Sunday, March 17, 2013

Robyn Metcalfe Talks about The Food Lab at the University of Texas Austin

Robyn Metcalfe Talks about The Food Lab at the University of Texas Austin

Where are you from originally?

Los Angeles, CA

What university did you go to?

University of Michigan for undergrad, BA, American Culture, Boston University for MA and Phd History.

What brought you to Austin?

Husband Bob and I wanted to move to a different location where we could spend more time outside being active and where we’d be challenged with different problems, have opportunities to learn about a new place/culture, apply our experiences.

What is your group’s mission?

The Food Lab (TFL) at UT formed in 2012 in response to the need to improve our global food system. While UT has many food-related courses, student organizations, and faculty who are engaged in food-related research, the university lacks an organizational framework for this critical topic, one that is increasingly vital to provisioning urban populations. TFL will create a UT brand around food, leveraging Austin’s reputation as a site for food innovation. TFL will also coordinate, collaborate, and provide a platform that will integrate the many activities and individuals on campus that are pursuing food-related projects.
The principles of TFL include experimentation, science, creativity, and innovation. It is politically neutral and embraces curiosity. Aesthetics and utility, bringing the sciences and humanities together form the basis for all TFL programs.

As a multidisciplinary project, TFL serves heighten student and faculty awareness of food issues, encourage and motivate them to engage in the creation of new and innovative food systems research, and to provide support to startups that leverage University research. By Spring, 2013, TFL has launched a conference, engaged students with food startups, assisted with food studies projects, and has initiated projects for UT faculty and students. TFL has built a network of partners in the Austin, Texas, national and international community that will provide opportunities for collaboration in the future.

What type of startup would benefit from your group?

Early stage startup with a solution for food production, distribution, packaging, safety, nutrition.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up the initiative?

Large institutional administration, risk adverse and without a food-related infrastructure.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

Be clear about your motive, what problem you’re solving and why your solution is different from anyone elses.

What Austin-based resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?

Sustainable Farm Center, The University of Texas, and the network of startup incubators, such as the Incubation Station.  All were extremely helpful by providing introductions to the food-related community.