Robots capable of arable farming, a vending machine that produces personalised smoothies ordered from a smartphone, food labels that indicate when a product has begun to spoil and the world’s first 3D candy printer are just a few of the 20 concepts that will pitch to multinationals in a Dragons’ Den-style event.
PepsiCo, P&G, Siemens and Mars will be among the companies passing judgment at the Open Innovation Forum, an annual event organised by Cambridge University’s Institute for Manufacturing.
Open Innovation is a concept that originally emerged in California, where businesses opt for sharing knowledge around R&D to support progress across a sector. In a rapidly changing marketplace and with recent uncertainties like Brexit, the sell is that companies can no longer afford to rely entirely on their own research, but should work collaboratively.
Some of the entrepreneurs pitching – such as Durrow Mills, an Irish company producing more easily digestible, sprouted flours – are already trading commercially, while others like HigherSteaks, a team creating ‘in-vitro meat,’are at an earlier stage of research and development. Northern Irish company Zero Waste Biotech will demonstrate a model for converting food and other organic waste on-site into biomass, all within 24 hours.
These ideas and more will present at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast. Stephane Durand, from Belfast University’s Agri-Food Quest Competence Centre, said it was a unique chance for local start-ups to network and get noticed by multinationals.
Food Spark takes a closer look at four of the businesses testing their mettle.
1. Smoothie vending machine
Alberts has developed what it claims is the world’s first smoothie vending machine that prepares fresh, personalised smoothies on the spot in 90 seconds.
This is possible via a mobile app that connects to the micro-factory inside the smoothie machine. In the future, the app will make suggestions based on people’s daily lifestyle and dietary needs. The app also gives advice and recommendations on a real-time basis, as well as encouraging users to share recipes with friends.It limits food waste by using a blend-in-cup technology and wonky food, as well as saving water waste by 10 times compared to manual preparation
Alberts said it is providing a complete experience: a healthy, affordable snack; availability at any place, at any time; a community sharing experience; and personalisation based on each consumer’s own nutritional requirements according to their individual daily activities.
2.Lab-grown meat in the UK
Based in London, HigherSteaks is making meat from stem cells to address issues such as the environmental impact of meat production and animal welfare. It works with induced pluripotent stem cells, which are obtained via a blood test. The advantage of these cells is that they can proliferate and grow infinitely, so you never have to go back to the animal, and you can also grow any type of tissue from muscle to fat to liver.
Higher Steaks is focusing on pork initially and is developing a production method that reduces costs – a key stumbling block at the moment to making ‘clean’ meat viable commercially. This method is currently in the process of being patented, though the company are also devoting energy to ensuring zero antibiotics need to be used and that they have the correct scaffolding to develop a complex piece of meat.
Benjamina Bollag, founder of Higher Steaks, told Forbes the company is focusing on pork as it is most similar to humans. “And if you look at where most of the research and money is, it is in the medical field, so any breakthrough or innovation that’s achieved is easier for us to adapt. We also have to start with a product that is more processed such as pork and beef as opposed to chicken, and beef has the additional complexity of the taste of blood,” she said.
“For me, one of the personal big drivers is the issue around antibiotic resistance… most antibiotics are used on pigs and chicken, rather than cattle. People think that there is less used because it is banned for growth but it is still used a tremendous amount. In the long term, we will be developing other meats as well as our technologies are built to be adaptable.”
3. Customised confectionary in 3D form
Katjes Magic Candy Factory has developed what it is calling the first 3D printer for food to reach the consumer market.
Its concept creates customisation in confectionery: candy lovers can choose to print a 3D shape, message, logo or even a ‘sweet selfie.’ The 3D printer is also the fastest in the world as each candy takes less than five minutes to generate. All of the ingredients are vegan, GMO-free and allergen-free.
In just under two years, Katjes Magic Candy Factoryhas launched in Europe, the USA, China, New Zealand, Australia and the Middle East. Using patented technology, software and a gummy encapsulation formula, the tech start-up from Birmingham is now turning its expertise towards health with new concept ‘NOURISH3D,’ which prints personalised nutrition products.
4. Farming robots named Tom, Dick and Harry
Small Robot Company are building a service of lightweight farming robots called Tom, Dick and Harry, backed by an AI-driven operating system, called Wilma, that will increase yields for arable crops – initially wheat –while reducing chemicals and energy by around 90%.
“This system will work for small and big farms globally. We have created Farming as a Service, leasing the delivery of a healthy crop, not just automating functions. Farmers pay a per-hectare fee, with no up-front cost,” the company said.
“This system does not compact the soil like current big farming machinery, and will increase biodiversity and reduce environmental damage by farming while increasing yields to feed the world’s growing population.”