UT Food Lab Challenge Prize mentors announced

The Food Lab at The University of Texas at Austin
Draws Industry Innovators as Mentors for Food Challenge Prize
Finalists in food system innovation contest work with business executives, chefs, technology strategists, others for shot at $30,000 on February 14

AUSTIN, Texas — The 21 finalist teams in The Food Challenge Prize, developed by The Food Lab at UT, are in the final weeks of preparation for Showcase Day on February 14th at the Norman Hackerman Building on the University of Texas at Austin campus. Regardless of who wins, each finalist will have already gained invaluable advice during what will be 13 weeks of mentorship with a leading industry innovator in preparation for contest day. In addition to competing for $30,000 in cash prizes, teams are vying for the attention of potential business partners and a broader awareness of their innovations within the food system.

More than 120 teams from across the country entered the Food Lab’s first Food Challenge Prize last spring and summer. The top 21, including one student team, were then paired with industry mentors suited to each team’s category of entry. Prizes will be awarded in four food system categories: 1) Healthy Eating; 2) Inputs and Production; 3) Processing, Packaging and Safety; and 4) Storage and Distribution, along with one Grand Prize winner.

Mentors from Austin and beyond have been helping the finalists fine-tune their ideas, provide helpful tips, best practices and motivation. For example, Chef Sam Hellman-Mass of Odd Duck and Barley Swine is working with Aspire Food Group of Austin, Texas, and its mission to advance responsible farming and consumption of insects. Eduardo Wallach, food innovation strategist and regional development director for Cencosud, one of the largest South American retail companies, has been matched up with Revive Foods, a San Francisco-based social enterprise with a mission to create healthier food products from fruits that would otherwise go to waste. Vincent Ashwill of ELM Restaurant Group is a veteran in the hospitality industry, currently overseeing numerous Austin establishments including 24 Diner, Easy Tiger, Key Bar and Waterloo Ice House. He has been paired with California-based Stitzii, a company creating environmentally friendly, grease-resistant, sustainable food packaging.

“We are honored to have such a stellar lineup of mentors in our inaugural year. These leaders bring not only their impressive experience to the table, but a genuine passion for fostering smart, sustainable new businesses that will improve our global food system. I can’t wait to see the results of these new partnerships on Prize Day and beyond,” stated Robyn Metcalfe, founder and director of The Food Lab at UT.

Other mentors include Cynthia WalkerPeach, Director at Austin Technology Institute’s Bioscience Portfolio, Shelly Brenckman of Startup Aggieland and Michael Atkinson, principal at Food Tech Strategies. For a complete list of mentors, click here.

Showcase Day for the Food Lab Challenge is free and open to public on Saturday, February 14th, 10:30am – 4:00pm. The Norman Hackerman Building is at 100 E. 24th Street; map, parking information, RSVP, etc. via link here. Local food entrepreneurs such as Tiny Pies, Easy Tiger, Austin Beerworks and Honest Teas will provide food and beverage samplings throughout the day; live music from Bonfire Choir takes place later in the afternoon.

For more information on the Food Lab Challenge Prize, please visit the website.

About The Food Lab at UT
The Food Lab at The University of Texas (TFL) provides awareness of food issues, encourages and motivates students to engage with innovative food systems research, and provides support to startups that leverage university research and bridges the divide between academia and private enterprise. Founded in 2012 by Dr. Robyn Metcalfe and based in The School of Human Ecology, College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, TFL serves as a catalyst for experimentation and innovation in the global food system. TFL is a project of Foodmakers, a 501c3 non-profit, based in Austin, Texas. It has launched several initiatives, including The Miracle of Feeding Cities digital magazine, The Miracle of Feeding Cities documentary film, and The Food Challenge Prize. For more information, visit utfoodlab.com, visit on Facebook and follow TFL on Twitter @TheFoodLabUT.


Lisa O'Neill