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Cargill mentors help guide Techstars startups

The nine startups are focusing on using technology to solve some of the biggest problems facing the food industry. 

November 14, 2018

For 13 weeks, nine startups from around the world congregated in a high-rise office building in Saint Paul, Minnesota. There to participate in Techstars’ Farm to Fork accelerator program, the businesses all focused on using technology to solve some of the biggest problems facing the food industry. 

While here, the startups worked with mentors from the local business community to help guide them and lend their expertise. Bioindustrials Group Leader Collen May, who is one of 25 mentors from Cargill, connected with Claire Schleme, the CEO of Renewal Mill, a startup that works to reduce food waste by giving a second life to byproducts produced during food manufacturing. 

“It’s been great,” said May. “Our conversations have ranged from strategic choices, marketing capabilities and aspirations to where I can help leverage my network and help her think about some of the upcoming challenges.”

“I think the accelerator has really lived up to its name” Schleme said. “As a young ingredients company, having access to one of the world’s largest ingredients company has been incredibly helpful.”

Techstars made the decision to host the program in Minnesota, specifically because of the region’s history of food production and community of agriculture and food industry giants. 

“Cargill, as a partner, really comes in and adds a ton of benefits to our startups,” said Brett Brohl, managing director of Farm to Fork. “Cargill provides advice, deep industry knowledge and a massive rolodex for making connections. We had one of our companies literally fly to Brazil to meet with Cargill’s Brazil team to get a better understanding of that market. It’s that far reaching.”

Demo Day 

The program culminated with Demo Day at the Minnesota History Center, where the companies were able to make pitches in front of an audience that included industry leaders and investors. To kick off the evening, Brohl interviewed Cargill CEO Dave MacLennan and Doug Baker, the CEO for Ecolab, another partner for the accelerator.

“We want to use technology and innovation to think about how we can feed the world in a way which doesn’t continue to tax the earth’s resources,” MacLennan said. “We need technology in agriculture and food production to evolve and become more efficient through companies like the ones in the Farm to Fork portfolio.”

It was during this event that two of the startups announced partnerships with Cargill: Renewal Mill, and Pepr, which helps restaurants increase profitability by using data intelligence and automation.

“Cargill really helped shape the direction we’re going in,” Schleme said, reflecting on having May as a mentor. “I think that will be our best takeaway from this experience.”