The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB), Tracy, Calif., announced the return of its annual dairy innovation competition for the fourth year running. This year's Real California Milk Excelerator, created in partnership with New York-based innovation consultancy VentureFuel Inc., brings a new, expansive focus to accelerate any dairy-based product — from traditional consumer food and beverage items to textiles, haircare and beyond. The competition will award up to $500,000 in prizes for new innovative dairy products that introduce novel benefits in any form and drive consumption of Real California dairy.

The 2022 Real California Milk Excelerator enables innovation in its truest state: open, CMAB said. Given dairy’s versatility of benefits and functionality — from nutrition and flavor to texture and chemical composition — this open approach encourages innovation across product categories, all leveraging the versatility of the dairy ecosystem. It also taps into two of California’s resources: an abundant supply of sustainably sourced California milk and the state’s entrepreneurial spirit.

"Real dairy provides a package of functional and practical benefits that’s hard to replicate,” said John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB. “We’re seeing an increase in unique products that leverage these benefits emerging in the market.

“By expanding the competition to all new dairy-based products versus a specific category, we’re creating more opportunity to make a meaningful difference in consumers' lives and in the utilization of milk from California’s family dairy farms,” he added. “With the Excelerator platforms we’ve established over the past four years, we will be able to support companies as they innovate and establish these products in the market."

As one of the biggest dairy competitions in the world, the program seeks early-stage, high-growth potential applicants with a 50% cow's milk-based product or working prototype, CMAB said.

Up to eight applicants will be selected to join the program. Each will have access to a group stipend and a robust network of resources to refine and scale their product and business. They will also participate in the CMAB/VentureFuel Mentorship Program, consisting of elite counsel from successful founders, investors, leading corporate executives and experts across design, marketing, sales, manufacturing, distribution, farming and processing industries, CMAB said.

VentureFuel is driving what’s next — now — in dairy innovation through its continued partnership with CMAB.

"Each year, we tap into our global network of investors, founders, academics and idea generators to maximize collective opportunities,” said Fred Schonenberg, founder of VentureFuel. “Innovation continues to accelerate in product volume and the speed from idea to market. Now we are matching the most promising companies with capital to be deployed intentionally, and with significant near-term, tangible impact.”

This year, for the first time, the odds of receiving an award are higher than ever, with up to four of the eight participants receiving $50,000 each to grow and expand their product in California, CMAB said. One of the participating companies will unlock an additional $100,000 grand prize by establishing its presence in California and exhibiting the most promising growth within the 12 months after the finals. The total value of all competition awards tallies in at half a million dollars.

More details, including competition rules, timeline and application, are available at The deadline to apply is July 17, 2022.