Lisa Curtis of Kuli Kuli | photo by Kuli Kuli
Lisa Curtis of Kuli Kuli | Courtesy of Kuli Kuli

Village Capital doled out $75,000 in investments to two women-founded and -led companies — Kuli Kuli and Stony Creek Colors — during its Venture Forum.

Louisville has hosted Village Capital’s agribusiness accelerator for the past three years. Not only must the businesses in the accelerator be viable, they must help solve industry problems and make a positive impact. Village Capital co-invested with Radicle Capital and Sustainable America.

Twelve businesses pitched their companies in front of a panel and a crowded audience at 21c Museum Hotel last week. Unlike most pitch contests, this one was judged not by the panel but by the entrepreneurs themselves.

Kuli Kuli CEO Lisa Curtis discovered the plant moringa when she was working in the Peace Corps in Niger. She wasn’t getting enough nutritional food, and she found out that locals avoided malnutrition by eating moringa, which reportedly is healthier than kale.

Curtis founded this company and now has five products in stores nationwide, including energy bars, moringa powder and moringa tea. Curtis will offer the product backstage at the Oscars.

The moringa tree, which also is called the drumstick tree, requires very little water to grow.  

Curtis concluded her pitch by saying: “Ten years ago, no one had heard of quinoa. Five years ago, no one had heard of chia. Everyone is going to hear about moringa.”

Sarah Bellos leads Stony Creek Colors, which creates plant-based dyes to replace synthetic petroleum dyes. The current method of dying jeans can be toxic and often involves dangerous chemicals. Stony Creek Colors is contracting with farmers to move from farming tobacco to farming indigo for use in natural dyes.

Early partners include Levis and Patagonia. The fashion industry switched over to artificial dyes nearly 100 years ago. 

Stony Creek has 45 acres planned for 2016. Their laboratory, research farm and processing facility are located just north of Nashville. Bellos plans to expand the company’s natural dye palette. 

The Venture Forum panelists were:

  • Mary Shelman — Louisville native, director of agribusiness program at Harvard Business School
  • Patrick Holden — founding director of the Sustainable Food Trust
  • Gabriel Wilmoth — advisor and investor in ag-related startups at Syngenta Ventures
  • Stepen Reily –Seed Capital Kentucky, social entrepreneur, civic leader

(Amusingly, Village Capital’s Ross Baird, who hosted, told the audience: “It’s a BFD that Patrick showed up today.” Holden had to be told what BFD stood for because he’s British.)

The rest of the companies to pitch at the forum were:

3Bar Biologics — Founder Bruce Caldwell has worked in biologics in partnership with Ohio State University. It’s one of the fastest-growing sectors in agriculture, and it’s a microbe soil additive that introduces beneficial biomes to the ground.

Arise —Mackenze McAleer has created the Revolution Garden, a geoponic digital garden system and rotating garden. The product is aimed at millennials and people with no green thumb. Millennials have doubled their spending on gardening since 2008. 

Earthineer (local) — Dan Adams created Earthineer, which is like Facebook and Etsy for homesteaders. Adams said one-third of U.S. households grow food, and people are increasingly making artisanal food. Earthineer is a sharing and learning online community. It also allows you to buy, sell and barter food, seeds, food products, tools, etc.

Emmer & Co. — It turns out that 99.9 percent of chickens on earth are the same breed, according to Jesse Solomon. Chicken also is a $30 billion industry. Heritage chickens existed before the industrialization of agriculture, and Solomon wants to bring them back because, well, they taste better.

Follow That Meat! — This product ensures beef transparency. It “honors the path the cattle takes from the ranch to your plate,” said Danny Kramer. An RFID tag on the cattle’s ear can be scanned, and that cow is then put into the system. That information will follow the meat through the processing system, and eventually the program generates a sticker with a QR code that customers can use to pull up the cow’s origins. 

Full Harvest — Christine Moseley created Full Harvest, a business-to-business platform that connects large farmers with food processors. Food waste is a huge problem; 20 percent of food waste is at the farm level, where farmers just won’t harvest “ugly” produce. Food processors who use produce in their products can use the “ugly” produce, and this system hooks them up.

Hemp Foods America — Chad Rosen moved to Newcastle, Ky., from southern California to start this company. Commodity grain crop prices are falling, and it’s more lucrative to farm hemp. Hemp Foods America produces hemp seeds, flour and oil. 

IDIAS — Farmers’ pesticide use is destroying microbes in the soil. The IDIAS product, Pure Algae, helps make the soil healthier by adding algae and carbon. Founder Tamer Mohamed concluded that his company wants to “get you to stop treating your soil like dirt.”

Sunstrand — Agricultural products can be turned into fibers and fillers to replace plastic and other material. Trey Riddle  a Louisville native, moved his company from Montana to Kentucky to be closer to suppliers of hemp.

X-FUNGO — Pauline Gibson launched this company because global warming is affecting your morning cup of coffee. Central American coffee rust fungus is wiping out 50 percent of the coffee plants, and X-FUNGO cures this.