How to hack sustainable food system?

In March 13-15, a team of 23 BioBoosters project members from 9 partner organizations came together in the first live meeting of the project. Our meeting venue was Food Hack by Krinova in Kristianstad, Southern Sweden and our mission was to achieve a collective vision for a joint business-driven hackathon model. By benchmarking the food hack, we were able to reflect about our own Hackathon model and its specific features and values created to the target groups in more details. Via exploration of the Food Hack, we were also able to learn about the importance and approaches to communication and event branding.

In connection to our co-operation with Krinova Incubator and Science Park, Jamk University of Applied Sciences was one of the supporting partners of the Food Hack. The topic of ‘Data-driven food systems’ aligned together with our coming AgriVenture Finland 2023 where Krinova is one of our international partners. Our co-operation has enabled international marketing support for both events. As a result, a challenge from a Finnish SME, Anicare, was featured in the event.

What is the Food Hack by Krinova?

Food Hack by Krinova Incubator and Science Park is a 48-hour innovation competition for people interested in making an impact in the food industry and developing its sustainability. The competition has been established as an annual event in 2014-2019, however the times of pandemic meant a break for the event as hacking is conducted as a live event only.

Now, we joined the re-start of the Food Hack as a live event. In the Food Hack, the hackers work together for intensive 2 days (and maybe nights) to outline a solution idea for the challenge they have selected. They get support from the coaches of the Krinova Incubator and Science Park to work on the challenge based on human centered design approach adapted in the Krinova’s innovation process.

As the first step of the innovation process, co-learning is a key phase for understanding the challenge and the needs of the customers and stakeholders. Next, the idea is tested in practice. For this co-design phase, the hackers have access to e.g., product development facilities such as a test kitchen. Finally, in co-effectuation, the teams will try to show that the innovation is profitable with the help of a business model canvas. Then it is time to pitch to the audience and expert jury. Winning team will go home with 35 000 Swedish Kronor (kr) and the team placing second is awarded 15 000 kr.

What are the challenges at Food Hack?

In the start, the Hackers will hear pitch presentations from the challenge providers and select the topic of their interest based on the presentation. This year 8 challenges were pitched within the theme of data-driven food system, and half were selected by the Hackers teams. The challenges varied a lot from research oriented conceptual models to business cases. Krinova welcomes all kinds of challenge givers and truly there were challenges from research institutes, NGOs, SMEs, startups, and Higher education institutes presented at the event.

Based on our discussions with Krinova, the best challenges are the ones where the hackers can feel they are making a difference and an impact. This is reflected on the high participation in the challenge by NGO, Stadsmissionen that also resulted in the winning idea. Based on available data, the team ‘Nonger’ presented a solution that connects wholesalers and retailers with the Stadsmissionen stores to capture surplus food more easily. Stadsmissionen distributes the food to the low-income persons and families to fight food poverty.

Who is the Food Hack for?

Like the challenge givers, the hackers can be anybody with a drive to make an impact in the food system. In practice, the hackers are mainly international master’s degree students. Food Hack is actually attracting participants from all continents. Event is marketed to relevant higher education institutes in Sweden and shared in their international networks. Majority of the targeted 40-60 hackers registered to the event are international.

The diversity of participants makes a high impact to the innovation process, especially in the co-learning phase. With a multitude of nationalities and diverse academic backgrounds, the co-learning dialogue will result in more in-depth understanding of the challenge and related needs. For participants, the main outcome can also often be learning the innovation process and gaining capacity in creative co-working.

If not able to take the 48-hour leap into the innovation process, many more participants can join and enjoy the event as audience at the venue or online. The Food Hack launches with an open ‘Food Talk’ where high-level expert speakers give inspirational and educative lectures on the theme. Also, the pitching of ideas and the award ceremony are open for audience and streamed online.

Panel discussion

How did our “Finnish” team do?

We had also an exciting opportunity to follow the innovation journey of the Hacker team that selected the challenge from Anicare, a Finnish company with a data sensory solution for animal welfare and motion tracking. Anicare products are currently targeted to reindeer herders, but in the challenge, they were looking for opportunities to utilize the animal welfare data to create added value in the beef value chain.

Anicare challenge attracted the attention of hackers, and a hacker team was successfully formed including five different nationalities: Swedish, Vietnamese, Nepalese, Mexican and French. Team developed a concept of ”Trust Meat” solution for creating transparency around meat production, to build trust and to prove the sustainability of the meat for the end consumer by using Anicare technology. The intense 48-hour work got rewarded, when ‘Team Anicare’ achieved the second award and 15 000 SEK!

The second award winners!

What did we learn on making an impactful Hackathon event?

What might be our 5 take-away lessons?

  1. Keep the audience and participants energized.
  2. Nothing keeps your spirits up like good food and drinks.
  3. There can never be enough time and opportunities for networking.
  4. Hybrid participation requires specific activation.
  5. Feeling, taste, and sound are key part of the experience.

As always, when asking about the event highlights, majority of our partners mentioned the networking and socialization opportunities. This is, especially nowadays, a key part of why people would take the time to travel and turn up in a live event rather than joining in online. Taking time in the programme for the networking is always a must and it was well integrated in the Food Hack program for the live audience and participants. As far as online participation goes, there are digital event platforms that could facilitate this networking opportunity for online participants as well. However, the Food Hack did not feature these type of digital networking opportunities in favor of the live participation.

Furthermore, regarding the hybrid event experience, the audience participating was enabled by connecting questions from the chat to the event moderator. However, the online audience was not active with using this option and might have required some further activation. On the contrary, the participants at the venue were quite active to give comments and ask questions during the pitches and the Food Talk. This is likely partly as a response to the networking and socialization opportunities as well as the activation by moderator.

During the intensive programme, it is important to make sure the audience and participants are moving, eating & drinking, and activated in frequent intervals. Food and beverages of the Food Hack were planned in line with the message of sustainable food system featuring vegetarian food, sustainable containers, and innovative foods, while making no compromise to taste. Professional moderator kept the programme running smoothly and helped to activate the audience and hackers with small exercises forcing us to stand up and move around.

For the audience, the hackathon steps and the innovation process were not explained in detail. More than process charts and figures, the experience of the Food Hack was conveyed to the audience. Dynamic video content and music were used to create excitement as well as to feature the event experience, and the transitions and highlights of the program. Like the video on the ongoing Food Hack shown on the final day, the videos of the past hackathons featured on the Krinova website were focused on the feeling of the event as well as the excitement and experience of the participants. The live audience was also able to experience the products of the past winners at the Food Pavilion, which is always a good idea, but especially when talking about delicious food innovations.

To conclude, Food Hack by Krinova was absolutely a great learning experience and a good launch for the BioBoosters team working. Now it is time to roll up our sleeves and get working on the service design of BioBoost Hackathon based on the joint ideation. Stay tuned and see if we’ll record a theme song… and what the recipe for the BioBoost drink or energy bar will be.

Project Manager Anna Aalto, Jamk University of Applied Sciences, Institute of Bioeconomy
Project Specialist Eija Iso-Ahola, Jamk University of Applied Sciences, Institute of Bioeconomy