Chipotle’s New Accelerator Program Will Promote Sustainable Food Production

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May. 30 2019, Updated 4:14 p.m. ET

Chipotle is hoping to boost the brightest minds in farming and food recovery through a new accelerator program, which was just announced last week. The Chipotle Aluminaries Project will provide budding companies with coaching, bootcamp lessons, and plenty of burritos to help them scale their businesses for a wider audience.

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This new project is an extension of Chipotle’s charitable arm, the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation. The organization promotes regenerative agriculture practices and better farming techniques, making the new accelerator program a natural fit. But while the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation will sponsor the project, its nonprofit partner Uncharted will actually host and run it. 

Uncharted and Chipotle Cultivate will select eight applicants to join the seven-month-long project, focusing on companies in the fields of alternative farming, farming and agriculture technology, food waste and recovery, and plant and alternative products. Both non- and for-profit ventures are welcome to apply, but they’ll have to wait until September 12, when the submission process begins.

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“Chipotle has been committed to the future of food with integrity since opening our first restaurant 25 years ago,” Brian Niccol, the Chipotle CEO, said in a press release. “Since then, Chipotle and its Foundation have changed how customers and the industry think about food, which is part of our mission to cultivate a better world.

“By sponsoring the Chipotle Aluminaries Project, we’re looking to advance the work of the next generation of entrepreneurs who are disrupting the food landscape.”

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The project participants will attend a five-day bootcamp in Newport Beach, California, and receive formal mentorship from 3-4 food business experts over at least six months. Those mentors include Richard Blais, the cookbook author and season 8 winner of Top Chef All-Stars, and Kimbal Musk, the South African restaurateur and philanthropist who sits on the boards of Chipotle, Tesla, and SpaceX. (He’s also Elon’s brother.) 

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A number of Chipotle executives will also lend support, including Caitlin Leibert, the company’s director of sustainability.

“We want to move away from the traditional dollar-for-dollar [model] and look at how our money can best be used to springboard momentum and change,” Leibert told Forbes.

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In addition to all the advice, Chipotle will also provide the companies in its Aluminaries Project with lots of free food. The fast-food giant will cater monthly office lunches and award each participant a Chipotle celebrity card normally reserved for professional athletes and other public figures. This rewards card lets VIPs claim one free burrito per day.

Some of these companies could address a persistent problem for Chipotle. The business is still recovering from a wave of scandals, kickstarted by its 2015 E. coli crisis and continuing as recently as last month in Ohio, where an outbreak of foodborne illness led to 647 sick customers. Leibert told BuzzFeed News that while food safety will not be the focus of the accelerator program, “We anticipate that we could see some food safety ventures, no doubt.”

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Chipotle is encouraging prospective applicants to submit their email to Uncharted for updates as the September 12 opening draws closer. And while the Mexican food chain is targeting a few different industries, it’s mainly interested in disruptors who can improve the way we grow and consume food.

“Are you using technology to make an impact? Are you dreaming up the next sustainable food innovation?” Niccol said in the release. “If so, we want to support you and help share your story.”

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