Chipotle announced the launch of an accelerator program today designed to find new and innovative companies in the food and farming space, primarily ones that focus on technology-focused solutions to problems in the agriculture industry. The program, called the Chipotle Aluminaries Project and sponsored by the company’s foundation, will last seven months and fund growth-stage companies “with a shared vision to cultivate a better world.”
“Chipotle has been committed to the future of food with integrity since opening our first restaurant 25 years ago,” said Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol in a statement. Niccol joined the company in February from Taco Bell, where he helped architect the fast food chain’s resurgence over the last decade. “By sponsoring the Chipotle Aluminaries Project, we’re looking to advance the work of the next generation of entrepreneurs who are disrupting the food landscape,” Niccol added.
Chipotle is looking for non- and for-profit ventures to join the program, and its working with Uncharted, a non-profit partner that will help Chipotle host the program and select its first eight participants. Entrepreneur and restaurant owner Kimbal Musk, the brother of SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk and a board member of Chipotle, will be one of the mentors alongside Top Chef star Richard Blais. According to BuzzFeed, Chipotle’s foundation is investing $200,000 into the program, and the company said it’s open to acquiring any of the participating ventures or in some way integrate their technology into its existing supply chain.
For Chipotle, it’s not clear how the accelerator program will help its ongoing issues, including declining popularity and an repeated food safety crises — the most of recent of which occurred in Ohio last week — that’s crippled the companies sales and stock price since its 2015 high. Chipotle’s Caitlin Leibert, its director of sustainability, told BuzzFeed that it anticipates seeing at least some applicants for the program that are focused on food safety, but that it’s not a core focus. It’s also a possibility that investing in technology could help Chipotle rethink solutions to problems that eventually lead to food safety issues, like more sustainable agriculture practices and plant-based foods that are more resistant to bacteria.