Meet Our Judges: Penny McBride

We spoke with Penny McBride, Vice-Chairwoman of Farmtech Society, to talk about her thoughts about food technology trends in the UAE and abroad.

What is your favorite memory related to food?

My parents are Japanese and my mother was a terrific cook, she put a lot of care into everything that she made, including cutting vegetables into fun shapes when we were kids. Even when we went on family picnics, everything was tasty and well presented. I think that this sense of deliberate preparation gave me an appreciation for both food quality and how it can bring people together. I love to travel and have so many fond memories of exploring the cuisine of the great places that I have been fortunate to visit over the years. Food is a great way of connecting with the local culture and should never be dismissed as a great understanding of history and present conditions.

What makes you excited about food technology?

As we face the many challenges of bringing fresh and nutritious food to people, I think that food technology plays such an important role in not only offering nutritious food options but also has the possibility of connecting people to the food that they eat in a way that hasn’t been available for some time. We’re at a unique point in time where people want to understand food systems and the impact that it has on their mental and physical health. Food technology can offer a platform for people to create a new outcome.

In your opinion, what key technologies have promising applications for UAE food security challenges?

It is not one sole technology at this time that will be brought to the forefront of the UAE Security Challenge but rather an entire host of solutions that can be used to answer some key questions not only for the UAE but the entire world. There are solutions that will be more fitting for communities that may not have the financial resources, to those that have all of the resources that they need at their fingertips. There are many amazing systems, ranging from new labor-saving devices to reconfigured growing systems that will be revealed.

Surveys have shown that youth are increasingly disengaged from food and agriculture work. How do we renew youth engagement in this area?

Throughout the globe, there is a serious decline of new farmers in this area of work. But I believe that it comes from empowering youth to understand the need for healthy food and the need to create food security within the UAE. Now it is not just lettuce that can be grown but also fruits and proteins that have the potential to be grown indoors. It’s an exciting time to be at the forefront of creating systems of technology that can take what has been used in other parts of the world for some time and make it better for the UAE. When young people see that they hold many of the answers to our critical environmental concerns and realize a system such as CEA – which can be a part of the solution, I believe that they will become engaged. It is necessary to set up educational programs incorporated into existing science curriculum and there are both primary and secondary schools that are offering themselves up as good examples.

What are books, papers, and/or articles that you’re reading about food security that you would recommend?

In order to understand food security, you also need to understand why and how food is grown. These may not directly address food security but give a good picture of what is happening with food systems in general: Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity by Lester Brown, and The Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food by Michel Pollen.


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.