Meet Our Judges: Nicole Thorpe
1 March 2020
We are proud to announce that we have partnered with an incredible panel of experts to judge The FoodTech Challenge submissions. Our panel is comprised of local and international experts on agriculture from academia, private sector, and policy circles. We spoke with Nicole Thorpe, Founding Director of Cultinova, to talk about her thoughts about food technology trends in the UAE and abroad. What is your favorite memory related to food? Having the luxury of access to a healthy diet, I associate food with quality time with family and friends. One of my fondest memories is about the time I took my children, then 8 and 5 years of age, to a raspberry field on the outskirts of town to hand-pick berries and red currants. I remember how much they enjoyed eating fresh fruit straight off the plant, whilst simultaneously gaining an appreciation of the work involved in harvesting food. When we got home, we made our very own jam. There is nothing better than a pot of jam filled with goodness and memories! What are the essential components of building a sustainable and healthy food system, particularly in rapidly urbanizing cities? The clue is in the title: we need to adopt a systems-thinking approach, where we understand and address food systems’ complex interactions and relationships. With this big picture view, we can create holistic, future-proof systems which adapt to changing urban conditions. Some of the key components to building healthy food systems are: Openness to various business modes (including social enterprise models) Openness to adoption of technology / innovative cultivation methods Policy conducive to entrepreneurial activity and collaboration Youth STEM education that puts greater emphasis on technology and nutrition Consumer awareness of sustainable food production, consumption and waste avoidance What exciting innovations in Internet of Things technology have promising applications in the UAE? Given the UAE’s harsh climate and scarcity of arable land and water, I see great potential of applying IoT to the production of crops in Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). Advances in technology and IoT have facilitated innovative cultivation methods in places previously deemed unsuitable for plant production, such as disused tunnels, warehouses, basements, rooftops, etc. Exciting opportunities exist in the intelligent and dynamic optimization of growth environments tailored to specific contexts, stages of plant development and growers’ goals. The collection of data related to plant development generates a holistic view of food production in CEA. At Cultinova, we see great value in the precision control of growth parameters, specifically LED lighting and nutrient delivery in CEA. Such fine-tuning of growth factors optimizes water and fertilizer use, reduces energy consumption and improves size and quality of yield. Surveys have shown that youth are increasingly disengaged from food and agriculture work. How do we renew youth engagement in this area? In my opinion, IoT provides the ideal platform and tools for youth engagement. Tech-savvy millennials are likely to become more engaged with food and food production using technology. However, more emphasis needs to be placed on STEM education. Incorporating high-tech agriculture, CEA and vertical farming into curricula is essential in engaging and educating the next generation of growers. What are books, papers, and/or articles that you’re reading about food security that you would recommend? I recommend the following readings to learn more about food security and systems: Sustainable Food Systems: The Role of the City by Dr. Robert Biel FAO publications, such as Sustainable Food Systems: Concept and Framework Nexus: The Water-Energy-Food Security Resource Platform Additional reading related to The Food-Water-Energy Nexus
Agtips: Commercial Viability
29 January 2020
This edition’s agtips will cover the commercial viability section of your submission. While the technology section describes the technological maturity of your product and the sustainability section explains how your idea makes optimal use of natural resources, the commercial viability section demonstrates that your proposition has the potential to become a commercially successful business in the UAE. Business plans come in many forms, but for The FoodTech Challenge, we recommend you include these 7 points: Target Customers Who are your target customers? Target customers can be segmented by age, location, background, income, and lifestyle. Defined customer segments translate to defined sales and marketing strategies, which achieve stronger commercial results. Read more here. Opportunity Sizing What is the market opportunity and growth potential? Understanding the market dynamics for your product or service, relative to your competitors, is crucial to forecast how your business will sustain its growth. Read more here. Competitor Analysis A strong competitor analysis establishes what makes your product or service unique in order to attract the market. There are various frameworks to evaluate competitors; check out this article from Entrepeneur Middle East to learn more. Value Proposition/Competitor Edge The value proposition of your business drives your competitive edge. It defines the unique value that your product