True Made Foods co-founders Kevin Powell and Abraham Kamarck , photos by Hojun Choi

True Made Foods co-founders Kevin Powell and Abraham Kamarck , photos by Hojun Choi

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

True Made Foods took first place in the second annual Food+City Challenge Prize competition held at the University of Texas at Austin campus on Saturday.

The New York-based startup won the $30,000 grand prize and beat 19 other startups from all over the world. In addition to the grand prize, four runner-up companies received $5,000 in prize money each for their ventures. They included: Agruppa, Garbage to Garden, The Food Corridor and Anchor Nutrition.

“This is really important for us because it brings us validity; it shows that we have a good pro​​duct and something to show for it,” True Made Foods co-founder Abraham Kamarck said.

True Made Foods makes ketchup, barbeque sauce and hot sauce from fresh vegetables, with less sugar than traditional sauces. Kamarck, a former helicopter pilot for the U.S. Navy, said that he and co-founder Kevin Powell are seeking to make certain foods more nutritious by using vegetables to sweeten their products. Powell, who also served in the U.S. armed forces before pursuing more entrepreneurial endeavors, said that the startup industry can help veterans transition back to civilian life.

“Some veterans come back with a feeling of being socially disconnected from civilian life, but when you’re in a startup it forces you to get out there and meet people, investors and mentors,” Powell said.

True Made Foods will use the prize money, according to Kamarck, for the company’s branding and marketing efforts. The company is currently looking to raise $750,000 by the end of the year, he said.

“We’re still at the seed stage, and we’re less than a year old so every penny goes towards getting our product out there on shelves and creating awareness,” Kamarck said.

Food+City, a nonprofit organization that seeks to educate and inspire action around global food systems, organized the day-long event held at the McCombs School of Business.

Robyn Metcalfe, director of Food+City, said the organization’s board of advisors first had the difficult task of narrowing down a list of more than 170 startups that applied to compete in the event. Then Food+City invited 20 companies to compete in Saturday’s event, and designated mentors helped them polish their pitches and business plans.

Each competing team set up a booth at the McCombs School of Business’ Atrium room, where they had a chance to mingle with the attendees and promote their companies. A panel of judges chose ten startups to compete in the pitch competition, during which contestants gave three-minute pitches on their business plans.

“We really try to look at the whole food system,” Metcalfe said. “So we wanted judges that were from all different parts of the food system.”

The criteria the judges followed was based on Get Backed, a book that offers guidance to business owners on how to raise money for their ideas. The author of the book, Evan Baehr, co-founder of Austin-based Able, an online lending platform for small businesses, attended the event for a special book signing.

Baehr said the hardest part of entrepreneurship is the execution of the idea. And though many business owners have great ideas, Baehr said they often do not have the networks and mentorship to lead them towards effectively raising funds and traction for their idea.

“People often have big ideas, but they don’t know investors personally and they probably don’t know founders that have raised capital before who can teach them how to build their pitch decks and how to ask for money,” Baehr said.

About 700 people attended the event. Metcalfe said in future years, Food+City may change the scope and focus of the competition.

“Next year, we’ll certainly do some things differently because we want to be just as innovative as anybody else; we have to walk our talk,” Metcalfe said. “Our major interest right now is looking at food distribution, and whether it’s time for us to focus a competition like this specifically in that area.”

Click here to check out the full list of 2016 Food Challenge Prize finalists.

The crowd at the Food+City Challenge Prize 2016 event

The crowd at the Food+City Challenge Prize 2016 event