Food IT event.

To gain a more nuanced perspective and understanding of the role technology can play each stage of scale in a role for food and farming operations, event participants heard from Amanda Freund, Freund Farm, Farm Market & CowPots about her Connecticut based family dairy farm which is fully automated and leveraging robotics; Tom Am Rhein at Naturipe Berry Growers, one of the country’s largest berry producers discussed how they are responding to consumers demands and why their seems to be “anti-”big” sentiment towards large scale food producers; Scott May, VP Global Innovation from Givaudon (a 250 year old company with a 25% market share of the world’s flavors market) discussed the challenge of labeling and the language of describing food and food ingredients (flavor information ontology), presenting a fascinating slide on the chemical and ingredient label of a natural strawberry; and Neal Gutterson, VP of Research & Development at Dupont Pioneer discussed the company’s precision ag technologies like Encirca and the need for farmers to grow effectively on less land with less impact. Michael Yezzi of Flying Pigs Farmand Kathleen Finlay from Hudson Valley’s Glynwood Farm joined in on the conversation to provided the perspective of small producers from Hudson Valley. John Didzbalis of Mars added to the breadth of the dialogue with input from a view of big food R&D, and Shenandoah Growers, the largest grower of culinary herbs in the US, provided insights on how they are using technology in their growing operation.

The Fight for The Fork Discussion

In this discussion topic participants explored the various new influences -mostly driven by technology- that are causing consumers to rethink what to put on their forks and in their mouths. What are these new influences, are they changing food consumption patterns, and will they necessarily lead to more nutritious or sustainable outcomes? Kicking off the conversation were Scott Norton, Founder of Sir Kensington’sEinav Gefen, Executive Corporate Chef, Unilever Food Services, and Eve Turow Paul, Author of A Taste of Generation Yum. Adding to the dialogue were perspectives from founder of Foragers Markets, Anna Castellani; CEO of Edamam, Victor Penev; Michel Nischan from Wholesome Wave, and Anna Rosenblatt and Emily Viola from Sparks & Honey.

The Blender Pitch Competition

Seven companies start-ups companies representing innovative efforts across the entire value chain of food and agriculture competed for the Golden Blender and the opportunity to pitch at Food IT  in California this June.  These impressive companies, hailing from across the country and abroad, made their compelling pitches to a panel of investors consisting of Caroline MacGill, Armonia; Dan Pullman, Fresh Source Capital; Jason Ingle, Closed Loop Capital; and Kapil Desai, Catalyst Investors:

Shelf Engine from Seattle, Washington

Hydro Grow from West Lafayette, Indiana

Flatev from Zurich, Switzerland

Arable from Princeton, New Jersey

BovControl from São Paulo, Brazil

Local Bushel from Manhattan, New York from Raleigh, North Carolinaz


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