Product, Service & Design Innovation
2022 Ray of Hope Prize Winners Offer Biomimetic Solutions to Fresh Food Waste, Surface Finishing

The Biomimicry Institute has chosen India’s GreenPod Labs and Germany’s Fusion Bionic as 2022’s top biomimicry startups, from a pool of over 200 applicants from 54 countries.

Today, the Biomimicry Institute awarded the 2022 Ray of Hope Prize® to GreenPod Labs — an India-based agtech startup focused on tackling food loss problems in developing countries. By learning how fruits and vegetables naturally resist pest and fungal pathogens, GreenPod Labs showcases how learning from nature can solve both climate and societal problems. As the 2022 Ray of Hope Prize recipient, GreenPod Labs will receive $100,000 in support of its groundbreaking work.

About a third of all food produced worldwide goes to waste; and in countries like India, much of that waste occurs on the farm or during storage and transport of the food. GreenPod Labs’ food-preservation technology works without the need for cold storage by integrating a deep understanding of crop physiology, effectively communicating with crops to activate their built-in defense mechanisms, and can extend the shelf life of fresh fruits and vegetables by 40-60 percent at ambient temperature and conditions.

“We are proud to support GreenPod Labs as the 2022 recipient of the Ray of Hope Prize for their work to eliminate post-harvest food loss,” said Jared Yarnall-Schane, Innovation Director at the Biomimicry Institute. “Project Drawdown cites reducing food waste as one of the most impactful things we can do to lower the amount of CO2 produced, while at the same time ensuring better livelihoods and nutrition for people around the world. We are inspired by GreenPod Labs' biomimetic approach to solving such a critical issue."

The GreenPod team consists of 17 innovators passionate about solving the food waste and loss problem, with over 30 years of combined research and operational experience in agriculture and food biotechnology. When plants get infected by abiotic or biotic stress, they release unique volatile compounds that act as signal molecules to activate the defense mechanism in the neighboring plant to protect itself. Each plant has a unique composition of these compounds for different stresses; and the biomimicry behind GreenPod Labs’ solution replicates the unique volatile fingerprint for each crop to protect the fruits and vegetables after harvest.

GreenPod’s technology also helps improve farmer wellbeing and livelihoods by ensuring greater longevity and consistency of their produce, which in turn enables them to command higher, fairer prices — and even helps them expand to new markets and retailers without the need for cold storage during transport.

“What won me over is that their nature-inspired solution not only minimizes food waste — it also improves the health and financial wellbeing of thousands of farmers across India while conserving freshwater and mitigating carbon loss,” said Andrew Courtney, Deputy Chief Science & Innovation Officer and VP of Programs at the National Geographic Society, and one of this year’s judges. “This is a powerful business, conservation and human story that is achieved through a seemingly simple innovation.”

GreenPod Labs has commercially launched three products so far in India, working with over 150 customers. The Biomimicry Institute says the company’s ability to uniquely target specific plants, its cost-effective and easy-to-adopt approach, and plant-based chemistry set them apart from competitors. In the coming months, 12 different products for crops will be developed, and funding from this year’s Prize will help the company further develop its innovative solution.

Fusion Bionic's anti-fogging coating | Image credit: Fusion Bionic

This year’s second-place winner is Germany's Fusion Bionic, which has developed a cutting-edge laser technology capable of integrating biomimetic micro and nanostructures on a variety of material surfaces. Today's surface-finishing technologies rely largely on ecologically harmful manufacturing processes such as chemical etching (e.g. consumer electronics), sand blasting (e.g. medical), and coating solutions (e.g photovoltaics). Fusion Bionic’s Direct Laser Interference Patterning (DLIP) technology enables the application of functional surface-texture solutions inspired by natural surface structures such as those found on lotus leaves, shark skin, collembola, morpho butterfly and moth eyes — which allows for advanced surface features such as self-cleaning, anti-icing, anti-fogging, antibacterial, improved absorption, decoration, noise or drag reduction and more without the toxic or polluting elements. As runner-up, Fusion Bionic is awarded $25,000 to support its novel solution.

The Ray of Hope Prize, created in honor of the late sustainable business pioneer Ray C. Anderson, is awarded each year to the world’s top nature-inspired startup after 10 finalist teams conclude a 10-week accelerator program. This year, GreenPod Labs, Fusion Bionic and eight other participating companies were selected from a pool of 212 applications from 54 different countries. The finalists and recipients were chosen from an expert judging panel — which included trusted experts in the field of biomimicry, industry, and entrepreneurship. All program participants learned about sustainable business practices, met with industry and startup mentors, refined their scientific communication skills, and were invited to an immersive retreat in the California Redwoods to reconnect with the natural world and bond with their fellow bio-inspired innovators.

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