Both the Biomimicry Institute and Net Impact launched food-focused competitions earlier this year, seeking innovative ideas for new products or services. This week, the winners of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge and Forward Food Competition were announced.
Hundreds of students and professionals looked to nature to create design solutions that can help fix the broken food system, resulting in 86 submissions from 18 countries for the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. The judges – a group of 50 biologists, business leaders, venture capitalists, and specialists in biomimicry and agriculture – selected 10 winning teams to receive cash prizes: three in the student category, and seven in the open category.
A team of six high school girls from Ontario, Canada captured first prize in the student category by looking to organisms that can survive in water-scarce regions – including the Socotra desert rose, lichen, and the fogstand beetle – for inspiration for their design, a water-capture device known as ‘Stillæ.’
The open category winners will each receive $2,000 and are invited to enter the 2016-17 Biomimicry Accelerator, which culminates in the $100,000 Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ray of Hope Prize. Their innovations include:
- ANSA (Autonomous Nutrient Supply Alternative) (UC San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA), a photosynthetic membrane to extract more nutrients from compost by mimicking bacteria;
- Slant (Santiago, Chile), an app that emulates how ants communicate to help reduce food waste;
- NexLoop (New York City, NY, USA), a device that makes it possible for city dwellers to capture, store, and distribute rainwater for hyperlocal food production;
- Happy Soil (Woodland, CA, USA), a biomimetic soil replenishment product embedded with dried mycorrhizae (fungi) that increases water retention and suppresses nearly 100 percent of weeds while encouraging desired crop growth;
- Concept (non)Restaurant (London, UK), a meta-project that aims to shift attitudes about food waste and our disposable culture using natural models as inspiration;
- GetFresh (Baltimore, MD, USA), an organization which sources excess produce from local farmers, partners with a culinary job training program to turn the ingredients into nutritious meals, and sells the meals in corner stores across Baltimore; and
- B-all (Bogota, Columbia), an edible food packaging system inspired by the protective functions of beetles and fruits like pittosporum undulatum, with a double peel coating.
“This year’s group of finalists for the Ray of Hope Prize are incredibly diverse,” said John Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. “Each team’s design focuses on a different challenge in our broader food system, emphasizing two realities. First, opportunities for innovation are abundant throughout that system. Second, biomimicry is the right design tool to bring these innovations to life.”
The upcoming accelerator program will be the second one the Biomimicry Institute has run as part of the annual competition. Currently, the first accelerator teams are finalizing their prototypes and business plans in preparation for the Ray of Hope Prize award event, to be held at the 2016 National Bioneers Conference in San Rafael, CA on October 22.
“This is our first cohort of finalists to produce working prototypes, which makes them trailblazers,” said Beth Rattner, executive director of the Biomimicry Institute. “Doing biomimicry is hard, submitting practical and inspired design concepts is far harder, and making them actually work and solve the problem is extraordinary. We are immensely proud of these teams and I believe we will being seeing at least a few of them make it all the way to market.”
A new round of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge – and another opportunity for teams to join and compete for the $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize – will open in October and will focus on climate change.
Meanwhile, over 140 teams threw their hats in the ring for the first-ever Forward Food Competition, delivered by Net Impact in partnership with lead sponsor, Campbell Soup Company, and General Mills. Applicants took aim at a wide range of issues including food waste, unsustainable farming, and recidivism, to name a few.
An in-house team of Net Impact judges selected 10 finalists to proceed to the next round and upload 2-minute pitch videos, which were posted on the Net Impact website for a 10-day public voting period. A combination of the public voting results and scores on innovation, sustainability, market need, and feasibility from a 4-person expert panel including Kristin Tobey from Revolution Foods, Seth Goldman from Honest Tea, Dave Stangis from Campbell Soup Company, and Jerry Lynch from General Mills determined the winner and two runners-up.
Foodfully, an app designed to both reduce global food waste and improve how people are consuming food, won first place. The team claims the app can save individual consumers about $600 a year on their grocery bill. Users can directly scan receipts into the phone or link their Foodfully account to a shopping loyalty card. The app then tracks the estimated shelf life of each registered item, sending out an alert when something may be likely to spoil soon. Foodfully is also working on hardware that links with their software to bring greater intelligence and waste reduction into every user’s home.
The first runner-up was Kitchen Table, offering frozen, plant-based meal kits. The ingredients inside each kit are prepped and ready to use, promising to need less than 15 minutes of stovetop preparation. The frozen format was designed to reduce food waste, as customers can prepare the meals at any time, not risking spoilage. The company founders also guarantee more nutrition, citing studies that show frozen produce to maintain higher nutrient levels than its fresh counterparts, which they say are picked before they’re ripe and therefore have not developed their full spectrum of nutrients.
One Hop Kitchen was the second runner-up and offers a line of products made with textured insect protein, using either mealworms or crickets. A serving of the company’s Bolognese pasta sauce contains five grams of protein per serving and saves 80 gallons of water, compared to the traditional beef option. It also contains half the saturated fat and a third of the cholesterol of standard meat-based pasta sauces. The products are gluten, dairy, soy and preservative-free but according to the founder: loaded with flavor. Participants in the blind taste test reported satisfaction with the sauce and did not suspect that it was made from insect protein.
“The Forward Food Competition is a great way to highlight the next generation of food creators defining the future of food,” said Dave Stangis, Vice President, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at Campbell Soup Company. “Campbell Soup understands that the future of food will require an ecosystem of innovative partners who can lead change within the food system. It’s critical to have a sustainable, purpose-driven pipeline of new ideas to feed the world.”
The winning team was awarded 3 passes to Net Impact’s annual conference, while the runner-up teams were each awarded 1. The winning team was also given a free ticket to Expo East, taking place in September in Baltimore, where Foodfully will participate in the Pitch Slam.