The Elevator Pitch Contest (EPC), founded by Sight and Life, is a competitive platform for students and young professionals to present their innovative ideas in front of a distinguished team of experts, investors, and the nutrition science community. It is an interactive approach whereby an entrepreneur must boil down their concept into a precise and persuasive pitch in order to spark interest from potential financiers – a critical part of the entrepreneurial process as competition for research and investment funds increases.
To date, there have been three EPCs held, the first in Cancun during the Micronutrient Forum in 2016, the second in Boston during the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) in 2018 and recently in Mumbai during the 19th World Congress of the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST) in 2018. Three finalists sat down to chat with us about their progress and success since the competition.
The three finalists are:
Andrea Spray, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
At the EPC in Boston, Andrea presented a dietary intake innovation called INATU that measures the impact of women’s time on nutrition.
“[EPC] is a great opportunity to hone new practical skills, and to engage with top experts in your field. It really was a great honor to participate. It was a lot of work, but I think that you get as much out of it as you put in. This type of opportunity is rare for young entrepreneurs/students/innovators.” – Andrea Spray (EPC Boston)
Anne-Julie Tessier, Keenoa
During the EPC in Boston, Anne-Julie walked away with the first-place prize for her innovative artificial intelligence (AI) based food diary.
“I would recommend EPC without a doubt! Because it is a unique and enriching experience to kick-start your company.” – Anne-Julie Tessier (EPC Boston)
Alex Warrington, Future Food Now
Pitched her solution for using aflatoxin at-risk groundnut cake as a by-product from oil crushing to be used as a feed source for insect farming at IUFoST and won. Find out more about her innovation here.
“The EPC has helped me to better define my project and given me more confidence when presenting. I also met some great people whom I continue to speak with today.” – Alex Warrington (EPC Mumbai)
How has the EPC contest helped you?
Andrea Spray (EPC Boston): Having just completed field work on the INATU pilot, the EPC helped me to quickly synthesize and prioritize key messages about our innovation, try to articulate them in a way that our target audience would find compelling, and really push the horizon of my own thinking about what comes next.
Anne-Julie Tessier (EPC Boston): My team and I had pitched Keenoa to investors, but never had participated in such an event in the context of a scientific meeting before. The EPC helped me tailor my pitch to scientists and permitted us to reach a wider audience by presenting at ASN. It was an occasion of increasing awareness of our innovation among scientists and nutrition experts and it permitted us to grow our network globally.
Alex Warrington (EPC Mumbai): The EPC gave me the impetus to make my idea happen.
What did participating in the contest mean to you personally and your innovation?
Andrea Spray (EPC Boston): For me personally, it was the first time I was presenting my PhD dissertation research to a truly public audience, and to some of my “hero” experts in the field of nutrition. It was also the first time I had done an elevator pitch, and so I put in a lot of effort into optimizing my presentation for that purpose. Finally, I had never thought of the path of entrepreneurship before; the EPC provided insight into that world that I definitely would not have otherwise been exposed to. For the innovation, it was the first time to solicit feedback and impressions from a broad audience, and it provided helpful visibility to our work.
Anne-Julie Tessier (EPC Boston): While some of my PhD colleagues were presenting their work in poster or oral sessions at the ASN conference, I was proud to attend the meeting as one of the Sight and Life elevator pitch finalist to present Keenoa. Participating and winning the EPC marked an important milestone for our company as it was the first time showcasing our innovation to international scientists.
Alex Warrington (EPC Mumbai): Before participating, I just had a concept which I was not sure I could see to fruition, but through participating I began to realize how important my project had become to me. I wanted to succeed and make my idea a reality.
Did you find the entire EPC experience useful? Why?
Andrea Spray (EPC Boston): The platform to present my research in such a dynamic format was the primary benefit of having participated in the EPC. The preparation alone prompted numerous conversations about the work that I otherwise would not have had at such an early point in the research process. I found the in-depth engagement with various Sight and Life colleagues enriching, as was the opportunity to learn about related work of my peers.
