Meet The Winners of the Elevating Dreams, Erasing Divides Coffee Pitch Event


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Photos by Ronald Muhammad of Requisite Photo

Amid the energetic backdrop of the annual Specialty Coffee Expo, the Elevating Dreams Erasing Divides event, held April 12th at the Chicago-based food incubator The Hatchery, provided a platform for coffee entrepreneurs to present new and exciting ideas to move the industry forward.

The event, hosted by Melissa Villanueva of Brewpoint Coffee and Michelle Johnson of Ghost Town Oats, featured five entrepreneurs pitching a panel of judges and an audience of enthusiastic coffee pros on their business model.

Ricardo Garcia of Coffee Kreis, a reusable cup made from upcycled coffee waste, won and took home the $1500 prize.

“Each of our contestants brought something different to the table,” Villaneuva said. “Our judges had to weigh strengths and areas of growth based on each business’s current position and its potential within our industry.”

Ricardo Garcia of Coffee Kreis won first place, impressing everyone with his clever use of ground coffee waste to produce reusable coffee cups. “We try to tackle two problems, single-use plastics and excessive coffee waste by finding alternative solutions to both,” said Garcia.

“This motivates us to keep working hard, innovating and creating functional solutions to not only the coffee industry, but also many different industries.”

Around the world, 300 billion disposable coffee cups—mostly made of paper, plastic, and styrofoam—are thrown away yearly. By creating a reusable cup made up to 30% from upcycled coffee ground waste, Coffee Kreis aims to shrink that number while also minimizing the amount of ground coffee waste that ends up in landfills.

Matt Lancor of Yose Coffee won second place (and a $500 prize) with his idea, a single-serve coffee packaged in edible, plant-based wrappings that dissolve in hot water, eliminating packaging waste.

Along with Garcia and Lancor, the judges heard pitches from:

  • Jasper Nord with Spore Cycle, a startup that grows fungi in coffee ground waste
  • Darina Onoprienko of Agrivero AI-tech, an AI-enabled green coffee grading device
  • Dan Hyatt from Atomo Coffee, a plant-based alternative to grown and roasted coffee

“Both winners impressed the judges during the Q&A period, giving them the edge,” Villaneuva said. They also “had a strong focus on environmental sustainability, which is necessary for our collective future.”

Although the event was built around a competition, the atmosphere was collaborative and optimistic. Despite entrepreneurs vying for one of two cash prizes, the collective enthusiasm and commitment to sustainability from all contestants, judges, and attendees signaled a win for the entire coffee industry.

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    Garrett Oden

    Garrett Oden is the owner of Fresh Cup, a coffee industry publication for professionals, and Alimentous Studio, a content and copywriting agency for coffee, F&B, and food tech businesses.

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