Application to Sustainable Food Systems
(SFS) Challenge

Deadline Extended: January 19, 2021 | 23:59 CET

About the Challenge

As COVID 19 continues to impact us all the world faces major uncertainty. We anticipate a deep recession and we anticipate that 1bn people will fall back into a position of nutrition insecurity at a time when the already-stretched global food supply will come under increasing pressure. We must focus on the need to make affordable and nutritious food available, but at the same time we cannot ignore the burning platform that is the need for action to mitigate climate change.

These two challenges can move forward hand-in-hand. The ability to extract value from food supply chains in an energy efficient manner can support the economics for consumers, manufacturers and their supply base (including farmers) whilst reducing the CO2 footprint of the entire food value chain. Startups can play a unique role in bringing new disruptive ideas to the table. Corporations can play a critical role in scaling these ideas bringing benefits to society quickly.

In 2020 a group of leading global food manufacturers and producers partnered with MassChallenge with the aim to find and then collaborate with startups so that together they could, help feed the planet sustainably. 470 startups applied, and we connected 53 of them to our partners.  This was a first step.

In 2021 we will repeat the exercise. Our partners, leading global food manufacturers and producers - Nestlé, BühlerGivaudan, Barry Callebaut, Südzucker  – are looking for startups or SME’s, with proven solutions or technologies in the following areas:

  1. Sustainable food, ingredients and sidestream utilization
  2. Packaging from sustainable materials
  3. Personalised Health & Nutrition for all
  4. Affordable Nutrition for all

The Sustainable Food Systems Challenge aims to find startups and match them to MassChallenge’s partners, so that the startup & partner can collaborate to scale the startup’s idea, and contribute to feed the planet sustainably.

Benefits for the startups selected

  1. A direct pathway to multi-national corporations: If shortlisted by our partners, MassChallenge will introduce you to representatives of the partners, including senior R&D, open innovation managers, sustainability executives and business unit heads. You will talk to the right stakeholders in these organisations, you will have their full attention from the start and will explore ways to collaborate with them.

  2. The ability to scale your technology with them: After the initial meeting we forsee a detailed sharing of information, most likely covered by a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and then the creation of a joint pilot to evaluate the scaling potential of the product. Startups could then become suppliers to the corporation, partners in some form of venture or receive investment. Every step is totally at the corporation and startups discretion, and there is no obligation to proceed unless the startup and corporation wish.

  3. Publicity and more connections: Each corporate partner will invite one of the startups that they shortlisted to our flagship event, the MassChallenge Sustainable Food Systems Challenge Day, in April 2021. There, the startup invited will present their solution to all of our coprorate partners, resulting in more connections and the potential to work with other corporates. This event will most likely be virtual (e.g. via Zoom) and will be subject to press releases from MassChallenge and some of our corporate partners, providing visibility to the startups.

Eligibility criteria

We are looking for startups or scaleups that:

1) Have a product or idea at the prototype stage or with a working proof of concept backed by data (ie Technical Readiness Level 5, where the technology has been validated in relevant environment) in the following areas (see more detail at the end of the announcement):

  • Sustainable food, ingredients and sidestream utilisation (New Food & Beverages. Protein alternatives for meat, fish & dairy products. New Ingredients. Clean label. Upcycling of sidestreams).
  • Packaging from sustainable materials. (Plastic-free packaging. Maximizing use of recycled and recyclable material. Reduced and Reusing packaging. Facilitated recycling of packaging through its design).
  • Personalised Health & Nutrition (Food and ingredients that improve health. Nutrient-dense food. Using genetic, phenotypic, medical, and nutritional information, and biochemistry and big data to create tailored diets. Digital tools to track and influence consumer behaviour).
  • Affordable Nutrition for all (Cut costs of production, storage, transport, distribution and marketing of food. Technologies that support local small-scale producers.  Lower cost nutrition ingredients. Products & services that prioritize children's nutrition. Tools that help foster behaviour change (see end of this announcement for more detail).

2) For startups are from seed to series C+. What’s important is that your product is at least at the prototype stage or with a working proof of concept backed by data. You may already have some sales & traction. This enables us to validate that there is a need for your product and that you’re ready to work with our corporate partners. The next step is to work with the corporate partner to scale your technology.

3) For scaleups/SME’s what’s important is an openness to collaborate and scale your idea.

