The Rules




The Real California Milk Excelerator is a competition open to any persons who, as of date of entry, (i) are legal residents of one of the fifty (50) United States or the District of Columbia, (ii) are at least eighteen (18) years of age or older (or the age of majority in their state of residence if greater than eighteen (18), whichever age is older), who have a promising cow’s milk product or concept that aids in performance or recovery, be it a start-up, Small to Medium Enterprise, researcher, student, public organization, consultant, engineering company, a combination of these. Employees of the California Milk Advisory Board and its Board Members, and members of the immediate family of any such persons, are not eligible to participate and win through any entity or otherwise. The term “immediate family” includes spouses, siblings, parents, children, grandparents, and grandchildren, whether as “in-laws,” or by current or past marriage(s), remarriage(s), adoption, co-habitation or other family extension, and any other persons residing at the same household whether or not related.

To be eligible, an applicant must meet the following criteria for being “early stage” for the product being submitted by the applicant or organization: The product is pre-revenue or early revenue (less than $1,000,000 of domestic US Sales in the product’s lifetime). A safe, working prototype of the product must be ready for judges to sample by the semi-finals. If the product is new or a spin-off from an existing business and the product meets the above criteria, it will also be eligible. Please note, if an idea is too early to meet these requirements, it is still eligible for the Real California Incubator Boot Camp (details below).



The applicant must have an innovative dairy product that aids in performance and/or recovery for public consumption (either consumed, applied or other). These innovations may include, but are not limited to:

  • General Nutrient/Health Improvements.
  • Sleep Aid.
  • Focus, Concentration.
  • Digestive Health.
  • Protein Supplements.
  • Strength Improvement of Muscles, Bones.
  • Hydration.
  • Environmentally Conscious or Sustainability Innovations.
  • Offer new and/or improved methods for producing, preparing, and packaging food and beverage products or ingredients.
  • Represent high-growth opportunities for new and innovative food and beverage products or ingredients.

The applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Be focused on Performance and/or Recovery.
  • Real cow’s milk dairy must be at least 50% of the formula.
  • All dairy ingredients must be from 100% California milk.
  • Products for the Finals will carry the Real California Milk Seal and 1st and 2nd prize Winners commit to putting the Real California Milk Seal on winning products.

Place Finalists must commit to producing 100% of their product within California and with Real California Milk (fluid milk or other dairy products/ingredients) for a period of 24 months and must conduct business in the state of California. Finalists will be expected to sign the State of California Standard Agreement. Finalist must establish primary manufacturing or co-manufacturing facility within the State of California.

If applicant is unsure about eligibility to enter the Competition, they may contact before submitting an entry.



A panel of judges will award up to $650,000 worth of total value prizing to innovative Performance and Recovery products made with dairy, based upon which entries best meet the assessment criteria, as set out below. Decisions made by the jury are final and no correspondence will be entered into. The composition of the jury may vary, and judges may select more than one grand prize winner or award only one grand prize winner depending upon quality of semi-finalists. Judging criteria includes:

  • Uniqueness & Innovation – is there anything like this in the market? How innovative is it? If it won, would the product reinforce California as the global leader in Dairy Innovation?
  • Viability and Growth Potential – does the product have a viable business model and commercial potential? Generation of revenue and maintenance of a cost structure that allows for a competitive and sustainable business that includes:
    • The need the product addresses or problem that it solves for.
    • Product market fit.
    • Does it meet a commercial need they will demand shelf-space from retailers?
    • Competition and point of differentiation.
    • Marketing – who is the consumer target – mom, kids, millennials, GenZ – and how will you win over your audience?
    • Product name
  • Validation of Health Claims – can this deliver the benefits described and can those claims be made on product labels?
  • Taste/Likeability/Consumer Friendliness: do consumers and judges like it?
  • Global Scalability - does the product work regionally and nationally in the US, as well as have potential to export to Asia, Mexico and internationally?
  • Customer Value – Provision of significant value for customers for which they are willing to pay, addressing a substantial market.
  • Regional Job Creation – Potential for creation of jobs in California.
  • Team – Quality and completeness of the team and their readiness to deliver product to market.
  • Packaging – Will the product have packaging advantages, including ESL (Extended Shelf Life), UHT (Ultra high Temperature) / aseptic, to also work in Asia and/or Mexico? Special consideration will be given to any sustainable packaging options, like biodegradable.


