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accelerator official 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 so long that 50% of the product is of cow’s milk origin, be it a startup, Small to Medium Enterprise, researcher, student, public organization, consultant, engineering company, or a combination of these.

Employees of the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB), 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 final event in early November 2024. The business should be willing and ready to produce in California within 12 months. 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.


The applicant must have an innovative dairy product made with at least 50% dairy. These innovations may include, but are not limited to:

  • Beverages
  • Cheeses
  • Yogurts
  • Butter Products
  • Snacks
  • Ready-to-eat or instant meals
  • Dressings and Sauces
  • Confectionaries
  • Pet Products
  • Personal Care
  • Hair Care
  • Skin Care
  • Cosmetics
The applicants must meet the following criteria:
  • Real cow’s milk dairy origin ingredients must be at least 50% of the formula/product.
  • A commitment to sourcing all dairy ingredients from 100% California milk if the applicant wins one of four prizes.
  • Award recipients commit to putting the Real California Milk seal on winning products.

Award recipients 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. Award recipients will be expected to sign the State of California Standard Agreement. Award recipients 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 $500,000 worth of total value prizing to innovative 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 will select up to eight companies to participate in the program, up to four companies to receive $30,000 prizing, and one grand prize winner to receive $100,000 of marketing support.

Judging criteria may include:

  • 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 path to market in California and overall 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 that 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
  • 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 other international markets?
  • Customer Value – does product provide significant value for customers for which they are willing to pay, address a substantial market? Examples could include:
    • Packaging advantages (including ESL, UHT, sustainable packaging)
    • Sustainable practices, claims, upcycling of products, etc.
    • Unique nutritional profile for health and wellness
  • Regional Job Creation – does the business have potential for creation of jobs in California?
  • Team – What is the quality and completeness of the team and their readiness to deliver product to market.


A panel of judges will review all submitted applications and select up to eight (8) Excelerator participants. At the end of the program, companies in this cohort will each appoint a spokesperson from their team to pitch their business and plans to a live audience and panel of judges during the final in-person pitch event, which also will be streamed 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 and announce the top four companies, each to receive $30,000 of prize money.

One year after the finals, CMAB will select one business to receive a grand prize of $100,000 in additional marketing support. This company will be selected based on CMAB’s determination of which company is producing their product in California, are in-market with measurable sales within 12 months since the final event, and can leverage the prizing the most to grow, at its sole discretion.


The Real California Milk Excelerator competition will consist of an application, cohort selection, and a live pitch event. Between the cohort selection and the final pitch event will be business support and development work provided by CMAB and VentureFuel remotely for the selected companies. This support will include assistance with commercial video development, sales sheet creation, investor memo creation, consumer research, and elite mentorship from successful founders, investors, leading corporate executives, and experts across design, marketing, sales, manufacturing, distribution and processing.



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

  • $50,000 of group stipend prizing will be allocated to up to eight companies selected to be a part of the program.
    • This will be used specifically to finalize products for the Final Pitch event, including marketing services, time at labs, etc.
  • $150,000 of value is provided to the cohort 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).
  • $120,000 of prizing will be awarded to the top four companies, $30,000 each for launch and expansion support in California
    • Launch and expansion support are defined as costs associated with overcoming hurdles to producing the product in California. This includes but is not limited to:
      • Travel costs to identify and connect with California processors and/or co-packers, suppliers, etc.
      • Product trialing and production costs at California processors and/or co-packers producers (R&D trial support, material costs, line time/ changeover costs, sample shipping, testing, storing, etc.)
      • Marketing and branding costs to grow in California
    • 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 are 4 clear award recipients. In the event Judges are split, CMAB may elect, at its sole discretion, to distribute prizing across additional companies in the pool. Similarly, if CMAB decides that there are not 8 companies for the Excelerator cohort, they may opt to decrease the number of companies involved or if there are more than 8, reserve the right to expand the pool of companies at their sole discretion.
  • A grand prize of $100,000 worth of marketing support will be awarded to a single company showing the most potential.
    • One year after the finals, CMAB will select one business to receive additional marketing support.
    • This company will be selected based on CMAB’s determination of which company is producing their product in California, are in-market with measurable sales within 12 months since the final event, and can leverage the prizing the most to grow, at its sole discretion.
    • 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 winner specifically to support the products entered in the competition.

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 award recipients. 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 eight companies in the program will be able to request access to the pooled $50,000 of shared services, to be paid directly by CMAB to approved vendors and partners. These may include:
    • Production/Lab Time
    • Consumer Research
    • Marketing, Branding, Social Media Support
    • Mentor Services
    • Shipping of Samples
  • In addition to the services listed above, the four award recipients will receive services up to $30,000 each. These services will be paid directly by VentureFuel Inc. to approved vendors and partners or in the form of reimbursement for expenses that meet the guidelines for expansion and launch support in California. These may include:
      • Travel costs to identify and connect with California processors, suppliers, etc.
      • Product trialing and start-up production costs at California processors (R&D trial support, material costs, line time/ changeover costs, sample shipping, testing, storing, etc.)
      • Marketing and branding costs
  • Final winner selected one year after program closes will receive $100,000 of marketing support.
    • Marketing Support at product launch within the parameters allowed by CMAB as an Agricultural Marketing board (allowable marketing expenses are listed above)
  • All Award Recipient(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 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 brands 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 the cohort 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.