UC Davis–Mars Innovation Institute Holds “Solution Summit” in California

Mars’ Chief Science Officer Harold Schmitz discusses the biggest challenges in food, agriculture and health
Dec 18, 2015 4:10 AM ET

With the population growing and the climate changing, our food, agriculture and health systems are facing increasing strain. To do something about this, Mars, Incorporated co-founded the Innovation Institute for Food and Health earlier this year with the University of California, Davis. On December 2 and 3, the Institute hosted the two-day Solution Summit—a series of events in California to explore ways to address these challenges.

The Innovation Institute was created as a hub to deliver Silicon Valley-type breakthroughs in food, agriculture and health through uncommon collaboration across sectors. The Institute’s first workshop on October 29 was attended by over 100 people who helped define its most pressing challenges to focus on, narrowing 30 big issues down to four focus areas: health, sustainability, knowledge and governance.

These areas formed the basis of the December 2-3 Solution Summit, which attracted more than 300 leading representatives from academia, industry and government representing the entire food system. On day one, attendees got into teams for an “idea hack” led by the Mixing Bowl to work on agricultural issues in California. The winning team was awarded $3,000 for developing an idea to help food banks minimize food waste, which they generously donated to the Yolo Food Bank. 

In the next room, attendees were taking part in a “hackathon” with Apps for Ag—groups had just 36 hours to program an app that could solve real-world agricultural problems. The winning app was designed to help small farmers connect with farm workers so crops get harvested in time and don’t rot in the field. 

On the second day, everyone from investors to start-ups and academics gathered to discuss the entire innovation cycle in a series of panel discussions and lectures. Investors talked about the rapidly increasing amount of venture capital available for food and agriculture, while start-up leaders showcased examples of investments already bearing fruit, such as the potential to use insects as chicken feed.

In early 2016, the Institute will be issuing an open call for innovation proposals to bring the themes discussed at the Solution Summit to life and address food, ag and health challenges. The Innovation Institute will select the best of these ideas to take forward in a portfolio of pilot projects beyond proof‐of‐concept to scalable application and impact.

Mars’ Chief Science Officer Harold Schmitz, who took part in a panel discussion at the event, said, “The Solutions Summit has shown that all sectors of society have a part to play in the future of food and nutrition security, and has proved the importance of collaboration to achieve sustainable solutions.”