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Middlebit: Nebullam one of six finalists for inaugural IFT Next Food Disruption Challenge

Nebullam was one of six companies to participate in the inaugural IFTNEXT Food Disruption Challenge at IFT18. The six finalists pitched their companies in hopes of winning a $25,000 grand prize.

Nebullam is an Ames-based agtech startup that pairs high-pressure aeroponic technology and software to grow different types of leafy greens indoors.

“To be a finalist for the inaugural IFT Next Food Disruption Challenge was a great opportunity,” said Clayton Mooney, co-founder and CEO of Nebullam. “They provided us with 6 weeks of mentoring, a travel award, and this experience was much more about collaboration than competition, which was refreshing. Anytime you have the opportunity to pitch in front of thousands of people, take it. You never know who will be sitting in the audience.”

Clayton Mooney, CEO and co-founder of Nebullam pitches at IFTNEXT Food Disruption Challenge. Photo provided by the Institute of Food Technologists

The six participants in the pitch event were chosen in a process that spanned several months, featured two elimination rounds and initially drew 65 applicants from around the globe. The six finalists participated in a six-week mentoring program in which each was matched with a mentor and received the benefit of insights shared by several subject matter experts on topics ranging from fund-raising to food processing.

Daymond John, a panelist on the popular television show “Shark Tank,” served as the emcee of the event.

The Future Food Disruptor of the Year winner was chosen by a panel of six judges. The pitch competition judges included Jennifer Bentz, senior vice president of research and development, innovation and insights for Tyson Foods; Jeff Grogg, founder and managing director of JPG Resources; J. Skyler Fernandes, co-founder and managing director of Venture University; John Ruff, IFT past president and former senior vice president of Kraft Foods; Nicole Schumacher, chief marketing officer, PRE Brands; and Natalie Shmulik, chief executive officer of The Hatchery.

Renewal Mill received a $25,000 cash prize and the Future Food Disruptor of the Year award. The company seeks to reduce food waste by transforming such byproducts as pistachio shells, potato peels and olive pits into nutritious, functional ingredients.

What else happened…?


Conventional cars drive the bulk of Chicago-based SpotHero‘s business, but the parking inventory and booking startup is setting its sights on a driverless future. Today, it announced that more than 500 of its connected parking garages in Chicago have been adapted to accommodate autonomous cars, trucks, and SUVs.  –VentureBeat


High Alpha, a self-described “venture studio” based in Indianapolis, today announced it has raised more than $100 million to fund new enterprise software startups in Indianapolis and the Midwest. The $100 million includes $16.65 million for High Alpha’s second iteration of its startup studio and $85 million for the second fund from High Alpha Capital, its traditional venture fund.  –VentureBeat


Digital Sandbox KC announced the addition of four companies to its portfolio. As of a February 2018 impact survey, Digital Sandbox KC has given $1.9 million in project funding to 100 early-stage startups.  –Silicon Prairie News

Middlebit: Nebullam one of six finalists for inaugural IFT Next Food Disruption Challenge | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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