First place winner recognized for innovative algorithm and robotics tool for packaging produce
Rabobank and MIT have announced the top prize winners of the fifth annual Rabobank-MIT Food & Agribusiness Innovation Prize, a premier business plan competition for early-stage businesses developed by students hailing from universities across the United States.
Winning top honors is motorCortex, an autonomous robotic system for packaging produce, who received prizes including a cash award of $20,000. Their custom algorithm enables their robot to detect the optimal pick-up points on individual pieces of fruits and vegetables in a pile and place them correctly in collection trays in a post-harvest warehouse setting. Antithesis Foods, the second place winner, receiving prizes including a $10,000 cash award, makes crunchy snacks through a novel processing method for chickpeas that emphasizes both flavor and inherent health benefits. Their premier product, Grabanzos, is a chocolate covered crunchy snack.
A total of eight finalist teams competed in the final pitch event on April 29, which was held virtually for the first time. The teams applied for the competition in the fall of 2019, and finalists were selected in January and paired with mentors to sharpen their pitches.
The annual university-based competition, which invites teams to pitch innovative business plans focused on sustainable, cutting-edge products and technologies in food and agribusiness, is sponsored by Rabobank in partnership with MIT's Abdul Latif Jameel Water & Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS) and the MIT Food and Agriculture Club. The competition is open to universities across the United States and this year garnered over 40 applications from teams across 16 universities.
"We are always impressed by the high caliber business plan pitches the student finalists prepare," said David Bassett, Head of Wholesale Banking North America. "Supporting innovators and start-ups is core to nurturing the evolution of our food system, and bright, new ideas in these exceptionally challenging times are highly welcome. Furthermore, this annual Rabobank sponsored competition, along with our flagship innovation platform FoodBytes!, is part of our continuous effort to cultivate innovation for addressing the food and agriculture sector's most pressing challenges in commercially viable ways," he added.
"We are proud to give these student-run enterprises access to hands-on mentorship from a diverse group of subject matter experts and connect them to Rabobank's vibrant, global network of food, agriculture and innovation professionals, clients, and partners so they can be poised for greater success," said Tejal Mody, Head of Business Development and Strategy.
Supporting student research and entrepreneurial pursuits helps advance MIT J-WAFS' mission to catalyze research, innovation and technology for ensuring safe and resilient supplies of water and food, while reducing environmental impact, in order to meet the local and global needs of a rapidly expanding population on a changing planet. "We were again delighted by the dedication, creativity, and achievements that students from MIT and across the country bring to challenges in the food and agriculture sectors," said J-WAFS Director, John H. Lienhard V. "The financial support and mentorship of Rabobank multiplies this energy and will propel many of the new products and innovations we heard about tonight."
For more information on the Rabobank-MIT Food & Agribusiness Innovation Prize visit the MIT Food + Agriculture Club.
Rabobank Group is a global financial services leader providing wholesale and retail banking, leasing, and real estate services in more than 40 countries worldwide. Founded over a century ago, Rabobank today is one of the world's largest banks with over $640 billion in assets. In the Americas, Rabobank is a premier bank to the food, agribusiness and beverage industry, providing sector expertise, strategic counsel and tailored financial solutions to clients across the entire food value chain. Additional information is available on our website or on our social media platforms, including Twitter and LinkedIn.
About MIT J-WAFS
J-WAFS is an Institute-wide effort that fuels research, innovation, and cross-disciplinary collaborations focused on water and food systems to meet human needs. Through early-stage research grants, support for technology commercialization, sponsored research management, student funding and mentorship, and events that convene local and global experts, J-WAFS leverages the world-class resources for which MIT is known. Our objective is to advance knowledge and innovation to create resilient systems that can deliver safe and adequate supplies of water and food for our changing world.