Five years after launching its initial Accelerator program, Kansas City, Kan.-based Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) said is gearing up for its 2021 program with the announcement of a new name, DFA CoLab Accelerator, and continued focus on helping accelerate and grow ag-tech and dairy food product companies.

“As we start thinking about recruiting companies for our fifth-year program, what’s really exciting is that we continue to work with many of our past participants, which is the end goal, to hopefully help and partner with them in some way,” said Doug Dresslaer, director of innovation for DFA.

Over the years, DFA has worked with 25 startups in the ag-tech and dairy food product verticals. Past ag-tech participants have ranged from a cloud-based dashboard, My Dairy Dashboard, which enables dairy producers to view trends and compare data on their herds, to a patent-pending probiotic for cattle from Bezoar Laboratories LLC that when paired with nitrate, decreases methane production, DFA said. With the food vertical, DFA has worked with a number of dairy food startups and their products, including Cheddies, an all-natural protein- packed cheddar cheese cracker; RifRaf ricotta cups, a first-of-its-kind ricotta cheese snack cup; and Wheyward Spirit, a new clear liquor that takes excess whey from dairy and turns it into a smoother, better-tasting and more sustainable farm-to-flask spirit.

For the 2021 program, DFA said it is looking for early-stage food product companies that are dairy-focused or dairy-based, including products using milk, cheese, butter, whey or other milk-based ingredients.

“On the food front, the sky is really the limit as long as one of the main ingredients is dairy,” said Dresslaer. “This last year, we had several entrepreneurs who had developed products using dairy by-products like whey, which is really exciting because these types of innovative products go beyond the traditional dairy case, which is helping drive industry growth.”

With ag-tech, DFA said it is seeking companies with applications or technologies related to any portion of the dairy value chain, including but not limited to product testing, data management, herd health and management, supply chain optimization, sustainability and traceability. Some ag-tech categories of particular interest to DFA include antibiotic alternatives, renewable or alternative energy methods, farm labor solutions, food waste technologies, automation and robotics, on-farm connectivity, animal identification and monitoring and animal transport technologies to name a few.

DFA said the DFA CoLab Accelerator includes:

  • A 90-day immersive program, with both in-person and virtual training and mentorship from April 2021 to June 2021.
  • Access to top executives at DFA, with each startup having a senior-level DFA contact relevant to their business area.
  • Educational sessions on a variety of topics important for startup growth, including finance, business development, distribution and supply chain, product development, brand building, sales and marketing, packaging and pricing.
  • Additional workshops that focus on areas such as leadership development, team building and creating company culture.

“We can’t wait to welcome this next class of participants into our program,” Dresslaer said. “We’re hoping that we’ll be in a place with the COVID situation, where we can do more in-person training, but we know from our 2020 program that we can adjust and do it all virtually, too.”

Additional details and the 2021 application are available here. The 2021 DFA CoLab Accelerator will begin in early April 2021.