4) Have Impactful, Viable and Scalable ideas:

  • Impactful: to massively benefit society by extracting value whilst reducing the CO2 footprint & emissions of the entire food value chain
  • Viable: be able to demonstrate traction amongst consumers, manufacturers and their supply base (including farmers)
  • Scalable: be able to scale at agricultural, manufacture, distribution or disposal stage of food production

5) Are from any geography. However note that our partner corporations are headquartered in Europe so physical collaboration would be in Europe. Startups should ensure they are able to travel to Europe for discussions.

Areas of interest

We seek startups/scaleups/SME’s, who have proven solutions or technologies, that will reduce CO2 and Emissions in the following areas:

1.     Sustainable food, ingredients and sidestream utilisation

a.   New Food & Beverages.

b.   Protein alternatives for meat, fish & dairy products.

c.    New Ingredients: flavour, food and nutrition ingredients.

d.   Clean label. No artificial ingredients or chemicals

e.   Upcycling of sidestreams. Technologies and creative ideas to upcycle and transform by-products, or waste materials of food processing into new materials providing the basis for a new usable product and to improve resource use and efficiency.

f.    More efficient food production.  Sustainable agriculture & farming. Climate and nature positive agriculture

g.    Maximising the use of renewable or recyclable materials leading to new uses or alternative feedstocks

2.     Packaging from sustainable materials

a.   Plastic-free packaging. Replacing plastics with bio-plastics, microplastics alternatives or paper. Using sustainable raw material streams and side-streams of agriculture

b.   Maximizing use of recycled and recyclable material

c.    Reduced packaging and amount of different packaging materials. Re-using packaging

d.   Better design. Cradle to grave design. Facilitated recycling of packaging through its design.  

e.   Biodegradable films that can form polymers. Biodegradable materials for encapsulation. 

3.     Personalised Health & Nutrition for all

a.   Food and ingredients that improve health and maintain a healthy mind and body.  Delivery of the right vitamins and nutrients.

b.   Making better nutrient-dense food more readily available using technology (internet of things, AI, precision farming and gene editing). Developing microbe-friendly products that offer better taste and nourishment

c.    Using genetic, phenotypic, medical, nutritional, other relevant information about individuals, biochemistry and big data to create tailored diets based on the interaction between nutrients and genes (precision nutrition, nutrigenomics, nutrigenetics, nutritional genomics).

d.   Using food in healthcare to prevent or recover faster from illness. Solutions to prevent obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and malnutrition. Solutions for muscle mass preservation and bone health. Solutions to improve mental health and avoid dementia.

e.   The use of digital tools to track and influence consumer behaviour, and affect diet.

f.    Technology that enhances and customises the consumer experience (printing techniques)

g.    Personal care, cosmetic or health & well-being solutions that complement nutrition offering immunity and disinfection to consumers

4.     Affordable Nutrition for all

a.     Ideas & technologies that can cut cost factors in the production, storage, transport, distribution and marketing of food, including reducing inefficiencies, and food loss and waste.

b.     Technologies that support local small-scale producers, especially in low income markets, to grow and sell more nutritious foods, and secure their access to market

c.      Lower cost nutrition ingredients e.g. utilization of nutritional components of side streams from food and agriculture

d.     Products & services that prioritize children's nutrition.   

e.     Tools that help educate and foster behaviour change towards more nutritious food

How the Challenge works

  • Relevant applicants will be presented to partner corporations
  • Selected startups will be invited to meet with R&D, open innovation, sustainability execuctives, and business unit heads for further discussion and to evaluate the potential for collaboration
  • We expect that this will result in proof of concepts, partnerships, investments for several of the startups.
  • In addition to the above, each partner will select one start-up to pitch their joint collaboration idea at the MassChallenge Sustainable Food Systems Challenge Day in April  2021 where all of our corporate partners will attend.
  • It is anticipated that partners and startups will then work together to scale the startups idea through the partners’ business.
  • this will likely be a virtual event, but if we are able to run it face-to-face we will.

Key dates

  • November 16: Program launch and call for applications
  • January 15: Closure of applications call at 23:59 CET
  • W/c March 15Announcement of the finalists
  • W/c April 19: Challenge Day - Pitching session on-line or face-to-face in Lausanne
  • After AprilCollaboration between successful startups & corporates.