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New ASU incubator provides support, funding for sustainable food-system ventures

November 2, 2023

Arizona State University has started a new entrepreneurship initiative called Cultivate PHX to grow innovation in sustainable food systems and agriculture.

The Cultivate PHX Agrifood Tech Incubator will provide seed funding, mentorship, collaboration, coworking space and other support to founders whose ventures are addressing the life cycle of food or looking to pilot new technology in food systems.

The incubator program is a partnership between ASU’s J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute, the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service at ASU and the city of Phoenix.

Cultivate PHX is the third incubator in Edson E+I’s new model. The other two are Peoria Forward and the Chandler Endeavor Venture Innovation Incubator.

Typically, incubators require entrepreneurs to apply; they may or may not be selected, and then must do homework or go through endless rounds of pitches. ASU’s incubators invite any entrepreneur in the community to join the free program simply by registering. Then, they can collaborate with peers and get expert advice.

Kristin Slice, director of community entrepreneurship for Edson E+I, said Cultivate PHX is addressing a specific gap of sustainability ventures in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, such as vertical gardening, water conservation, aquaponics, composting or food-distribution systems.

“How do we make that whole process more sustainable from the jump and use technology to create those innovations at scale?” she said.

“This isn’t a step-by-step ‘how to build your venture.’ There are many partners that already do that. We’re looking at, ‘How do you add innovation to accelerate your venture?’ Big problems need big resources.”

Slice said the incubator will help the founders deal with a problem that’s common in sustainability ventures: converting interest into investment.

“Everybody loves sustainability. Few people will look at you as founders and not say, ‘We need that.’ But it’s moving on to get the funding,” she told participants.

The founders will pitch for $300,000 in seed money later this year. The goal is to get several ventures to a six-month pilot stage, during which they can test their go-to-market strategy.

Last week, the Edson E+I held the first Cultivate PHX event, a forum in which the founders learned how to refine their “unique value proposition” — a succinct pitch explaining why their venture is worthy of funding.

The event drew several founders of food-system ventures, as well as organizations that could support or partner with them, such as Local First Arizona, St. Vincent de Paul and Hustle PHX.

As the founders practiced their value proposition pitches, their peers gave feedback.

Kyle Weiler, founder of Desert Kitchen Gardens, a venture that grows microgreens for restaurants, said it was tricky to get everything into one sentence that’s easily delivered.

“We’re providing a superior product that’s locally grown that reduces waste,” he said.

“And we grow indoors in a controlled environment,” he quickly added.

Sara Anderson is the founder of Proxsea, a venture that creates food experiences.

“My service is to help consumers who want to find a healthier relationship with food practice either through eating and learning or through cooking, mostly through events and activations and microevents,” she said. “I partner with farms and a dietitian to produce a meal that teaches about seasonal food and cooking and nutrition.

“If you have the information in front of you while you’re eating it, there’s a higher probability of learning it and digesting it — pun intended.”

Anderson said the hardest part of pitching the value proposition is feeling put on the spot and not knowing who the audience is, consumer or potential funder.

In addition to the monthly forums — which will focus on subjects such as raising capital and finding customers — incubator participants also get access to a digital platform that includes monthly self-guided courses and discussion forums to exchange ideas, ask for feedback and share resources.

Alicia Marseille, senior director of the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service, is one of the organizers of Cultivate PHX. The service works with public and private partners, both inside ASU and externally, on sustainability issues.

Marseille told the founders at the forum last week that their pitches must constantly evolve as their ventures progress. In 2006, she founded an international business, working with a cooperative of farmers in Haiti to export coffee. She wanted to support economic development in Haiti through social entrepreneurship.

“So when I started out with my value proposition, people were like, ‘So you’re a nonprofit?’ Oh no, I’m not saying this right. They’re not understanding.

“If you’re buying this coffee, you’re supporting potentially 25,000 farmers in Haiti and an exponential amount of families.’ ”

Innovation in food systems is critically important right now, Marseille said.

“We’re facing some major challenges. Forty-two percent of city of Phoenix residents live in a food desert — they have to go more than a mile to access healthy food options.

“Our climate is drastically changing and changing the agrifood industry. How can what you’re doing solve that problem?”

Top image from iStock

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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Salute to Service begins Nov. 8 with events planned across ASU campuses

November 2, 2023

Arizona State University will celebrate those who have served the nation and their communities with an assortment of events across Phoenix metro campuses for this year’s Salute to Service happening Nov. 8–18.

