DECATUR – Could the Decatur area become the “Silicon Valley” of food innovation?

That’s how high the partners are aiming after coming together Tuesday for Round One of a first-ever Food Innovation Challenge, pairing 10 small businesses from around the Midwest with local mentors in a competition for $100,000 in cash and services for the winning idea.

The cash comes from Archer Daniels Midland Co. and the services from National Foodworks Services, which opened eight weeks ago with ADM’s support, to assist entrepreneurs start or expand food-based businesses.

Ryan McCrady, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County, said the city has a history of innovation and is uniquely positioned as a Midwest Inland Port to help businesses get their products to market faster.

“We believe, selfishly, that we can get you to your customers faster than any place in the Midwest,” he said. “We can get to nearly a third of the country’s population in a one-day truck drive from Decatur.”

McCrady was among several speakers during an opening session at Millikin University’s Richards Treat University Center to introduce the semi-finalists to their mentors.

The day for the newly linked partners also included tours of Millikin’s campus, ADM’s James R. Randall Research Center and North American corporate headquarters, National Foodworks and Richland Community College’s Culinary Arts Center.

The semifinalists, selected from about 50 applicants, return to Decatur Aug. 9 to present their concepts and business plans and be narrowed down to three finalists, whose placement in the contest will be announced at an awards dinner Aug. 11.

The semifinalist companies, their representatives, their product and their technical and business mentors, by food category, are:

Read the full article here