Eight climate solution entrepreneurs graduated from the Vermont business accelerator to help solve agriculture and food technology challenges while honing business models for success

SOUTH BURLINGTON, VTAccel-VT, a business accelerator providing support, mentorship, and access to capital for early stage companies committed to climate economy innovation, announced the winners of the latest Accel-VT Ag & Food Tech business cohort last week at Ben & Jerry’s headquarters in South Burlington, VT. AgHelp of Michigan and Ceres Greens of Barre, VT, each took $25,000 in prize money back to their businesses after three months of intense work and competition.

The remaining six cohort companies took away meaningful relationships established with Vermont entrepreneurs and investors, as well as more refined plans for the future success of their businesses.

Cohort members decided the winners through a peer-ranking system using a method developed by Village Capital, a national business accelerator model designed for high-growth ventures solving major societal problems and looking to raise money from venture capital investors.

Accel-VT is managed by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a nonprofit organization working to improve sustainable economic development in Vermont. Geoff Robertson, business assistance director at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, was impressed by the effort and innovation each of the cohort companies put into the program.

“The entrepreneurs took full advantage of their time in Vermont over the past three months and that will pay off as they continue work to raise the capital they need to scale their companies,” said Robertson. “They really worked hard honing their investment pitches and strengthening their businesses while learning to better understand what investors are looking for when it comes to mission-driven companies. I can’t wait to see what these companies are accomplishing three and five years from now.”

Over the three months, Accel-VT Ag & Food Tech entrepreneurs worked together in person for three one-week sprints in Vermont as well as remotely to improve their business plans, network with industry leaders, meet with potential customers, and fast track their way to securing financial investments so they can grow their business opportunities in Vermont and beyond.

Flexible Capital Fund President Janice St. Onge (left) and VSJF Director of Business Assistance Geoff Robertson (right) present Greg Kelly and Jacob Isham of Ceres Greens with a check for $25,000 as one of two winners of Accel-VT Ag & Food Tech 2018.
Flexible Capital Fund President Janice St. Onge (left) and VSJF Director of Business Assistance Geoff Robertson (right) present Greg Kelly and Jacob Isham of Ceres Greens with a check for $25,000 as one of two winners of Accel-VT Ag & Food Tech 2018.

Ceres Greens received $25,000 to contribute to their current capital raise aimed at expanding production. They supply Vermont restaurants and businesses with year-round access to fresh, local leafy greens and herbs through vertical farming in Barre, VT.

“We’ve put three years of work into this so it feels like some validation to be coming out on top,” said Jacob Isham, Ceres Greens co-founder. “Every company in this cohort is fantastic and I hope they all succeed because they add great value to the market with what they are doing.”

Co-founder Greg Kelly commented that all aspects of the business are coming together as well as to the value the 30 recruited Vermont mentors brought to the program. Accel-VT coordinated with over 42 mentors consisting of industry experts, successful entrepreneurs, business advisors and investors to work with cohort members during the three sprints.

“The mentors that were recruited and contributed all of their time were fabulous,” said Kelly. “We’d never be able to get these people on the phone or get a meeting so Accel-VT bringing them all together was amazing.”

Flexible Capital Fund President Janice St. Onge (left) and VSJF Director of Business Assistance Geoff Robertson (right) present Sadoc Paredes of AgHelp with a check for $25,000 as one of two winners of Accel-VT Ag & Food Tech 2018.
Flexible Capital Fund President Janice St. Onge (left) and VSJF Director of Business Assistance Geoff Robertson (right) present Sadoc Paredes of AgHelp with a check for $25,000 as one of two winners of Accel-VT Ag & Food Tech 2018.

AgHelp received $25,000 to focus on launching their online platform. Based in Michigan, AgHelp is a mobile platform that helps agricultural employers source, retain, and attract local and national talent while connecting workers with local support services.

“We’ve won some pitch competitions, but to be honest, there is substance behind this win,” said Sadoc Paredes, AgHelp co-founder. “We were really digging into our downfalls as well as what’s good about our company so this really means a lot that my peers selected us to win.”

The additional cohort companies graduating from Accel-VT Food & Ag Tech include:

  • Savor, based in Georgia, has a patented process to create edible cutlery that biodegrades in days, tastes great and works in hot soup and ice cream;
  • Agrilab Technologies, based in Vermont, offers technical and development services to serve customers through all phases of renewable energy, water quality and sustainability projects;
  • Freshspire, based in North Carolina, connects local farmers directly to buyers to create a network of sustainable food;
  • Smart Yields, based in Hawaii, connects farmers, agricultural researchers and their communities through crowd-sourced data gathered from a network of integrated sensors that measure everything from soil health to inputs such as water, energy and nutrients;
  • Meristem Farms, based in Vermont, produces high-quality hemp seeds and hemp clones; and
  • Planetarians, based in California, developed a patent-pending technology that takes ingredients like defatted seeds, converts them into a high-protein, high-fiber ingredient, and helps food manufacturers fortify a variety of food products with natural protein and fiber from seeds.

Robertson said consumer demand for sustainable products, coupled with the desire to understand where those products come from, has created the need for technological advancements in agricultural and food technologies. Rural economies are struggling to maintain their local food systems and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, especially as extreme weather events become more prevalent. Vermont, a longtime leader in the food and energy sectors is well positioned to foster the business sectors that will help address these challenges.

Partners and sponsors of Accel-VT Ag & Food Tech included the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, Cabot Creamery Co-operative, Ben & Jerry’s, Vermont Creamery, the Vermont State Employees Credit Union, VLITE, four local restaurants, two state agencies, and two additional capital providers.

“As a food manufacturer and certified B Corp, our agricultural co-operative is proud to sponsor and advance this latest Accel-VT accelerator program,” said Jed Davis, Sustainability Director of Cabot Creamery Co-operative in Waitsfield. “Our industry is changing rapidly and our farmer members may benefit from some of the exciting products and services these start-up companies are developing. Accel-VT opens doors for ag and food tech entrepreneurs who share our goal of a greener planet, and these companies will help boost economic development in Vermont and beyond.”

Learn more at www.accelvt.com.

Featured photo caption: Accel-VT Ag & Food Tech companies celebrate the winners AgHelp of Michigan and Ceres Greens of Barre, Vermont.