Salute to Service honors the military veteran community along with first responders, front-line medical workers, volunteers and the many other individuals working in public service.

“We invite the university community and the public to join us for the fun and memorable events we have in store for this year’s very special Salute to Service,” said Michelle Loposky, chair for the Salute to Service planning committee and Pat Tillman Veterans Center director of development and strategic partnerships. “There is something for everyone, and most of the events are free.

“More importantly, we want everyone to come out as a show of appreciation for all who have served in the military, who have served their communities as volunteers, and who serve us today as first responders, medical personnel and in the public sector working to keep our towns, cities, state and the country running smoothly.”  

Events taking place during Salute to Service include:

Game Watch Party
noon–10 p.m. Nov. 4
ASU MIX Center, downtown Mesa

Just prior to Salute to Service kicking off, take part in a free fun outing at ASU’s Mesa’s MIX Center and watch Sun Devil football take on the UCLA Bruins. Bring blankets or lawn chairs to watch the game outside on a 100-foot outdoor movie screen. Organized by Sun Devil Generations and the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, the event will also feature food trucks and other family-friendly activities. 

Thank You for Your Service Networking Event
4–6 p.m. Nov. 7
A.E. England Building, Downtown Phoenix campus

Practice networking skills with professionals who will be available to answer questions about various occupations and how to get into service-oriented fields, such as law enforcement, nursing or social work. The event is “come and go” with complimentary light food and beverages available. Visit the event homepage for more information. 

Movies on the Field — “Top Gun: Maverick”
5:30–9:30 p.m. Nov. 10
Mountain America Stadium, Tempe campus

Bring a blanket and the whole family to enjoy a free movie as Movies on the Field kicks off this semester during Salute to Service with “Top Gun: Maverick.” Doors open at 5:30 p.m., with the movie starting at 7 p.m. Register at ASU 365 Community Union.

Rúla Búla Pop-Up
Various times, Nov. 10–16
Coca-Cola Sun Deck, Mountain America Stadium, Tempe campus

Iconic Mill Street bar Rúla Búla may have closed in 2021, but this year during Salute to Service it returns for a multiday pop-up pub experience inside Mountain America Stadium. Bar owners will bring back some of the original bar, art, décor and signage and serve food and drink. The bar will be open for seven straight days. Visit the ASU 365 Community Union event page for opening times and other info.

West Valley Forward Pow Wow
11 a.m.–10 p.m. Nov. 11
West Valley campus

Celebrate Native American heritage and honor the contributions of all U.S. veterans with the return of the Native American Heritage Festival featuring the 20th Annual Veterans Day Weekend Pow Wow at the Fletcher Library lawn. The Pow Wow is a traditional gathering of dancers, drummers, elders and families. The arena director will explain the symbolism, protocol and spiritual meaning of the dances, regalia, singing and drumming. The event also includes a mix of vendors and other family-friendly activities.

MVP Community Workout
9 a.m.–noon Nov. 11
Mountain America Stadium, Tempe campus

All members of the public are invited to join Merging Vets and Players (MVP) for a free community workout inside the football stadium. Founded by NFL insider Jay Glazer and former Green Beret and Seattle Seahawk Nate Boyer, MVP is a nonprofit that brings together combat vets and former pro athletes to participate in a variety of sporting and community events, including workouts, golf tournaments, hikes, etc. For more information, visit the event page.

Caregiver Panel Discussion
4:30–6 p.m. Nov. 15
Cooley Ballroom, Polytechnic campus

ASU’s Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement will host a caregiver panel to get insights and experiences from caregivers who have supported veterans. The panel aims to provide valuable information on caregiving, challenges, coping strategies and available resources. Visit the event page for more information and to register.

Panel and Lunch with Arizona Military Leaders
Noon–2:15 p.m. Nov. 17
Old Main, Tempe campus

Join the military commanders from Arizona’s Army, Air Force and Marine Corps military installations and their senior enlisted leaders for a complimentary lunch and discussion on how the U.S. military is preparing for future conflicts. The enlisted leaders will host a second panel to discuss what it means to serve in today’s military. Registration is required.

Salute to Service football game
TBA, Nov. 18
Mountain America Stadium, Tempe campus

Come out and support Coach Kenny Dillingham and the ASU Sun Devils as they take on top nationally ranked opponent Oregon Ducks. Pregame events on College Avenue will include military displays, service members interacting with the public, and many other activities. 

Visit the Salute to Service homepage for a complete list of all the events.

Jerry Gonzalez

Assistant Director , Media Relations and Strategic Communications