Chipotle’s 501(c)(3) arm, The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, recently announced the first class of its inaugural Chipotle Aluminaries Project, a seven-month accelerator sponsored by the foundation in partnership with Uncharted, a fellow non-profit that specializes in partnering with foundations, corporations, and governments to launch entrepreneurial endeavors.
Established in 2011, the Foundation’s focus is on providing resources and promoting good stewardship among farmers, including encouraging regenerative practices and better livestock husbandry.
“We sparked the idea to launch an accelerator while surveying our accomplishments on Chipotle’s 25th birthday last year. A question arose regarding what the future of food with integrity might look like and one of the resounding sentiments was that it’s going to take a lot more than us – it’s bigger than Chipotle,” company director of sustainability Caitlin Leibert told AgFunderNews.
“I also oversee the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation and I was looking to rebrand it. The accelerator aligned perfectly because it allowed us to set an industry standard for philanthropy and to look at a new model of giving in the form of an accelerator program and to move away from the tradition check cutting methodology.”
Applicants were required to fall within four categories: alternative farming and growing systems, farming with agriculture technology, food waste and recovery, and plants and alternative products. Although Leibert was thrilled with the diverse pool of applicants, the team may take a more targeted approach if it decides to host a second cohort especially if it provides them with an opportunity to dig deeply into a big food system sustainability issue.
The startups will receive remote mentorship and a dedicated curriculum to assist them with all aspects of scaling including how to fundraise, attracting talent, and creating a healthy culture. In March, the entrepreneurs will participate in a five-day, in-person boot camp in Newport Beach where they will create their plans for scale and receive direct coaching from industry leaders including chef Richard Blais and entrepreneur Kimbal Musk.
“We have the CEO from Sir Kensington’s, the VP of Partnership at Facebook, and people from the water bottle company swell onboard. Uncharted will match each startup to the appropriate advisors based on what that company needs to get to scale,” Leibert said.
The startups also received a highly-coveted and rarely-issued Chipotle Celeb Card that entitles them to one free entree every day as well as monthly catering services to fuel their endeavor.
Here are the eight accelerator participants, including AgFunder portfolio company ImpactVision:
- AgVoice: AgVoice helps farmers measure good stewardship practices by using a mobile voice-interaction service that integrates with existing record-keeping apps. The service enables easy tracking of plant and animal production – at the source – to help assess positive environmental and sustainability impact.
- American Ostrich Farms: A vertically integrated producer of what it describes as a better red meat, American Ostrich Farms strives to increase awareness of the resource intensity of food so consumers can make enlightened, healthy choices for themselves and the planet. Ostrich tastes like a delicious, lean filet mignon by its account, but leaves a fraction of the environmental footprint.
- Asarasi: Asarasi produces sustainable and renewable water that is harvested from the byproducts of maple trees, offering an environmentally friendly, organic plant-based alternative to bottled water sourcing.
- GrubTubs: GrubTubs hopes to be the nationwide solution for food waste. Its product currently allows restaurants, hotels and large cafeterias to drastically reduce what they send to landfills, helping to positively impact the environment. In addition, GrubTubs turns the food waste into insect-based animal feed, which helps farmers significantly lower food costs.
- ImpactVision: ImpactVision uses hyperspectral imaging to help food businesses deliver consistent product quality, generate premium products and prevent supply chain waste.
- Novolyze: Novolyze develops technologies to help the food industry manufacture safer food while ensuring strong compliance with international food safety and quality standards. Its approach to food safety relies on the utilization of cutting-edge microbiology solutions, combined with the latest developments in digital, internet of things and machine learning.
- Rex Animal Health: Rex Animal Health provides machine learning for a safer and more sustainable food supply. Using data to improve livestock health, the venture is working to reduce the 20 percent waste in animal protein production.
- Sophie’s Kitchen Plant-Based Seafood: Sophie’s Kitchen Plant-Based Seafood aims to create sustainable plant-based seafood alternatives using innovative ingredients and patent-pending technology.
The Future of Tech at Chipotle
Chipotle is no stranger to tapping technology, especially when it came to restoring consumer trust after a series of foodborne illness outbreaks linked to its stores. It’s used technology to address everything from speeding up burrito production to mobile sales to a digital drive-thru. Many of its new technology initiatives are piloted at an NYC store location.
“Technology is helping to advance a lot of our efforts. We have an energy management system at each restaurant so that we know the temperature of every walk-in refrigerator right down to the tortilla press so that we can tell if it was left on overnight,” Leibert explains. “Technology in food safety will continue to be imperative for this field and there’s some exciting stuff going on there.”
Leibert sees many different ways that technology could continue to improve the chain while also addressing broader issues in the food system particularly when it comes to water.
“We see it as a volatile utility and we would love to see a water management system similar to our energy management system. We have been trying to find someone who can do this. I also see a need for technology to help as our reporting needs continue to grow. We have a strong desire to be transparent with the public and the chance for tech to help with actuals instead of predictive data is significant.”
Food waste is also on her mind, as the brand has worked for years to better understand its waste footprint better. Chipotle has created ways to accurately predict food waste at its stores down to the fork, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to addressing food waste at large.
When asked whether Chipotle’s Foundation will sponsor a second cohort, Leibert can’t say for sure but she is hopeful.
“We are always looking for ways to advance business, technology, and philanthropy all at once. We aren’t the only ones in the space and we want to encourage others to get creative in looking at the future.