Agricycle Global, a Milwaukee startup and social enterprise, has closed a $1.5 million funding round to finance additional manufacturing of its zero-electricity dehydrators that make fruit products.
The round was led by MaSa Partners. Other investors participating in the round include Milwaukee’s BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation, which invested $150,000, Madison-based Wisconsin Investment Partners, Connetic Ventures and a few independent angels, said co-founder and CEO Josh Shefner.
The startup also recently won $10,000 for winning first place at the WERCBench Labs Accelerator Demo Day. WERCBench Labs is an energy industry-based accelerator produced by the Midwest Energy Research Consortium in Milwaukee.
Each business accepted to WERCBench receives a $20,000 grant and a $20,000 royalty-based financing loan funded by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
Agricycle’s solar dehydrators dry natural fruit from over 35,000 rural farmers to create shelf-stable snacks. The company makes food products that are upcycled from byproducts of those foods to eliminate food waste, Shefner said.
Agricycle co-founder Claire Friona created the dehydrator as part of a class at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. The solar-powered dehydrators are manufactured in Elkhorn, Wisc., and shipped overseas. Five hundred of the dehydrators have been made so far.
In addition to product development, the company is also applying the newly-raised funds toward its purchasing inventory, payroll and launching food brands. The company recently launched its first marketed brand, Jali Fruit Co., which are sun-dried fruits grown by women farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean.
Jali is a West African word that means musical storyteller, Shefner said.
“The word jali is important to us because we are storytellers for the women farmers behind each bag of their fruit,” he said. “Each bag from Jali Fruit Co. is individually labeled with a ‘Find My Farm’ QR code that tells the story of the farmers who grew the fruit, the women who dried it and the trees it came from.”
Within the next 45 days, Agricycle will launch two more brands—Tropical Ignition, a fully sustainable grilling charcoal made from fruit pieces, and What the Fruit?!., an alternative fruit flour.
“Back when this was a college project, we had the mission of helping just one community,” Shefner said. “Now, we’re an everyday part of so many women’s lives. We never thought that dried fruits would be our calling but our mission got us to where we are today, and I’m so happy to literally share the fruits of our amazing women farmers with the rest of the world and create a better tomorrow.”