There was heavy rain. There was strong wind. There was even stronger coffee (thankfully), and there were over 150 bright minds that came together Wednesday, September 23rd at Milan Expo to participate in the Feeding Fair hackathon. The project was dreamed up by the Future Food Institute and Food Innovation Program as a way to incorporate the work they have been doing on WikiExpo, an aggregator of crowdsourced content that aims to capture and memorialize the knowledge, events, and inspiration gleaned at Milan Expo 2015. Students and experts from around the globe came together to tackle some of the biggest issues surrounding malnutrition: obesity, undernutrition, food waste, dietary habits and education.
A kick-off event was organized the evening of Tuesday, September 22nd where Future Food Institute Founder Sara Roversi introduced key supporters of the event who had a chance to speak about the crucial work they have been doing in the food realm. Matteo Vignoli, Director of the Food Innovation Program, spoke about the importance of collaboration and innovation in education. He was followed by Albino Russo, representative of Coop Italia (who hosted the group at their Coop Terrace), who shared research Coop has been doing regarding consumer perceptions on the future of food. Of the eight countries and thousands of consumers interviewed, they discovered fears (food manipulation and environmental pollution) and expected dietary changes (more carbs, fruit and vegetables). The overview gave Feeding Fair hackers a chance to contemplate the present food situation, and grapple with what the face of food will look like in the future.
Antonio Perdichizzi, Vice President of Italia Startup, a group founded to support Italy’s emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem, lamented the fact that no Italian city was present in the top 20 startup cities of the world in 2015. However, he encouraged participants by reminding them that there is always an opportunity for growth. Michiel Bakker, Director of Google Food, went on to share an inspiring message of action. He prodded thinkers to focus NOT on the next big solution, but instead try to understand why the great ideas we have now are not working yet. His advice: act, collaborate, and affect change. To round out the kick-off event, Simone Ravaioli of Bestr, an open badge platform that aims to identify each individual’s own competencies and to give them the right value, spoke about his role in education and his personal passion for food. All participants of Feeding Fair will receive Bestr badges in the areas of teamwork, project management, problem solving, communication and leadership. The evening concluded with a wine and cheese reception giving participants and presenters a chance to mingle and connect.
Wednesday morning brought downpours and heavy wind to Expo, but all 70 of the participants braved the bad weather to come together in the name of innovation. Hot beverages and organic biscuits was served inside the Alce Nero Berberè restaurant at the Biodiversity Park Pavilion. Participants were assigned to one of seven groups, each one with its own particular challenge facing malnutrition. The groups were broadly defined as the following: Overcoming Food Surplus, Decoding Dietary Habits, Exploring Alternative Nutrition Sources, Collaborating for Celiac’s, Examining Obesity, Looking at Labeling, and Empowering Small-Scale Production.
Inside each group, a case study was presented that focused on a particular challenge regarding a specific country or pavilion. The challenges were created after speaking with various pavilions around Milan Expo and asking them to share their perspectives on malnutrition. Interviews with directors of the South Korean, Swiss, German, Ecuadorian, Monaco and Zimbabwean pavilions as well as the Worldwide Agronomy Association, Alce Nero and Expo’s Sustainability Manager were taken into account when creating the challenges.
The Feeding Fair group moved to the Cibus Federalimentare pavilion where they were met by hackathon host, food-dj, and chef Nick Difino who explained how a hackathon works, and what to expect during the day of innovation. The enthusiasm for his work and the work of those around him was infectious, and warmed up an already eager crowd for a day of hacking. Cyril Brunel, Mediterranean and North African Area General Manager of Up group, then took the stage, to explain the importance of the hackathon for Up group and how events like these present new communication and sharing opportunities, which provide additional value to business. Marc Bisson, CEO of Day Ristoservice was offered a chance to welcome the participants personally, and then he, along with Simone Garroni of Action Contre la Faim Italia, talked about the important work the two groups have been doing to address nutrition and malnutrition in Europe and around the world.
Future Food Institute Trustee, Alessandro Pirani, joined Nick Difino on stage and the duo introduced the background work that went into creating Feeding Fair. A compilation video highlighted the interviews from which the various challenges were inspired. To bring a little silliness to the event, the two sparked a massive participant thumb war that brought a lot of laughs but no evident winner. Lastly, Maurizio Martina, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry came to greet participants, commenting on the great work that WikiExpo has been doing, solidifying the link between WikiExpo and the Feeding Fair event. Thanks to WikiExpo, he said, the legacy of Expo 2015 will survive and be memorialized to be further celebrated down the road.
The entire group moved to the Coop Terrace, where hackathon expert Alessandro Pirani and the Servis8 team of facilitators were waiting to greet the group and prepare them for the day’s events. A timeline full of design thinking exercises, icebreakers and team building games was presented, and then the hacking began. Innovation isn’t easy and the groups worked hard to effectively approach their challenges. With a dozen or so nationalities represented, there were various languages being spoken, lots of translation and many different ways of communicating. Boxed lunches were provided by the Alce Nero pavilion and groups had a chance to take a break from their problem solving and listen to inspiring talks by current young startuppers in the food world.