Anne-Julie Tessier (EPC Boston): The overall EPC experience was useful on many levels. One of the highlights of the EPC experience was our inspirational meeting with Simone Frey, Managing Director at Atlantic Food Labs GmbH and EPC judge. I could highly relate to her career path; it was refreshing and motivating to learn from a woman in entrepreneurship who also has a doctorate degree. It was also an honor to meet with other students from various universities who all work towards improving nutritional assessment; sharing our ideas and learning from their experience was enriching. The overall discussions with mentors, students and the incredible Sight and Life team, without whom this experience would have not been possible, were insightful with regards to entrepreneurship, graduate studies, intellectual property and much more.
Alex Warrington (EPC Mumbai): We had some great coaching on presentation content and delivery from Nirjhor Rahman of YGAP Bangladesh. I really appreciated meeting fellow finalists who were all so inspiring, and it was exciting to talk about possible solutions to problems such as aflatoxin contamination with like-minded entrepreneurs. The social media coverage and videos also provide me with quality future marketing materials for my project.
What lesson(s) did you learn from your experience?
Andrea Spray (EPC Boston): So many things! First and foremost, I learned a lot about presenting research with an entrepreneurial mindset. The experience also reinforced for me how very different the circumstances are in low-income and high-income country settings for nutrition assessment. Several of my EPC “competitors” are working with state-of-the-art technology, whereas working in rural low-income settings we’re interested in low-tech solutions that can be transformative for the field. Our challenge is less the technology and more the overall system.
Anne-Julie Tessier (EPC Boston): I grasped the importance of networking with entrepreneurs and students; it is key in creating future collaborations and getting surrounded by insightful mentors.
Alex Warrington (EPC Mumbai): How to successfully pitch in only five minutes! I also had not been involved in filming before so I hope I have learnt some skills for being in front of the camera!
What is the current status of your idea/project?
Andrea Spray (EPC Boston): I am currently writing up results of the validation of using our innovative approach (i.e. wearable cameras and image-assisted 24-hour recall) to assess diet diversity and time allocation. That combined with results of our feasibility and acceptability research will be crucial in identifying next steps.
Anne-Julie Tessier (EPC Boston): Nutrition is key in chronic diseases prevention. Our mission at Keenoa is to empower dietitians by giving them state-of-the-art technologies to maximize their impact on the health of the population. We have reached a product market fit in Quebec, Canada. Now our goal is to expand commercialization in Canada and United States. We have initiated validation of Keenoa as a tool to assess dietary intake in research, results should be published soon!
Alex Warrington (EPC Mumbai): I am currently in discussions with universities and business to determine the best feed source and location for the pilot insect farm in Africa. I am slowly teaching myself WordPress and have created a website where you can follow the project’s progress: futurefooodnow.co.uk
How has the funding from EPC help further your innovation?
Andrea Spray (EPC Boston): EPC funding covered my travel expenses to attend and participate in the ASN conference in Boston, thus enabling exposure to an audience of experts we would not otherwise have reached. With that exposure, I received truly valuable bits of feedback that I suspect will be incorporated into future work.
Anne-Julie Tessier (EPC Boston): The monetary award from the EPC helped us creating what we call food builders to be integrated in the Keenoa mobile app. These are to further facilitate data entry by the end user and increase accuracy of dietary assessment; it was the natural prolongation of food recognition from pictures of meals.
Alex Warrington (EPC Mumbai): The funds are going to be used for the initial costs of research into the food safety of insects fed on the chosen aflatoxin contaminated feed source.
What are your future plans?
Andrea Spray (EPC Boston): With the conclusion of the validation research, I am wrapping up my PhD dissertation. I hope to defend that by the end of the calendar year. In the meantime, I am also ramping back up my nutrition consulting/research work, including a follow-on Drivers of Food Choice grant. It has been an incredibly challenging few months trying to get this research done, so in the near future I am looking forward to some much-needed R&R.
Anne-Julie Tessier (EPC Boston): With Keenoa, we aim to fundamentally change dietary assessment in dietetics practice and research field. My vision for Keenoa is to see all dietitians and nutrition researchers use it to accurately and precisely quantify the impact of nutritional interventions on the health of individuals and communities. Our future plans are to accelerate commercialization worldwide. To do so we will grow our team. On the tech side, as we collect data, we train our algorithms to get better at predicting food items from pictures.
Alex Warrington (EPC Mumbai): Once the food safety research has begun, I intend to apply for more funding to ensure that the business model is viable – exploring market opportunities for insects as food and feed.
For information on future Elevator Pitch Contests visit elevator-pitch-contest.org.