Reflections on the Plug and Play experience with Genesis Feed Technologies
The story of how Genesis Feed Technologies first connected with Plug and Play is a testament to the strength of Fargo-Moorhead’s startup ecosystem. And like many connections in this ecosystem, it began with an invitation.
Emerging Prairie, a Fargo non-profit dedicated to connecting and celebrating the local startup ecosystem, hosted a Pitch event in 2018. The intention was to bring together founders and investors from the Midwest and provide an opportunity to meet and present new ideas. Genesis Feed Technologies was seeing early success, and CEO and co-founder Peter Schott was invited to speak.
In attendance that day was Brian Tetrud, the Global Director of Food & Beverage with Plug and Play. Plug and Play is a tech center based in Silicon Valley with a mission “to make innovation open to anyone, anywhere.” After hearing Peter pitch, Brain introduces himself, and GFT was added to the “Playbook” — a startup program developed by Emerging Prairie, Microsoft, and Plug and Play.
Not long after, Peter was in Colorado for a speaking gig when he got the e-mail: GFT was one of 30 out of 1,000 companies chosen to pitch at the Food Batch #7 pitch event in Sunnyvale, CA.
“Oh it was exciting,” Peter said. “Looking at the other leaders in AgTech and food tech in that cohort, I knew I was in good company.”
Out of the 30 pitches, 13 continued on to be part of the Plug and Play accelerator program. GFT was one of them. The program was three months long and consisted of meeting with mentors, introductions to corporate groups for pilot programs, and networking events with the other founders in the cohort.
Unfortunately, the final Plug and Play graduation ceremony had to be virtual due to COVID-19, rather than flying the cohort out to Sunnyvale one more time as planned. However, the unique circumstances also brought the founders together as they grappled with running a business in a pandemic.
“I really was able to build great relationships with the other founders. We were able to collaborate with each other on strategy, on how to respond to COVID, and how a pandemic would affect our business,” Peter said.
After the program ended, Peter continued to see the benefits of being a Plug and Play graduate. Through Plug and Play and Emerging Prairie, he got to know Melissa Carmichael and Mark Shober at Bremer Bank, who were corporate sponsors of the Food Batch. They became invaluable resources for GFT as the company continued to grow. Thanks to the exposure from Plug and Play, Peter was also asked to speak at a Kansas convention about animal health.
The experience also gave credibility to GFT when applying for loans — and in the summer of 2020, GFT was chosen for $300,000 in funding from North Dakota’s new Innovation Technology Loan Fund (LIFT).
“It gave us some visibility int the marketplace that we didn’t have before,” Peter said. “The fact that we were selected gave us validation of our business model and what we were doing. And now have access to their corporate sponsors from around the world.”
A few weeks after graduation, Peter joined a Zoom call with a few other founders from the cohort. A Plug and Play representative guided them through a reflection, and they shared stories from their individual entrepreneurial journeys as a whole.
“Calling yourself an entrepreneur — you feel like a fraud for a while,” Peter said. Joanne Zhang, founder of Phytoption, and Orianna Bretschger, founder of AquaCycl, both part of the Food Batch cohort, shared similar sentiments.
“It’s still weird to say I’m CEO and founder,” Orianna agreed.
“Sometimes I even feel ashamed,” Joanne said. “But there are always ways to keep going and keep your spirits up.”
For Peter, it’s a combination of meditation, yoga, and conversations like this one. This is where connections from Plug and Play are incredibly important, he said.
“It’s always nice to meet other founders because not everyone can relate to the struggles of opening a business,” Peter said. “It’s nice to have people who can relate, that you can talk to and encourage each other.”