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EXCLUSIVE: These 10 startups are finalists of this year’s TFF Challenge

February 18, 2020

And then there were 10! Thought For Food (TFF) has sent AFN a list of the 10 startup teams which have secured their spots in the finals of the 2019/20 TFF Challenge, as well as 5 teams that will also take part in an inaugural TFF Boost Program.

These are the top 10 — drawn from 5,200 participants from 175 countries. And note: they are listed in alphabetical order.

  • Aglonera (Indonesia) — an online marketplace connecting food trucks with farmers and breeders to save time and costs, while improving the quality, nutrition and sustainability of food provisions.
  • AIT Group Poultry Farmers Management Systems/ PFMS (Cameroon) — an AI-powered mobile application to connect poultry farmers with veterinarians for diagnosing and treating animal illness, potentially helping to predict disease outbreaks.
  • Banoo (Indonesia) — an aquaculture solution integrating a microbubble generator, IoT sensor, solar panel, and a mobile application to increase productivity while reducing environmentally-damaging water waste.
  • BumbleChain (New Zealand/Canada) — a blockchain-based, plug-and-play supply-chain verification system to help prevent fraud, increase transparency, and improve economic opportunities for sustainable honey producers.
  • CBA Sementes (Brazil) — an automated aeroponic system to produce high-quality, disease-free potato seeds, while also reducing overall production time and costs.
  • microTerra (Mexico) — a low-cost, modular water treatment system that uses microalgae to convert agricultural wastewater into nutritious animal feed.
  • Neurafarm (Indonesia) — an AI-powered crop diagnostic tool to provide early detection and treatment recommendations for diseases and pests, targeting smallholder farmers.
  • SyntheSea (Malaysia/Global) — designing ways to produce omega-3 nutrients from plant oil precursors for use in fish feed.
  • WTH Foods (Philippines) — plant-based food products made from valorized bumper crops that are sourced directly from local growers, processed to minimize waste streams, and delivered to customers in sustainable packaging.
  • Xilinat (Mexico) — a novel way to create xylitol, a natural sugar substitute that can be used to combat diabetes and obesity, by using agricultural waste sourced from poor farmers.

TFF’s inaugural Boost Program is an initiative to support startups with storytelling, industry connections, and team-building. The 5 startups selected are:

  • AgriCycle Global (USA/Global) — fully-traceable dried fruit snacks, flours and charcoals produced using a fully vertically-integrated supply system approach incorporating circular economy principles.
  • AgriMatch (Malaysia) — a mobile application that increases transparency about the practices of rice middleman, creating equal access to opportunities across the agri-value chain.
  • GeoPotato (Bangladesh) — an SMS and voice-based service for farmers that uses satellite and weather data to send alerts and recommendations regarding possible late blight attacks.
  • GrowCab (UK) — a low-cost, open-source benchtop plant growth cabinets that can be used to shorten plant generation times and accelerate the breeding of crops.
  • Smart Agrometer (Lithuania) — a hand-held device to measure what specific nutrients are missing for plant growth at certain stages of its vegetation, which makes specific recommendations for nutrient application to save costs and increase sustainability.

Spotted a strong weighting of Asia-focused startups in the mix? That is because in 2020, after several years of hosting the contest in Europe, and after hosting the last edition in Brazil with a LatAm focus, TFF is aiming to bring global awareness, collaborative innovation efforts, and investment opportunities specifically to the ASEAN region.

Positioned as a global call for sustainable and inclusive food system solutions, the TFF Challenge has unearthed six projects out of the top 10 with team members from ASEAN countries.

Spotlight on Asia

“We’ve set our sights on Asia,” agreed TFF CEO Christine Gould, in a phone interview with AFN from Basel, Switzerland. “It has the climactic conditions to become an ag powerhouse.”

The one potential risk to an ASEAN-focused event in 2020, however, is the recent outbreak of a lethal strain of coronavirus from China across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Accordingly, Gould told AFN she and her team had made the decision to push back the hosting of this year’s TFF Summit, where the winners will be announced, to later in the year.

“At a high level, we’re looking at an October time frame,” said Gould, emphasising that her team still very much intended to stage the TFF Summit​ in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; she herself would be visiting there again in March. The startups heading out to Malaysia for that event will be jostling for the chance to win up to $25,000 in grant funding, as well as multiple in-kind prizes from TFF and partners like Sunway Group, iLabs, the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation, ​and the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI).

The delay does not leave these startups stranded in the boondocks till that Summit itself. The 10 TFF Challenge finalist teams will now join the TFF Academy, an intensive virtual and in-person startup acceleration program, where they will, according to Gould, “receive mentorship and training from experts to further develop their concepts by gathering customer feedback, building their organizational structures and sharpening their business models.”

TFF has also partnered with the Food Lab Accelerator at Google, reNature Foundation​and Beta.Space​ to offer special prizes in circular economy, agroforestry and space colonization (respectively). The winners of these topical prizes will be announced in the coming days.

What do you make of this list of startups? Let us know by dropping a note to [email protected]

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