Real California Milk Excelerator cohort announced

The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) in partnership with innovation advisory VentureFuel, announced the eight finalists selected to participate in the 5th Real California Milk Excelerator competition – the search to identify, curate, and accelerate the very best dairy-based products that introduce novel benefits and drive use of California milk and dairy in formulations.

The largest global dairy accelerator, this year’s Open Innovation theme attracted applications from five countries, all with a goal of securing a spot as one of this year’s participants in the three-month programme that provides access to non-dilutive funding, mentors, investors and buyers, and the CMAB’s specialised network of resources. The cohort represents themes of global flavours, functional benefits, and sustainability from upcycling byproducts of dairy production to packaging from renewable sources – all made with at least 50% real dairy.

The eight members of the 2023 Real California Milk Excelerator cohort and their products are:

  1. Arbo’s Queso Dip (Memphis, Tenn.) – Gluten-free, keto-friendly queso-style cheese dips for retail.
  2. The Empanada Shop (Redondo Beach, Calif.) – Empanadas combining golden, flaky crust, creamy, melted cheese and a fusion of Latin American tradition and California flavors for retail and foodservice.
  3. New Alchemy Distilling (El Doradao Hills, Calif.) – A distillery making Spilt clarified milk punch cocktails in a can made with natural ingredients, zero stabilizers and upcycled whey from cheesemaking.
  4. Amazing Ice Creams (Stockton, Calif.) – Cookie Wild cookie wafer ice cream bar novelties enrobed in chocolate to stay crunchy.
  5. Noorysha Yo-Gut (Los Angeles, Calif.) – Specialty probiotic dairy product designed to support gut health.
  6. Petit Pot (Emeryville, Calif.) – French-style dairy desserts in paper-based cups made with >80% stainable/renewable fiber.
  7. Shakewell (Garden Grove, Calif.) – Fresh high protein drink made with five ingredients, including upcycled whey.
  8. WonderCow Nutrition (Valencia, Calif.) – All-natural bovine colostrum powder supplement that promotes immunity, muscle recovery and gut health.

“The Open Innovation theme is exciting because of the variety of applications we received, and the myriad of ways start-ups and established brands are innovating with real milk and dairy ingredients,” said John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB. “We continue to see themes of global flavours and ingredients, a focus on sustainable sourcing and packaging, and products that go deep on the functional benefits inherent in dairy to address specific consumer needs from protein to gut health. Each member of the cohort brings something new and exciting to the marketplace and we’re looking forward to supporting their journey and ultimately seeing these products in the market with the Real California Milk seal.”

These eight participants 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. Past mentors have included venture capitalists, successful entrepreneurs, and executives from organisations such as Unilever, UNFI and Mondelez.

The cohort will present their companies and products at a live pitch event on 16 November, where four of the eight participants will each receive USD$30,000 to grow and expand their product in California and gain access to an Investor/Buyer Virtual Roadshow. One participating company will unlock an additional $100,000 grand prize by establishing their presence in California and exhibiting the most promising growth within 12 months of the final competition. Total prize and programme value is $500,000 (€460,000).

Over the past four years, the Real California Milk Excelerator has worked with more than 45 start-ups across numerous categories including food, beverage, direct-to-consumer platforms, textiles and personal care. Representing nearly 40% of states across the US, programme alumni have gone from idea to distribution with organizations such as UNFI and KeHE; and many can now be found on the shelves of retailers like Walmart, Safeway, Kroger, Amazon, and Whole Foods.

Details about the 2023 cohort, mentors and the final pitch event are available at

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