A panel of judges will review all submitted applications and select up to twelve (12) semi-finalists. Those semi-finalists will appoint a spokesperson from their team to pitch their business and plans to a live audience and panel of judges during the semi-final and final pitch competition events, to be held virtually. Each pitch will be followed by a brief question period for judges to seek more information to which the presenter will answer to the best of their ability. After all pitches are completed, the judges will determine the winners, considering input from the previous judging round, and winners will be announced.



The Real California Milk Excelerator competition will consist of an application, an online semifinalist selection, (4) semi-final virtual pitch events, (1) live pitch Final and (1) Investor/Buyer Virtual Roadshow event. In between the semi-final selection and the semi-final virtual pitch events will be business support and development work provided by CMAB and VentureFuel remotely for the selected semi-finalists. This support will include assistance on video commercial development, sales sheet creation, investor memo creation, consumer research as well as elite mentorship from successful founders, investors, leading corporate executives, and experts across design, marketing, sales, manufacturing, distribution, farming, and processing.


ENTRY SUBMISSION PERIOD May 10, 2021 June 25, 2021
STIPENDS, MENTORING, LAB TIME July 27, 2021 October 7
INCUBATOR BOOT CAMP August 12, 2021 August 20, 2021
SEMI-FINAL EVENTS (VIRTUAL) October 26, 2021 October 27, 2021
INVESTOR/BUYER EVENT  November 15, 2021  
FINAL EVENT (VIRTUAL) November 18, 2021  
WINNERS ANNOUNCED November 18, 2021  



Applicants will be eligible to compete to receive the following Awards:

  • $120,000 of prizing will be allocated to up to twelve (12) Semi-Finalists selected, with each receiving $10,000 worth of services prior to the Final Pitch Event.
    • This will be used specifically to finalize products for the Semi-Final and Final Pitch event including marketing services, time at labs, etc.
  • $80,000 of prizing will be allocated for the twelve (12) Semi-Finalists selected as group resources and bulk services to be shared (determined by CMAB/VentureFuel).
    • This will be used specifically for group resources and bulk services including video commercial development, sales sheet creation, investor memo creation, consumer research, shipping of samples, etc.
  • $150,000 of value is provided to the Semi-Finalists selected as they will be entered into the CMAB/VentureFuel Mentor Program.
    • This includes elite mentorship from successful founders, investors, leading corporate executives, and experts across design, marketing, sales, manufacturing, distribution, farming, and processing (valued at $150,000).
  • $50,000 of value is provided to up to (3) pre-product, pre-revenue companies that will be selected for the Real California Milk Incubator Boot Camp.
    • This will include the ability to listen in to the CMAB/VentureFuel Mentor Program (above) as well as one-on-one meetings with executives at CMAB, VentureFuel and the California Dairy Innovation Center to review products, advise on position, sales pitch materials, introductions to food labs, nutritionists and access to CMAB/VentureFuel startup resources (valued at $50,000).
  • $250,000 worth of marketing support will be awarded to the winners.
    • $150,000 of marketing support for 1st place
    • $100,000 of marketing support for 2nd place
    • Marketing support is defined as some combination of on-pack, instant redeemable coupons, digital coupons, product sampling, in-store signage / marketing. This will be awarded to the winners specifically to support the products entered in the competition.
    • Additionally, CMAB will provide launch support such as providing trade contacts, category sales reports and Real California Milk selling materials.
  • Please note that Judges will determine if there is a clear 1st place and 2nd place winner. In the event Judges are split, CMAB may elect, at its sole discretion, to distribute prizing across multiple winners from the Semi-Finalist pool. Similarly, if CMAB decides that there are not 12 worthy semi-finalists, they may opt to decrease the number of companies involved, or if there are more than 12, reserve the right to expand the pool of companies at their sole discretion.
The number of Awards is subject to change at the discretion of the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB, the “Administrator”), based on the number of applicants, quality of applications received, involvement and commitment by selected finalists. All recipients of an Award (each, a “Recipient”) will receive mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs and access to business acceleration and incubation support during the period of the Award. Awards are contingent upon and only issued subject to execution of an Award Agreement in the form provided by the Administrator, which will include, but not be limited to, the following provisions:
  • Reimbursement of Awards
  • Each of the twelve (12) Semi-Finalists selected will be awarded up to $10,000 worth of services, to be paid directly by CMAB to approved vendors and partners. These may include:
    • Production/Lab Time
    • Consumer Research
    • Marketing, Branding, Social Media
    • Mentor Services
    • Shipping of Samples
  • In addition to the services listed above, the first-place winner will receive services up to $150,000 and the second-place winner will receive services up to $100,000. These services will be paid directly by CMAB to approved vendors and partners. These may include:
    • Marketing Support at product launch within the parameters allowed by CMAB as an Agricultural Marketing board (allowable marketing expenses are listed above)
  • Winner(s) must meet the requirements in the Location & Dairy section above. If at any time they fail to meet such requirements, prizes will be rescinded and awarded to the next runner-up, at the discretion of the Administrator.
  • The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) reserves the right to terminate or rescind finalist status or any award for behavior that reflects negatively on the CMAB and/or the California dairy farming community, including racist and/or hate speech.
  • The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) is an instrumentality of the California Department of Food and Agriculture and is conducting this event to create opportunities for the growth of California fluid milk and dairy products. This contest will be conducted without the use of specific brand or trade names. While applicants may name the product idea or concept, existing brand or trade names are not allowed.



