This semester, The Good Food Institute and the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology launched the world’s first course on plant-based meats at UC Berkeley, which challenged student groups to come up with transformational business ideas to make animal meat obsolete.
Finally, after months of preparation, the day of reckoning has arrived!
Inside Banatao Auditorium on Berkeley’s campus, student groups presented their final business propositions to a panel of judges comprised of investors, scientists, and industry experts, with $5,000 (and a piece of the future of food) on the line.
Sitting in the audience, it felt like an episode of Shark Tank, but with the crackpot entrepreneurs already weeded out (who remembers the guy who tried to sell socks in pairs of three, in case you lost one?).
GFI Senior Scientist and Challenge Lab course designer Christie Lagally sits on the judging panel
These students brought their A-game, with marketable solutions to solve some of our most pressing global problems. Some of the truly brilliant ideas included selective breeding to optimize plants for use in plant-based meats, fermentation to produce abundant plant-based protein from the otherwise difficult-to-harvest RuBsiCO enzyme, and producing healthy, plant-based MRE packs for members of the military. After deliberating, judges decided that two groups deserved to share the winning spot.
Winner-winner(s) plant-meat dinner! Teams ShellFree (top) and Xtruder shared the winning spot
One of the winning teams – ShellFree – has obviously taken the Shark Tank metaphor literally and delivered a plant-based alternative to combat the destruction of ocean ecosystems brought on by overfishing. Using ESI Mass Spectrometry, the team was able to measure the effects of using iron as a flavoring agent to create taste-identical substitute to satisfy the $5.4 billion shellfish market in the U.S.
Team Xtruder took home the other half of the spoils with an innovative approach to one of the key engineering challenges around plant-based meat production: finding an affordable and consistent extruder to transform plant proteins into plant-based meats. Extruders are machines widely used in the plant-based meat industry, but despite their critical importance, little improvement has been made in their functionality in more than three decades. With a unique business model that allows startups to affordably rent extruders on a monthly basis while they scale up, Xtruder hit on a serious pain point within the industry and offered a smart solution. Plus, using technology informed by the Bernoulli Equation, the team was able to design a compact and customizable version of this machinery. For context, extruders are typically the size of a small car, so this is huge. Or, more accurately, the opposite of huge. You get the point.
Throughout the semester, Berkeley students put their time and talents to work to tackle some of our biggest global challenges by creating novel plant-based meat business plans. After watching students nail their final pitches, it’s all I can do not to start a slow-clap round.
Well done, students. Well done.
We’re looking forward to seeing you all launch your solutions out in the real-world, where they can make a tremendous impact!
The Plant-Based Challenge Lab was sponsored by SeaCo.
To learn more about how GFI is working to create a healthy, humane, and sustainable food supply, check out what we do.