The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB), Tracy, Calif., announced the return of its annual dairy innovation competition with a new name and increased focus on advancing excellence in functional dairy product development. The Real California Milk Excelerator, the third edition of the CMAB dairy product innovation competition with innovation consultancy VentureFuel, will award up to $650,000 in prizes for new dairy products that support performance and recovery benefits.

The 2021 Real California Milk Excelerator taps into the thriving functional foods market — a market that has grown significantly over the past year and is projected to reach over $275 billion globally by 2025, CMAB said. With consumers prioritizing personal health and wellness in response to the pandemic, the competition will seek out early-stage startups that utilize two of California's great resources: an abundant supply of sustainably sourced California milk and the state's entrepreneurial spirit.

One of the biggest dairy competitions in the world, the competition seeks early-stage, potential-for-high-growth applicants with a cow's milk-based product or working prototype that plays a critical role in personal performance (focus, energy, exercise, strength) and/or recovery (rejuvenation, relaxation, gut health, sleep), CMAB said. 

Up to 12 applicants will be selected to join the Real California Milk Excelerator program, with each receiving a $10,000 stipend and support to refine and scale their individual business, as well as benefit from group resources that include the development of sales and marketing tools. They will also be entered into the CMAB/VentureFuel Mentor Program, which includes elite counsel from successful founders, investors, leading corporate executives and experts across design, marketing, sales, manufacturing, distribution, farming and processing industries, CMAB said.

The first place Excelerator winner will receive up to $150,000 worth of additional marketing support from CMAB to accelerate product growth in the marketplace. The second place winner will receive $100,000 of marketing support from CMAB. To further advance opportunities for finalists, a private, Buyer/Investor Day event will be hosted for finalists to pitch actual clients to drive business development and secure financing. The value of the competition awards is $650,000, CMAB said.

For the first time, CMAB and VentureFuel also will be awarding up to three companies entry into the new Real California Milk Incubator Boot Camp, an option for companies that have great ideas but are too early for the competition. Led by executives at CMAB, VentureFuel and the California Dairy Innovation Center, the boot camp will allow participants to will gain entry into the VentureFuel Mentor program and will include review of products, tweaking of pitch and introductions to food labs, nutritionists and more. (a value of $50,000).

"Consumers are redefining what health and wellness means and looking for foods that provide not only flavor but functionality to help them achieve optimal health,” said John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB. “Whether to maximize daily performance or replenishment after physical activity, dairy is the ultimate functional food, supplying quality protein plus several vital nutrients that translate to the products consumers are looking for today. With the Excelerator and Incubator platforms, we will be able to support companies as they innovate with dairy to bring more of these products featuring milk from California dairy farmers to market."

VentureFuel Inc., a corporate innovation consultancy, is again partnering with CMAB to run the program and to identify the best emerging opportunities from its global network of investors, founders and academics.

"Excelsior is a Latin motto meaning 'Ever upward!,' and after the tremendous success of our first two programs with CMAB, where we have provided mentorship and accelerated 24 dairy focused startups, we wanted to cement a name that showed our commitment to moving the industry ever upward, ever quickly. This is how we landed at the Excelerator," said Fred Schonenberg, founder of VentureFuel Inc. "By adding the Incubator Bootcamp and Buyer/Investor Day, CMAB continues their commitment to creating a product innovation ecosystem to further increase the demand for California Dairy while supporting and accelerating the influx of new startups and entrepreneurs creating better-for- you products."

Competition rules and application documents are available at; the deadline for application is June 25, 2021.