By submitting an application, the applicant agrees to the terms of the CMAB privacy policy. Access to the applications is granted to the Administrator and its designees (including, but not limited to, the Committee and Finals Judging Panel) for the purposes of review and judging (collectively, the “Reviewing Parties”). The Administrator, for itself and on behalf of the Reviewing Parties, offers and makes no guarantee of confidentiality, either explicit or implicit, in connection with any data or information presented or discussed by applicants, whether in the application or otherwise throughout the Competition. Applicants should confirm with appropriate advisors and legal counsel that any intellectual property described or disclosed in an application is held by the applicant and appropriately protected before the application is submitted, but this does not guarantee nondisclosure by the CMAB if the CMAB is compelled to release documentation of the intellectual property by applicable law. Applicants should mark all trade secrets as “confidential trade secret,” recognizing that this precaution does not guarantee nondisclosure, but rather it assists the CMAB in claiming an exemption from release should the documents be requested via the California Public Records Act. Applicants should be prepared to provide reasonable back-up documentation for these statements, if requested by the Administrator. The authors of each applicant submission will retain all copyrights to the contents of their submission, provided that the Reviewing Parties may make photocopies, photographs, and video and/or audio recordings of any data or information divulged, presented, or discussed by any applicant throughout that applicant’s participation in the Competition. By submitting an application for the Competition, applicants agree to and hereby grant a license to the Administrator and the Reviewing Parties to use and reproduce such materials without restriction and without compensation and to conduct such due diligence as the Reviewing Parties determine is necessary or desirable for purposes of evaluating the application and carrying out the Competition as described herein. In addition, applicant agrees, for itself and each of its principals and officers, that the Administrator and its assigns will have the perpetual right to publicly post and reproduce certain information about finalists and winners of Awards, including, but not limited to names of participating individuals, photographs, videos, category of business, logo and other marks, and an abstract (collectively, “Materials”) on the public areas of the Reviewing Parties’ websites, media sites and through other means, all without compensation. The Administrator and its assigns will also have the perpetual right to use the Materials for research, educational, advertising, promotional, not-for-profit and other similar purposes.

Deadline to apply is:

Midnight EST on June 25, 2021