delivers to the customer, compared to what the market offers. A strong value proposition makes your product or service an irresistible idea to invest in. Cost As the saying goes, “you have to spend money to make money”. It is important that your business model takes into consideration the required fixed and variable costs to set up and maintain operations. The business model ideally forecasts when revenue will begin to recuperate the initial costs and begin generating profits (i.e., the breakeven point). Funding Each winning team is eligible to win up to $250,000 in prizes – how do you plan to use it? What are the key areas where you will invest in your product or service (e.g., R&D, new hires, capital expenses)? Describe how funding from The FoodTech Challenge will be used to grow your product or service over a defined period (e.g., 12-18 months). Throughout that defined period, what major milestones do you think you will reach with the funding? Revenue How do you make money? A robust revenue model is the foundation for a sustainable business. Here are 10 common revenue models for startup companies to get you to start thinking, but there are unique business models out there as well that have proven success in the market. Get Inspired! There are many resources out there to help you think about how to structure your commercial viability section. We recommend you to take this 8-point test from Investopedia to determine whether your business model is viable. Once you have all the business plan components together, read this article from Forbes about the important do’s and don’ts for investor pitch decks to make sure that your business case is in the best shape possible.
Meet Our Judges: Stuart Oda
27 January 2020
We are proud to announce that we have partnered with an incredible panel of experts to judge The FoodTech Challenge submissions. Our panel is comprised of local and international experts on agriculture from academia, private sector, and policy circles. We spoke with Stuart Oda, Co-Founder and CEO of Alesca Life, to talk about his thoughts about food technology trends in the UAE and abroad. What is your favorite memory related to food? All my favorite food memories are related to family and travel. My most recent incredibly food experience was eating a fresh fig for the first time in Venice, Italy with my wife. All of the figs I had eaten until then were dried or preserved, and I remember being amazed by the vibrant color and flavor of the fresh fruit. What makes you excited about food technology? I’m excited that food technology has the potential to improve environmental, economic, and social outcomes across the world. Not only will the development and maturity of food tech make the agricultural industry more sustainable, but it also has the opportunity to improve farm productivity and profitability and modernize dated notions about what it means to produce food. One of the most valuable tool for future farmers will undoubtedly be a smartphone. In your opinion, what key technologies have promising applications for UAE food security challenges? Controlled environment agriculture and precision farming technology both hold incredible promise for application in the UAE to address challenges related to food and nutritional security. In terms of scalability, other promising technologies include products and processes to extend food shelf life and services to upcycle food waste. Surveys have shown that youth are increasingly disengaged from food and agriculture work. How do we renew youth engagement in this area? In order to inspire the youth and our next generation of food producers and agritech engineers, Alesca Life has launched several initiatives, the most successful (and fun) of which has been our urban indoor farming experiential tours. We’ve welcomed thousands of participants to learn about the basics of indoor farming and plant seeds, transplant saplings, and harvest vegetables just like our professional grow operators. By showcasing how technologically advanced and beautiful farming can be and giving each participant the opportunity to plant a seed and build a relationship with the food that they eat, we’ve been able to engage and educate the youth and even convert picky eaters into vegetable lovers. One of the only compliments that I can remember in the 6 years since founding Alesca Life was during one of these experiential tours. After completing the program with friends and classmates, one of the students said to my team, “When I grow up, I want to be an urban farmer.” What are books, papers, and/or articles that you’re reading about food security that you would recommend? Food security is an incredibly multi-disciplinary and multi-faceted topic, and I try to stay up-to-date on the latest tech and trends by engaging frequently with various civil society, government, and non-governmental organizations. It’s incredible to learn about the simple, elegant, and hyper affordable initiatives being deployed across emerging market countries as well as the super high tech solutions being launched in more developed geographies. There are a lot of opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas, and it’s always exciting to think about a future in which products, services, and processes to improve the agricultural industry can be shared and implemented faster, better, and cheaper.