Stefania Abbona represented the Algae Factory, an Italian-Dutch startup that partners with food manufacturers to incorporate algae based ingredients into everyday food products, such as chocolate bars with spirulina. DocFaber, an app created by Fabrizio Malpiero, was also highlighted as a solution in the face of malnutrition. Fabrizio spoke about his personalized nutrition app that uses individual’s data to create and project individualized diets for its users. In addition, Giulia Maffei and Giulia Tacchini are looking to make entomophagy (yes, eating insects) a viable and attractive source of nutrients. The duo has launched a consulting, cooking, events and awareness campaign surrounding edible insects. Through Entonote, they are hoping to help break social norms in their home country (Italy) and beyond, and encourage people to understand the potential of alternative nutrition sources.
Additionally, Future Food Institute Master Fellow and Featapp developer Chiara Cecchini shared some words on the launch of her app that uses a digital reward system to connect people with new food experiences. Just by tracking daily steps, users are rewarded with coins that can be used at various participating food stores and restaurants. Chiara aims to make healthy eating choices more accessible, and encourage more daily exercise through her smartphone app. Finally Last Minute Market’s Matteo Guidi shared insight on turning food waste into food resources. Last Minute Market links retailers, food shops and food producers directly with people and charities in need of food so that potentially discarded or wasted food can be put to good use.
The afternoon portion of the hackathon meant research, refining, defining and prototyping. Teams were sent out into Expo to explore their challenge and generate user feedback. Teams then worked to build physical constructions of their ideas, which were presented to other groups for constructive criticism. The groups used discarded materials found around Expo, and wacky materials (Shrek puppets, wigs, straws, and a whole lot of post-its) brought by the Servis8 facilitator group. In five hours, they came up with concrete prototypes and presentations to address their various challenges. Aided by mentors who have experience in startup prototyping, the groups were constantly given support and feedback to help expand their ideas and creations. At 7:00 pm, each team had five minutes to present their concept to the judges panel.
Proposals were evaluated on innovativeness, feasibility, cost/benefit ratio, team composition and presentation. Judges include: Andrea Segrè (Chairman of CAAB), Sara Roversi (Founder, Future Food Institute), Simone Garroni (Director at Azione Contro la Fame Italia), Marc Buisson (CEO Day Ristoservice), Sofia Cavazzoni (Project Manager, Alce Nero), Jean-Philippe Poulnot (President of the Up Group Foundation), Marco Gualtieri (Founder and President of Seeds and Chips), Maurizio Mariani (Eating City Founder and General Manager) and Cyril Brunel (Mediterranean and North African Area General Manager of Up group).
In the end the decision was not an easy one. Among the stand-out presentations were the Obesity group’s presentation of SELF (support, emotion, learning, food) an integrative online platform to offer emotional support through success stories and motivation to those struggling with obesity. The Empowering Small-Scale Farmers group came up with project IMBA, aiming to bring education and social exchange opportunities to small farmers, specifically in African countries where resources and education are scarce.
The group investigating Celiac’s disease presented a system of physical support for ancient grain (Senatore Cappelli) cultivation that would help protect and expand production of wheat strands that seem to have better success with those suffering from Celiac’s disease. Perhaps the most technologically innovative, the Labelling group, suggested a NO LABEL concept, that would integrate personal nutrition with a Google glass type technology making supermarket decisions simple and personalized. The Alternative Nutrition group produced a compelling Thai Peanut product, that would mix fried insects with regular peanuts to be marketed as a happy-hour snack, thus better integrating acceptance of insect protein into Western diets.
Rounding out the group presentations was MylBread, from the team working on Decoding Dietary Habits. MylBread targets the German market, where a staple food (bread) is turning increasingly industrialized and leaving consumers with products that are nutritionally deficient and full of empty calories. MylBread proposes an online platform involving small scale bread producers using quality and nutritionally dense ingredients to help get German citizens reaquainted with the tradition of bread in their country. Ideally, the service integrates delivery and online ordering that will not only get consumers better breads, but also spur the artisanal bread movement in Germany.
Food story-teller and dj Nick Difino was teleconferenced in to annouce that MylBread would be awarded the winning prize. The team will go on to present their ideas at a special ‘Innovation Day’ organized by Up group in Paris, and after that, one member of the team will present their project at The Mont-Blanc Meetings (Les Rencontres du Mont-Blanc) in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France.
But Feeding Fair doesn’t end here. The winners will continue to develop and refine their project as they move on to the next steps, and a number of other groups were also approached by various mentors and experts to involve them in expanding on the work that was done during the Feeding Fair hackathon. The hackathon took a tremendous step in educating and bringing to light the various problems surrounding global malnutrition. It was inspiring to see so many different thinkers come together to communicate in a global way, all in the name of making change for a better food future. All in all, over 150 participated to make the event a success.