On a Friday evening in a San Francisco conference room, food and technology leaders – including nutrition expert Carl Keen, a UC Davis professor affiliated with the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Ag Experiment Station – spoke to a mixed audience on the need for innovation in adapting populations across the world to changing food systems.
In the crowd, one inspired undergraduate student from UC Davis thumbed together some notes on his phone. The next day he stood in front of everyone at the event – more than 250 in all – and pitched his newly formed idea for a nutrition app.
It drew a small team: a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, a UC Davis nutritionist and a UC Berkeley student. Over the next 40 hours they developed a software application that matches safe foods to patient medications. With the final presentations Sunday evening, the judges announced the winners.
Their project, called Took that? Eat this., won first place at the 2015 Food Hackathon. They now have sponsors and are developing their idea into a real consumer product. They are also flying out to the World Expo in Milan, Italy, in September – the first devoted to food and where an even larger food-themed hackathon will take place.
Breaking down the silos
“It's powerful how much happens in such a short period of time,” says Bob Adams, innovation adviser for the UC Davis World Food Center and a mentor for the hackathon teams. “It was a great experience for all the UC Davis students who participated, because they don't normally interact in projects with students from other programs.”
With nearly 9,000 total hours spent in developing the 18 different projects, the hackathon was declared by the organizers a success and a testament to the power of crowd sourcing.
A group of passionate techies, foodies, scholars, investors and entrepreneurs shut in a room for two days pushed them like never before to apply their diverse expertise toward tackling some of the biggest problems facing food and ag.
A university connecting ag and nutrition
Research and industry leaders are looking to this model as one way to seed California's innovation ecosystem across the state's agricultural horizons. As another example, Mars, Inc., which co-sponsored the hackathon, is investing in a new type of university-industry partnership with UC Davis and the World Food Center by establishing the Innovation Institute for Food and Health.
“All of us win from these new and needed collective investments in innovation in food, agriculture and health,” writes Mars chief scientist Harold Schmitz in a recent Sacramento Bee op-ed.
Howard-Yana Shapiro, also a Mars chief scientist and a UC Davis fellow, sees innovative food technology projects like those crafted at the hackathon as this decade's biggest investment arena.
“The next, larger human generation will face food challenges ranging from climate change and water stress to growing demands for upmarket foods,” he wrote in a LinkedIn article. “But from what I saw at the hackathon, the next generation is on it.”
See the original story by the UC Davis World Food Center.