2021 Pitch Slam Judges


McConnell Smith – Partner at VMG Partners

McConnell is a partner at VMG Partners, a growth equity fund that focuses on partnering with high-growth, entrepreneurial consumer brands. McConnell has experience across a number of VMG’s investments in the food, beverage, personal care, pet, and wellness categories, working closely with and advising the teams at Nutpods, Quest Nutrition, Sun Bum, Hello Bello, Justin’s, Solid Gold, and Vermont Smoke & Cure.

McConnell has spent his entire career working with emerging consumer brands. Before joining VMG, he was a member of the consumer groups at Piper Sandler & Co. and KeyBanc Capital Markets. Prior to that, he spent time in the operations finance group at L’Oreal.



John Foraker – Partner, Co-founder and CEO of Once Upon A Farm

John is the Co-founder and CEO of Once Upon A Farm, a company with the mission of providing yummy and nutritious “farm-to-family” foods to kids of all ages.

Prior to his new start-up, John spent more than 30 years in the natural and organic food industry running businesses with a sharp focus on sustainability and social responsibility.

John was the longtime leader of Annie’s, Inc., a leading natural & organic food brand, in the US from 1999 to 2017. As CEO of Annie’s, he took the company public in 2012 under the symbol BNNY before General Mills acquired the business in 2014 for $820 million. Foraker received a B.S. in agricultural economics from UC Davis and an MBA from UC Berkeley.


Robyn Rutledge – Founder & CEO of SBG Growth

Robyn Rutledge’s nearly two-decade-long career in finance and investing has been concentrated in the consumer industry, with a focus on food, beverage, and wellness-oriented companies. Robyn is the Founder & CEO of SBG Growth, a consumer-focused investment and advisory business. Through SBG, Robyn invests directly in consumer-facing businesses, often serving on the Board of Directors and as a regular advisor to the leadership team. Robyn also currently advises investment firms, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders on the consumer market landscape.

Under the SBG umbrella, Robyn has also been serving a leadership role in CALM, an innovative startup backed by the University of California, which seeks to marry best-in-class consumer engagement, healthcare and technology. Prior to launching SBG, Robyn spent close to a decade with TSG Consumer Partners, a leading investment firm, where she was a Managing Director and Partner and subsequently an Operating Partner. Prior to TSG, Robyn was a member of the investment team at Thoma Cressey (now Thoma Bravo), and prior to that, worked in M&A at Goldman Sachs in New York.

Robyn was born and raised in Canada and received a Bachelor of Commerce with First Class Honors from Queen’s University in Kingston. She subsequently earned an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, where she was an Arjay Miller Scholar. Robyn is a passionate believer in life-long learning and is pleased to have been part of the The Food Business School’s formation team at the Culinary Institute of America.


Karen Ivanis-Rogers – Director of Business Ventures for Albertsons

Karen spent most of her career in Big CPG in Sales, Customer Marketing and Strategy roles. She has a passion for identifying new brands for the Albertson‘s portfolio and strategically partnering with them to grow quickly in their stores and beyond. She lives in the Oakland Hills with her husband and dog Lily.



Chris Robb – Sr. Account Executive for Dirty Hands, LLC

Chris Robb is a brand strategist and entrepreneur in the North American natural food industry. Chris is currently working as Sr. Account Executive for Dirty Hands, LLC, a national sales and merchandising company specializing in store-level execution for the highest velocity brands in premium natural food retail.

Chris has also co-founded multiple ventures including New Barn Organics in 2014, a leader in the plant-based movement with top-selling SKU in the organic almond milk category. Chris advises multiple early-stage food entrepreneurs and is also an advisor for ICA Fund Good Jobs and Endeavor Detroit.