Shark Tank: Brooklyn has arrived.
Well, not quite. Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran were nowhere to be found during Downtown Brooklyn Partnership’s sixth Make It in Brooklyn Pitch Contest, but the premise was the same as the reality show’s—except this one featured ambitious local entrepreneurs from companies as wide-ranging as Bronx-born hot sauce to innovative food-waste recycling programs to snacks made from crickets. Yes, crickets.
Raising cash is often the biggest hurdle for entrepreneurs, and these pitch contests began as a resource for startups and entrepreneurs to connect with the local community and possibly earn a little cash for two minutes of their time. In business terms, the ROI of the event was high: whoever nails the two-minute pitch and four minutes of follow-up questions wins $5,000 (provided by sponsor JPMorgan Chase Foundation), no strings attached.
Fifty food-tech start-ups responded to the call for applications, and five made it to the final round, where they pitched to the Brooklyn approximation of “sharks,” including Nick Devane of incubator kitchen Foodworks Brooklyn; J.J. Kasper of Blue Seed Collective; Chris Manca, a local forager from Whole Foods; John Stage, founder of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que; and Dale Talde, chef and founder of Three Kings Restaurant Group.
With the event held at the new Gotham Market at the Ashland, there wasn’t a Persian rug gracing the floor a la the NBC show, but there was an already Instagram-famous chandelier with colorful handblown bulbs from Downtown Brooklyn neighbor Urban Glass, so that counts, right?
Judged on business model, customer validation, scaleability, and yearly projection, the six start-ups gave it their best shot, with chemical-free hydroponic fertilizer company Re-Nuble emerging as the winner. Here’s everyone who threw down during the night.
“We want to put food waste back into food,” went COO Ashwin Goutham Gopi’s pitch for this upcycling idea that would definitely pique the interest of beer snobs. Using proprietary technology, Rise takes the unspent barley from microbreweries around Gowanus and Bushwick and turns it into flour used to make pizza dough, muffins, and other carb-friendly products. Popular Gowanus bakery Runner & Stone is developing a bread made from this “brewer’s spent grain.”
Reducing food waste proved to be a trend of the night, and the food waste tracking system Phood takes a technology-based approach. Co-founder Luc Dang says the team was inspired by a Natural Resources Defense Council report claiming 40% of the food in the U.S. goes wasted or uneaten, and Phood is used in college kitchens to help determine how much food is being prepared or trashed each day. Kitchen workers simply swipe on a tablet to select items when they’re over-produced. The goal? To reduce food waste volume in major kitchens by up to 50 percent.
Proving food by-products are the new black, this company produces value-added fertilizer from food waste with the aim to increase production of local organic produce. Founded by Tinia Pina, a former prep SAT teacher who was inspired to increase access to high-quality food after witnessing the kids she tutored crash after eating sugary breakfast, Re-Nuble bills itself as a “bloom formula by plants, for plants.”
The northern part of the city is spicier than you might realize. This hot sauce brand sources its serrano peppers from 40 community gardens all around the borough, and portions of the revenue from the $6.99 condiment go straight back into funding the gardens and gardeners, said Daniel Fitzgerald, senior director of business development. They work with non-profits GrowNYC and Bronx Greenup to distribute seedlings and gather the peppers.
Last in the pitch line-up was Seek, a culinary start-up selling treats containing the “most sustainable source of protein”…crickets. Co-founder Robyn Shapiro pointed out that eating insects is only new for Westerners and passed around Seek’s Cricket Snack Bites to the judges to offer them a “positive first cricket experience.” Flavors range from coconut cashew to almond goji berry; you can’t tell, but there are around 160 crickets in each $10 jar.