Biotech, Plant-Based Startups Win IFT FIRST Pitch Competition

July 26, 2023
Grand prize-winner Helaina and runners-up SnapDNA and unClassic Foods won funding to refine their innovative processes.

Helaina, a biotech company working to synthetically produce bioactive proteins, was the grand prize winner of the Institute of Food Technologists’ pitch competition for startups at the July IFT FIRST Expo in Chicago.

Helaina won $10,000 to refine its use of precision fermentation to manufacture proteins at scale, starting with lactoferrin, a protein that supports cognitive health and antimicrobial defense while enhancing nutrient absorption. Lactoferrin, which is traditionally found in breast milk, has the potential to not only improve infant formula, but also enhance functional foods and nutrition at all stages of life.

SnapDNA and unClassic Foods were each awarded $2,500 as the runners-up in the competition. SnapDNA aims to revolutionize the food testing process by reducing the time needed to test for food pathogens, spoilage agents and allergens. Through its on-site analysis technology, SnapDNA can reduce the traditional pathogen test timeline of three to seven days to less than one hour.

UnClassic Foods uses oyster mushrooms to create a plant-based meat substitute.

Participants from the show’s Startup Pavilion were invited to take part in the multi-stage, rapid-pitch competition. Participants were limited to 90-second pitches in the first round, but in the finale, pitch length was expanded to 2:30. Finalists from each round were decided by a panel of judges spanning academia, venture-capital investment groups, government, incubators, industry leaders, startup coaches and consultants, and product development professionals.

Prize money was courtesy of Seeding the Future Foundation.

About the Author

Dave Fusaro | Editor in Chief

Dave Fusaro has served as editor in chief of Food Processing magazine since 2003. Dave has 30 years experience in food & beverage industry journalism and has won several national ASBPE writing awards for his Food Processing stories. Dave has been interviewed on CNN, quoted in national newspapers and he authored a 200-page market research report on the milk industry. Formerly an award-winning newspaper reporter who specialized in business writing, he holds a BA in journalism from Marquette University. Prior to joining Food Processing, Dave was Editor-In-Chief of Dairy Foods and was Managing Editor of Prepared Foods.