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The IFT FIRST Startup Pavilion. Image credit: IFT

Global startups: here’s how to connect with potential investors and customers at the 2023 IFT FIRST event

May 11, 2023

Tightened budgets have led many startups to bypass larger events in favor of more specialized gatherings that provide inspiration and education in addition to building connections. Equally important, these more niche events make it possible for startups to showcase and pitch their products, services and concepts to the most relevant audiences possible.

At IFT FIRST, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual foodtech event, that audience includes technical, business and scientific professionals under one roof — a true rarity at agrifood events. The event is expected to attract over 17,000 people, including 850 exhibiting companies, 500 scientific posters, over 25 business and innovation focused sessions and over 100 scientific presentations. For the first time ever, IFT has increased capacity in its Startup Pavilion to hold 100 companies, creating even more opportunity to work with scientists, academics and other businesses on future-proofing a food system in crisis.

Paragon Pure, which participated in the 2022 Startup Pavilion, noted the “incredible amount of traffic” the company encountered at its booth. “We were so busy we barely had time to walk the show floor. The number of leads we got far exceeded our expectations.”

Alchemeat, another 2022 participant, noted 1,100 tasters that were “super impressed by our products including demonstrating thousands of pounds of order potential from major players,” including Costco, Mandalay Bay Vegas, and many others.

The Startup Pavilion is “an incredible connection point for attendees,” says Mandy Zaransky-Hurst, SVP, marketing, communications and business development at IFT. “It’s a way in which people can see, smell, taste, and touch innovation. And that is powerful when thinking about possibilities for the future.”

The IFT FIRST Startup Pavilion. Image credit: IFT

Who is participating?

Last year, nearly 7,000 people, from R&D professionals to VCs to academics, stopped by the Startup Pavilion. This year there are also numerous co-marketing partners including FoodBytes, AgFunder, The Kitchen FoodTech Hub, Saskatchewan Food Centre, The Hatchery, BranchFood, World Business Chicago, Space-F, Kitchentown and many more. [Disclosure: AFN’s parent company is AgFunder.]

Participants in last year’s Startup Pavilion included Israel-based crop breeder Equinom, which won the pitch competition, as well as insect protein producer Innovafeed, ingredients startup Terviva, and alt-protein maker Planetarians, to name a few. Companies came from all over the world, including Singapore, Canada, Italy and many others.

Foodtech and agrifood startups at the 2023 pavilion run the gamut, says Zaransky-Hurst.

“It’s everything from gut health and digestion science to cell cultured meats to upcycled sunflower seed products.”

Other focus areas include cultivated and plant-based meat alternatives, vertical farming, new to market grains, and artificial intelligence solutions for R&D. IFT has more than doubled the number of startups — which range from early to late stage — at the pavillion, from 48 in 2022 to 100 this year. As of this writing, more than half of those 100 spots are already filled.

Additional benefits of participating in Startup Pavilion include:

  • Access to innovators, R&D professionals, buyers, investors, academics, and more
  • The ability to showcase food samples at kiosks
  • The ability to source ingredients faster and more efficiently via expo hall conversations
  • Increased brand awareness via signage and inclusion on the digital directory
  • Access to the list of media available for interviews 
Inside the IFT FIRST Startup Pavilion. Image credit: IFT

Pitching the future

All 100 startups are invited to participate in a multi-stage, rapid-pitch competition that unfolds over the course of the three-day event. 

According to IFT, judges will include venture capitalists, academics, leaders in innovation and product development and others from the startup community. 

One grand-prize winner will receive $10,000 from The Seeding the Future Foundation. Two runner-up companies get $2,500 each. 

To ensure that combination shows up at the Startup Pavilion, too, all of the judges for the pitch competition will include scientists, says Zaransky-Hurst. 

“This will include not just science of food professionals in product development, research and innovation. Other judges will come from VCs, incubators, academia, government and business. We want the panels to represent the entire food system and how we need to work together to shape the future of food” she adds.

IFT expects attendees from more than 70 countries at IFT FIRST 2023, which takes place July 16–19 in Chicago. 

Startups interested in applying for IFT’s 2023 Startup Pavilion should click here before June 9, or while kiosk slots are still available. If you wish to attend IFT 2023 in Chicago, register here. Use the discount code AGF23 to get almost $500 off the price of a Scientific + Expo registration.

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