IFT is proud to introduce its Food Disruption Challenge competition judges. Each brings a unique entrepreneurial perspective coupled with in-depth experience and understanding of the challenges and insights brining a new and innovative product to market can bring.

Jennifer Bentz

JENNIFER BENTZ - SVP of R&D, Innovation, and Insights for Tyson Foods, Inc.
As SVP of R&D, Innovation, and Insights for Tyson Foods, Inc., Jennifer Bentz is responsible for leading product & process development, consumer insights & strategy and the Tyson innovation lab.  She is also tasked with driving the company’s innovation agenda from discovery through development, as well as identifying, developing, and championing growth strategies that are grounded in deep consumer insight. Jennifer was previously vice president of insights & innovation for The Hillshire Brands Company before the company merged with Tyson Foods in August 2014. 

J Skyler

J. SKYLER FERNANDES - Managing Director of Investments, Cleveland Avenue
J. Skyler Fernandes is ranked as a Powerlist 100 VC and is the Managing Director of Investments at Cleveland Avenue (CA), a private equity and venture capital fund focused on restaurants, food, and beverage brands, and related technology.  Cleveland Avenue was co-founded by the former President and CEO of McDonald's and is an innovation platform that incubates, accelerates, and invests in the food industry through its three core pillars: a PE / VC fund, a consulting acceleration group, and an incubation lab for testing new concepts.  

Previously, Mr. Fernandes founded and was the Managing Director of Simon Venture Group (SVG), the venture capital arm of Simon Property Group, an S&P 100 company, and the largest retail real estate company in the world. SVG was ranked by CB Insights as a top 5 corporate venture group within retail alongside Google Ventures, Intel Capital, and Comcast Ventures and focuses on investing in retail technology, rising new brands, and internet of things for smart cities and buildings.

Lenny Lebovich

Lenny Lebovich is proud to be a Beef Geek™. But he didn’t start out that way. He was an investment banker by trade when he was asked to help expand one of Chicago’s oldest meat companies. This led to a realization: that the fresh food industry can operate in the same way other consumer products companies do—led by consumer data, insights and trends. For the beef industry, retail’s largest category, this is nothing short of a revolution.

Lebovich left to build the first consumer-driven fresh foods company from scratch. He traveled over 103,368 miles and did enough research to fill a library on his quest to find better tasting beef that’s better for you. Pre was established in 2012 with first product launch in 2015—and it’s been the fastest growing beef brand in the U.S. ever since.

John Ruff

JOHN RUFF - Past President, Institute of Food Technologists (2012-2013) and former SVP of Global Quality, Scientific Affairs and Nutrition, for Kraft Foods
John Ruff retired in 2008 as senior vice president, Global Quality, Scientific Affairs and Nutrition, for Kraft Foods. Prior to joining Kraft, Mr. Ruff was a technical brand manager for Procter & Gamble in England. During his 36-year career with Kraft and the former General Foods, Mr. Ruff worked in six countries and gained experience in product and process development for beverages, coffee, confectionery, desserts, and meals. He has led major basic research programs in sugar and salt substitutes, food safety initiatives, and “greenfield” site startups. Mr. Ruff headed research and development groups for both Kraft International and North American businesses where he successfully integrated the technical operations of numerous acquisitions, established global centers of expertise and led a worldwide advisory council consisting of external experts who helped guide Kraft’s health and wellness initiatives. 

Natalie Shmulik

NATALIE SHMULIK - CEO of The Hatchery, Chicago
Natalie Shmulik is the go to resource for everything food business related. Along with an M.L.A. in Gastronomy from Boston University, she has a wide range of experience working with supermarkets, consumer packaged goods companies and food service establishments including her own restaurant in Toronto, Canada. After successfully operating and selling her restaurant, Natalie was hired as a specialty consultant for one of Ontario’s largest supermarket chains, Longo’s. Here she introduced new programs to enhance consumer experiences through educational initiatives. Discovering her passion for innovation, Natalie decided to return to school to complete her Master’s Degree in Gastronomy at a program founded by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. Throughout her studies she also worked in cookbook publishing, marketing, and consulting for major foodservice establishments.

Natalie was hired on as a brand strategist for the first cold brew tea company, Evy Tea and later moved to Chicago, IL where she was hired to run a food business incubator and shared kitchen space in Evanston. Here she gained a keen understanding of both the food entrepreneur’s needs and the needs of incubation programs to ensure sustainability. Natalie was recently featured in Forbes and continues to play a valuable role in branding and marketing food businesses around the country, with her specialty in trend forecasting. She is now the CEO of The Hatchery- Chicago's premier food business incubator. 

Jagruti Bhikha

JAGRUTI BHIKHA - IFTNEXT Food Disruption Challenge Project Director
Jagruti Bhikha is collaborating with IFT on the launch of the first IFTNEXT Food Disruption Challenge competition. This innovation pitch competition will culminate with the crowning of the first Future Food Disruptor of the Year Award at IFT18 in Chicago on July 17. With her knowledge and experience in blockchain and cryptocurrency, Jagruti is also currently serving on the IFTNEXT Think Tank, which will help IFT identify future-forward topics and food related challenges facing our planet to help inform future IFTNEXT programming. In addition to her work with IFT, Jagruti is an angel investor, software engineer and co-founder of Wingpact, global community of investors and entrepreneurs whose vision is to create a more gender-inclusive world. She is also co-author of the book “Impact With Wings: Stories to Inspire and Mobilize Women Angel Investors and Entrepreneurs.” Jagruti is available for consulting and speaking opportunities in Food Science, Innovation, and Tech Diversity and Inclusion areas. 

Connect with Other Food Disruptors

Join the IFTNEXT Food Disruption Challenge's Facebook group to stay-up-to-date with competition information, meet and share insights other entrepreneurs, and be informed about competition developments.


Be sure to reference our helpful FAQ webpage. Should you have any further questions about the competition, please direct them to fooddisruption@ift.org

IFTNEXT is generously supported by Ingredion Incorporated, IFT’s IFTNEXT Platinum Innovation Sponsor.

Ingredion Incorporated