Sustainability in Agtech
19 January 2020
At the heart of The FoodTech Challenge is the UAE’s commitment to cultivating sustainability in the country’s relationship with food. Water and energy are food’s main ingredients; without it, food production will suffer. This is what the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calls the water, energy, and food (WEF) nexus, and sustaining all three within this nexus is important in establishing long-term food security. Strong submissions in The FoodTech Challenge, therefore, make improved use of natural resources that protect the WEF nexus. The technology and commercial plan behind your idea will drive the overall sustainability of your project. Let’s revisit the example of aeroponic farms from our previous agtips on technology. These farms use sensors, IoT, and AI technology to accelerate growth. Together, these technologies determine optimal amounts of water, nutrients, and energy for their plants to grow in speed and abundance. Meanwhile, from a commercial perspective, these farms can improve sustainability by finding sources for water, nutrients, and energy that are renewable and local. Installing technology can limit reliance on electricity typically drawn from non-renewable gas power plants. Finding local suppliers of equipment and fertilizers can limit the carbon footprint that transportation has on the environment. In other words, these farms leverage technology and business strategies to sustain the planet while generating profits for the company. You can demonstrate sustainability in your project in a similar way. International organizations have developed many indicators to assess sustainability of food security projects. FAO has published a paper that explains the WEF nexus further, breaks down the components of a nexus assessment, and offers six case studies to illustrate the framework in action. We invite you to explore how these indicators and case studies can apply in enhancing sustainability in your FoodTech Challenge submission.
Meet Our Judges: Cinar Kurra
30 November 2019
We are proud to announce that we have partnered with an incredible panel of experts to judge The FoodTech Challenge submissions. Our panel is comprised of local and international experts on agriculture from academia, private sector, and policy circles. We spoke with Cinar Kurra, CEO of Catalyst, to talk about his thoughts about food technology trends in the UAE and abroad. What is your favorite memory related to food? Grandma’s cooking – both were marvelous, my grandma and her cooking! What makes you excited about food technology? Food, if organically produced, is an innovative way of minimizing hunger and obesity. In your opinion, what key technologies have promising applications for UAE food security challenges? Food monitoring when importing, in order to give the best deals to consumers before expiration, are so far the best ideas that I have witnessed. The FoodTech Challenge will certainly discover great startups utilizing new tech ideas. Surveys have shown that youth are increasingly disengaged from food and agriculture work. How do we renew youth engagement in this area? Perhaps gamification of cultivating and reward mechanism for production could engage youth in a positive way. What are books, papers, and/or articles that you’re reading about food security that you would recommend? The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World.
What's the "tech" in "agtech"?
15 November 2019
The UAE’s food security challenges have several environmental, policy and economic elements that make them complex to tackle. Technology is the vehicle to address these challenges, but what is technology, exactly? In our modern world, technology is everywhere around us, and its potential applications to food security are equally diverse. “Technologically-driven” solutions have a clear grasp of what methods currently exist to solve food security issues and propose a way forward to achieve better results. Below are a few examples of technology applications to get you thinking into how this works in practice. Sensors What is it? A device that gathers information about its environment and sends the information to other electronic devices. How is it applied? Aeroponic farms install sensors to monitor nutrient uptake for different kinds of plants Internet of Things What is it? The system of interrelated computers and devices with the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human interaction. How is it applied? These sensors transmit information about plant growth rates to computers that house data for the entire farm. Artificial Intelligence What is it? The simulation of human intelligence processes by machines through the process of learning, reasoning, and self-correction. How is it applied? These computers can be taught to adjust levels of light and water to maximize agricultural output, tailored for each kind of plant. Strong ideas use a combination of the technologies above to maximize the benefits of each. An example of a company leveraging multiple technologies is Winnow Vision. Through cloud technology, vision-enabled artificial intelligence, and data analytics, Winnow Vision helps chefs track food items routinely wasted and adjust their production to slash cost. As a result, Winnow Vision was able to cut food waste by half and saved up to 20% of total food costs. Technology is an essential component in a strong application. If you are looking for a technical person to join your team, we encourage you to connect with other participants via our social media, where you will find a community who are passionate about food security just like you!