Skip to main content


The five food startups shining at VERGE 21

During a pitch contest at GreenBiz's VERGE 21 conference, startups focusing on food waste and alternative proteins took center stage.

Kelp Harvest

12 Tides is making sustainable chips from kelp in three flavors. Image via Shutterstock/Aleksey Bakhtin.

This article originally ran as part of our Food Weekly newsletter.

Hello from the most exciting week of the GreenBiz calendar! I hope those of you who were able to participate in VERGE 21 over the past three days have been able to soak up much needed inspiration, insights and connections. 

I’m a big fan of the fresh perspectives startups bring to the sustainability world – and as an extension – of our fast-pitch competition VERGE Accelerate. It highlights promising, early stage entrepreneurs who are developing solutions across the clean economy and connects them with potential corporate and investment partners who can help bring their solutions to scale. 

Yesterday, I was the lucky host of our food pitch competition that featured five startups working on key pillars of food systems transformation. They are all doing incredible work, which is why I’d like to shine the Food Weekly spotlight on their stories and ideas. 

If you want to find out who conquered the hearts of our audience, make sure to tune into our free keynote program this morning at 9 am PT, where the food winner will pitch against the leading startups in our other four markets – carbon, mobility, water infrastructure and energy. 

Planet-friendly proteins for the win

Three of our Accelerate finalists are bringing more sustainable proteins to consumers’ plates, reflecting the large toll animal agriculture is taking on the planet. 

Based in San Francisco, 12 Tides is a seed-stage startup developing snacks made with kelp from small-scale regenerative ocean farms that can revitalize coastal communities. With this work, co-founder Patrick Schnettler aims to address the overfishing, pollution and coastline destruction issues he observed firsthand when working in the large-scale commercial fishing and aquaculture industries. At the same time, he wants to bring nutritious food to consumers. 

“I knew there had to be a better way for the food system to intersect with the oceans and that is what we set out to create at 12 Tides,” Schnettler told us at VERGE 21. Right now, this comes in the form of chips in three flavors – sea salt, everything and chili. With a 20 percent month-over-month growth rate, the product is landing well with consumers. I can’t wait to try it. 

Further up the west coast in Seattle, Beta Hatch is operating North America’s largest mealworm farm. “We grow bugs that are the new raw ingredient for a sustainable food future,” Virginia Emery, founder and CEO, told the VERGE audience. How so? 

The startup’s insects are intended to be used as animal feed, not for human consumption. But of course, raising these insects takes feed itself. The mealworms eat food-processing waste, which is more sustainable than using soy, corn or fish meal to feed to the animals humans like to consume. This way, the insects also don’t compete with human food production and grow in local, climate resilient supply chains. In addition, the mealworm farms produce a balanced plant fertilizer as a by-product. Looking ahead, Emery’s goal is to develop the technology and knowledge that will make insects the next commodity crop. 

Also in Seattle, our last startup in this category – Rebellyous Foods – aims to address major challenges in making plant-based meat available and affordable to everyone, using innovative production technology. Christie Lagally, founder and CEO, told us: “Plant-based products cost two to five times that of animal based meat, projected demand far outpaces sales, and the industry only produces one half of one percent of the volume in plant-based meat versus animal meat.” 

To overcome these roadblocks, the Series A startup is developing a new generation of processing equipment. It aims to accelerate production rates and increase margins, thus creating economic incentives to convert conventional chicken processing facilities into plant-based meat production plants. While the startup is focused on collaborating with existing food manufacturers, it also sells its own plant-based chicken in stores, restaurants and school districts across the country. To make good on all these plans, Lagally and her team are currently raising $30 million — get in there, investors! 

From waste to value 

Reducing food waste is another critical climate opportunity. This is where our other two finalists are plugging in with innovative approaches (in addition to Beta Hatch which works across both issues). 

“Every child in the world has experienced some event related to climate change, no matter where that child lives. I have three grandchildren and I want this world to exist in a livable way for them going forward,” said Anna Hammond, founder and CEO of Matriark Foods in our session yesterday. 

The seed-stage startup works out of Nyack, New York, to save surplus vegetables, transforming them into nutritious broth. According to its data, one carton of upcycled broth diverts a pound of vegetables from landfill, reduces 2.2 pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere and saves 102 gallons of water from being wasted. It plugs into a quickly growing $46 billion market for upcycled foods and is already available at large food distribution partners such as Cysco and US Foods. 

In similar fashion, Full Cycle Bioplastics draws on surplus food, paper products and agricultural by-products to produce the bioplastic PHA. The startup based in San Jose, California, aims to provide a green alternative to old-school plastic that uses petroleum as a feedstock.  

“We are the only completely circular bioplastics company in the world. We partner with big tech companies, waste haulers and major food brands to convert their waste into their own sustainable packaging solutions. We also license our technology globally to companies who want to bring PHA to new markets,”  Jeffrey Anderson, co-founder and co-CEO of the seed-stage company said at VERGE. 

Getting to know these founders and their ideas gave me renewed hope in our collective ability to make a meaningful impact on climate change. Whatever your role in the climate tech ecosystem, I urge you to support these and other innovators — invest in them, partner with them, purchase their products or join their growing teams.

[Subscribe to our free Food Weekly newsletter to get more great analysis on sustainable food systems news and trends.]

More on this topic