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  • Writer's pictureKevin May

#24 Meet the 2021 Innovation Fund Cohort - Part 1

Meet the founders of three of the companies in the Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste 2021 Innovation Fund Cohort.

Episode 24 Summary

In spring of 2021, The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation collaborated with Village Capital to help source, understand and unlock capital to support innovative solutions that prevent, recover and recycle food waste with the following mission.

“We seek to reshape the food system by supporting innovators who are elevating food to its highest use and disrupting the linear supply chain. This could include solutions such as imperfect produce lines, upcycled foods & meal kits, upcycled commercial ingredients and more.”

With nearly 150 companies applying, 10 were selected for the 2021 Innovation Fund cohort.

In this special Innovation Fund episode we meet the founders from three of the companies in the 2021 cohort, Yoni Medhin co-founder of Grain4Grain, Kayla Casteñda and Erin Pontell with Agua Bonita, and Crawford Hawkins with Husky Beverages.

Grain4Grain interview starts at 04:10

Agua Bonita interview starts at 23:35

Husky Beverages interview starts at 40:10

Learn more about The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation

Learn more about Village Capital:



Yoni Medhin


Yoni Medhin is the Co-Founder of Grain4Grain, a San Antonio based start-up that launched in December of 2018, which upcycles grains from micro- breweries, through a patent pending process, into a low carb, high protein flour. They also donate a portion of flour to food banks in the San Antonio region to alleviate food scarcity and provide families a healthy alternative to regular flour.

Yoni is a Denver native, whose parents immigrated from Ethiopia and Eritrea in the 1980s. Yoni graduated from the Colorado School of Mines in 2016 and previously worked for Hess Corporation as an engineer. Yoni serves at his local church in San Antonio through service opportunities and is an avid skier and hiker!

Follow Grain4Grain on Linkedin

Connect with Yoni on Linkedin

Follow Grain4Grain on Instagram


Kayla Casteñeda & Erin Pontell

Co-Founders - Agua Bonita

Agua Bonita makes ready-to-drink aguas frescas from upcycled produce, served in culturally inspired and recyclable cans.

Kayla grew up in central California, where the majority of the nation's produce is grown. She was the first generation of her family who didn't have to pick fruit in the fields. Growing up, her grandfather would bring home fruit and create delicious aguas frescas for every occasion. Now, as an adult, she wants to create the same delicious blends for everyone.

Erin grew up in Southern California. Her dad was adopted from Mexico as a child. As an adult, Erin tracked down and met her Mexican relatives for the first time. She's on a mission to learn more about her heritage, while simultaneously creating a beverage healthy enough to drink all day, every day - and give to her own child!

Follow Agua Bonita on Linkedin

Connect with Kayla on Linkedin

Connect with Erin on Linkedin

Follow Agua Bonita on Instagram


Crawford Hawkins

Husky Beverages

In 2019 after unwinding his hedge fund, Crawford lived on a coffee farm in Colombia, picking coffee and learning about the supply chain. His new venture merges 15 years of hedge fund investing experience with his passion for making a social impact. He spent more than 6 years at Elliott Management, a $38 billion global hedge fund. After Elliott, he managed a hedge fund strategy at Tiger Management.

He holds a B.S.C. from the University of Virginia and an M.B.A. from Columbia Business School. In addition to his work with Husky, he is writing a novel that is based on his travels throughout the world and his friendship with a famous Spanish actor and painter.

Follow Husky Beverages on Linkedin

Connect with Crawford on Linkedin

Follow Husky Beverages on Instagram


Meet all the companies in the 2021 Innovation Fund Cohort:

Watch for upcoming podcast special episodes featuring stories from each of these companies.

Hanford, CA

Agua Bonita makes ready-to-drink aguas frescas from upcycled produce, served in culturally inspired and recyclable cans. Learn More

San Antonio, TX

Grain4Grain uses patent pending technology to upcycle brewers spent grain into a low carb, high protein, high fiber flour. Learn More

West Palm Beach, FL

Husky Beverages features the healthy superfruit of coffee with a sparkling tea made from the “husk” of organic, upcycled coffee fruit. Learn More

Austin, TX

Journey Foods is a portfolio intelligence company that solves food science and supply chain inefficiencies with software to help companies direct more surplus food to those who need it.

Nyack, NY

Matriark Foods upcycles farm surplus and fresh-cut remnants into healthy affordable products for institutional foodservice, diverting wasted food from landfill while feeding communities healthy food. Learn More

Minneapolis, MN

NETZRO is a food tech platform for recovering industrial byproducts at scale that would otherwise be wasted into new upcycled ingredients. Learn More

Denver, CO

reBLEND is a line of frozen smoothie pops packed with fruits + veggies + superfoods and a bold mission to tackle food waste by re-harvesting produce that would typically be discarded.

Oakland, CA

Renewal Mill upcycles byproducts from food manufacturing into superfood ingredients and premium, plant-based pantry staples. Learn More

Portland, OR

Take Two is a plant-based food company that creates second chances by using Rejuvenated Barley™, upcycled spent grain from beer production, to craft our products, including a line of nutritious barley milks. Learn More

New York, NY

The Spare Food Co. is an upcycled food tech platform that creates foods and drinks using overlooked and unused ingredients sourced from growers and food processors.


Special thanks to our Sponsors and Production Team:


Upcycled Food Association -

Produced by Hi-Fly'n Productions

Executive Producer | Host: Kevin May

Associate Producer: Ashley Brown

Creative Development: Sue Marshall

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