For the past three years, Village Capital has been running an agriculture accelerator program, designed to help early-stage entrepreneurs who are working on tackling problems at various points in the food and agriculture supply chain. The accelerator brings them together to learn from others in the industry, as well as collaborate with like-minded peers at three different multi-day workshops based in Louisville and New Orleans.
This year, 12 companies took part in the program, and at its conclusion, Kuli Kuli and Stony Creek Colors—both run by female entrepreneurs—were peer-selected to win a $75,000 investment each from VilCap Investments and Radicle Capital. This was announced at Village Capital’s Venture Forum in Louisville on January 27.
“At the end of the three-month program, this year it just happened to be two female entrepreneurs who were selected for the investment,” Whitney Muse, Village Capitals’ sector manager for US agriculture, told AgFunderNews. “The rest of the group was strong, and it was a tough and close decision. They are all very fundable companies.”
Kuli Kuli, founded by Lisa Curtis, is the first company to sell moringa food products in the United States. Moringa is a protein-packed plant containing 27 vitamins and 46 antioxidants and Curtis is using this new ‘super food’ as a tool to improve nutrition worldwide. Kuli Kuli raised $500k of seed funding on AgFunder in 2014, and has also raised funding from crowdfunding platform Indiegogo.
“She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer from Niger and she’s developed moringa-based food products,” Village Capital’s Muse said. “Moringa is a leafy-green that grows on a tree in tropical areas, and she’s starting to grow it in Haiti and other places, and marketing it towards this new ‘yoga mom’ market.”
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The other winner was Stony Creek Colors, the first scalable agricultural supply chain to replace synthetic petrol based dyes with cleaner and safer biobased dyes, founded by Sarah Bellos, a 2004 graduate of the Cornell University Agriculture School.
“She has a lot of attention from the state of Tennessee and also the USDA on the potential for job creation and the benefit it has for farmers,” Muse said. “It’s better for the environment and the farmer than tobacco provides.”
It’s been a busy few months for Stony Creek Colors which was also one of 19 companies to present at the Larta Institute’s Ag Innovation Showcase in St Louis in September.
Muse noted that this year’s Accelerator Program was more diverse than in past years, with some startups more focused on global scalability and others on local scalability; some geared towards organics, while others agnostic about it.
“It was a unique and also inclusive reflection of perspectives in agriculture,” she said.
Both entrepreneurs will reconvene in New Orleans for a second Village Capital Venture Forum on March 17, during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, an annual eight-day festival celebrating innovation, entrepreneurship, and new thinking in the heart of downtown New Orleans.
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