Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Robyn Metcalfe Talks about the Food+City Challenge Prize

Robyn Metcalfe Talks about the Food+City Challenge Prize

Where are you from originally?  


What university did you go to?  

Received a BA in American Studies from The University of Michigan and a MA and PhD from Boston University in History. 

What brought you to Austin? 

Positions for Bob (my husband) & myself at the University of Texas

What is your group’s mission? 

True to our original mission as the Food Lab at UT, we provide awareness of food issues, encourage and motivate food system research, and provide support for those exploring and experimenting. This mission has simply broadened its wings as Food+City. A platform for bold exploration of the global food system, we provoke fresh perspectives on the realities of how we feed cities, and inspire action. We aim to raise awareness of the opportunities for improvement in our food systems and uncover insights that will shape how we make our world sustainable. We’ll explore how food moves around the world, the surprising complexity of distribution, how politics, economics, and trade create (and thwart) food crises, and much, much more.

What need does it fulfill? 

Despite growing interest in food topics, there is a lack of awareness and understanding around the systems and processes that feed our cities, and the ways those impact sustainability. We must bring that awareness and understanding, and harness the zeal of our communities to inspire, discover, and share the ideas that will improve our global food system. We’re going to uncover what’s missing in our current food systems and raise up the people addressing those needs. We’ll do so by challenging and testing all assumptions, beliefs, and technologies, and including you squarely in the process.

What exactly does it bring to startups? 

Food+City provides startups with resources to expand their visions. By entering into events such as the Food+City Challenge Prize, startups are eligible for money prizes (totaling $50,000), but the process is much deeper than seed money. The process pairs contestants with industry mentors to who guide the strengthening of business plans and the development of prototypes for 13 weeks.

What type of startup would benefit from your group? 

We accept applications from every kind of startup focused on food and/or food tech. Businesses or ideas of particular interest include the following objectives: lessen food waste; increase the supply of affordable and nutritious food; provide food that meets personalized health needs; improve the transport and distribution of food into and through urban populations around the globe; utilize new storage materials and processes that minimize waste. Students and professionals alike are encouraged to apply.

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

Defining the focus of our food challenge prize.  The word “food” means just that, food. We wanted to include all food-related startups, like those engaged in packaging, food processing, growing, etc. We’re making progress on defining our field of innovation, but it’s still a work in progress.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

Think carefully about what problem you’re solving and whether your business is more of a social enterprise than a for-profit business. Many food-related entrepreneurs are drawn to solving social problems related to food; those endeavors aren’t particularly suited to for-profit models.

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

It’s tough to select just one.  The student organization at UT, The Food Studies Project, has provided us with ideas, enthusiasm, and a connection to the Austin student community.