Chipotle launches mentoring program to advise young alternative farming, agri-tech companies

Chipotle’s motto for the past 25 years has been “food with integrity,” letting customers know its mission is simple — fresh ingredients, sustainably grown. Now the burrito chain is hoping to find the next crop of food-focused start-ups striving for the same goal.

The company is seeking applicants for its Chipotle Aluminaries Project, a new accelerator focused on ventures that change the food landscape. It’s looking for young companies concentrated on alternative farming and growing systems, farming and agriculture technology, food waste and recovery, and plant and alternative products.

Chipotle has invested some $200,000 in the program and is seeking both for and non-profit ventures to participate. The program provides mentoring, introductions to potential investors and customized training.

Industry leaders including Kimbal Musk, entrepreneur and restaurateur who sits on the boards of Chipotle, Tesla and Space X, as well as restaurateur Richard Blais, an all-star on Top Chef.

“We want to support this next generation of ventures who are looking to define what the future of food with integrity is—we are moving away from the traditional check- cutting, where it’s a dollar-for-dollar model,” said Caitlin Leibert, Director of Sustainability for Chipotle. “This is a springboard-type model.”

The program is sponsored by the Chipotle’s Cultivate Foundation, established in 2011, to extend its commitment to creating a more sustainable food future. The Aluminaries program has also been launched in partnership with Uncharted, a 501(c)(3) organization that has an entrepreneurial accelerator-like model to tackle social problems like urban poverty.

“By sponsoring the Chipotle Aluminaries Project, we’re looking to advance the work of the next generation of entrepreneurs who are disrupting the food landscape. Are you using technology to make an impact? Are you dreaming up the next sustainable food innovation? If so, we want to support you and help share your story,” Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol said in a statement.

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The application process begins Wednesday and will remain open through October 10th. The company says it’s expecting a few hundred applicants, but only eight will be selected to participate and announced on January 3.

While the intention is not to necessarily partner with the ventures that participate in the program, Leibert said there is always the potential for that down the line if the fit is right.

“It’s exciting to think that we could have a venture in this program far beyond our reach that gives us an opportunity to create an impact where we might not have had one otherwise,” she said. “It’s a way to invest in what we really believe in.


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