Elevator Pitch Contest: 

Where Are They Now? Part II

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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)
EPC, Elevator Pitch Contest FinalistsAnne-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.

Simone Frey, Managing Director of Atlantic Food Labs GmbH and EPC judge, with EPC finalist Anne-Julie Tessier.

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.

Klaus Kraemer, Managing Director of Sight and Life and EPC judge, along with Simone Frey, Managing Director of Atlantic Food Labs GmbH and EPC judge, award 2nd place to EPC finalist Andrea Spray for INATU.

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

Winners of the Elevator Pitch Contest, Alexandra Warrington and Alexandra Sanderson with Benedikt Suter, Board Member of Sight and Life, and Dr. V. Prakash, Chairman of IUFoST.


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

Where are they now?

Sight and Life Elevator Pitch Contest Finalists

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Ever wonder what happened to the first Sight and Life Elevator Pitch Contest finalists from 2016? Sight and Life had the privilege of catching up with four of the ten finalists from Elevator Pitch Contest to find out what they are up to now and reflect on their experience.

EPC, Elevator Pitch Contest

During this competition, graduate and post-doctoral students were invited to submit their ideas on the theme ‘The Future of Micronutrient Innovation’ across diverse categories in nutrition-related products, services and technologies. We received over 90 submissions from students in 18 different countries. With the support of a distinguished jury, we narrowed the selection to ten bold ideas for presentation. The finalists were sponsored by Sight and Life and Tata Trusts, who mentored them as they prepared to present their ideas to a panel of experts, in front of an audience of conference participants during the Micronutrient Forum in Cancun, Mexico. Read more about the 2016 Sight and Life Elevator Pitch Contest here

The first and second place winners, Muzi Na and Nicholas Myers, share their status and weigh in on the Elevator Pitch Contest along with finalists Nicholas Myers and Sambri Bromage. 
Uzi Na, Elevator Pitch Contest FinalistMuzi Na
Location: China
Concept: Empower Grandparents – A mobile application using SMART feeding messages that empower senior caregivers, such as grandparents, to better feed their grandkids in rural China.
Na was the first place winner of the 2016 Elevator Pitch Contest with her innovative mobile phone application and persuasive pitch. Today, the idea is on paper with plans to write grant allowing her to collect data about acceptability regarding the idea among the target population. Currently, Na is on faculty at Penn State University as an Assistant Professor in Nutritional Epidemiology.

EPC, Elevator Pitch Contest, Philip James

Philip James
Location Gambia
Concept: Next Generation Supplement Design – A novel nutritional supplement to optimize the mother’s micronutrient status in early pregnancy to better regulate infant epigenetics and decrease future disease risk.
A future full of potential, James caught the attention of the jury panels with his inventiveness in 2016. The nutritional supplement has now been designed and is currently in the process of setting up a clinical trial in Gambia to test its effectiveness in correcting micronutrient deficiencies. James and histeam is also looking at how nutrition in pregnancy, particularly at the time of conception, has the potential to influence the way an infant’s genes are expressed, and the implication this may have for the health of that child over his or her life.
EPC, Sight and Life, Elevator Pitch Contest Nicholas Myers
Concept: Paper Analytical Devices – A lab-on-paper that measuresiodine levels in salt and urine samples to monitor iodized salt programs at a low cost in real time. 
Myers has found support through The Black Lion Hospital, in conjunction with the Ethiopian Food, Medicine, and Health Care Administration and Control Authority, and is performing an implementation study in Ethiopia. If the study is successful, health agencies and governments may use the test card to monitor the quality of iodized salt in marketplaces.
With a shift from the nutrition field to public health, Myers has adapted the chemistry of his iodine test card to instead quantify the amount of penicillin-class antibiotics present in finished pharmaceutical pills with greater than 95% accuracy. His hopes are that the test card becomes a field-friendly technology that governments use to detect breaches in medicine compliance.

EPC, Elevator Pitch, Sabri BromageSabri Bromage
Location: Mongolia
Concept: Leveraging Academic Networks for Dietary Survey (LANDS) – A global student-centered network for collecting, analyzing, sharing, and applying dietary data from populations in low-and middle-income countries.
Today LANDS is used in Mongolia with interest to expend it internationally. Bromage is currently finishing his dissertation on “Epidemiology of dietary and micronutrient deficiencies in Mongolia” and beginning the search for a post-doc position or job. In tandem, he is working on new and interesting projects that he will be able to share in the future.

1. What did participating in the Sight and Life Elevator Pitch Contest mean to you personally and your innovation?

Na – The Sight and Life Elevator Pitch Contest meant a lot to me! Personally, the contest provided an opportunity for me to meet and know manyyoung innovators working in diverse fields all over the world. From the innovation’s perspective, the elevator pitch style is very different from writing a proposal or a manuscript, as there is a short window of time to articulate an idea, including the rationale behind the idea and the potential impact. I really want to thank Sight and Life for organizing this fantastic event, in which I discovered new possibilities to share and sell novel ideas that aim to tackle nutrition problems. 
James – It was a privilege to be short-listed for the contest. Being able to attend the contest at the Micronutrient Forum enabled me to meet so many people from different fields in nutrition, to network with people who were interested in my team’s project and to be able to benefit from everything else happening at the Forum.
Myers – As an inventor, I welcome any chance to disseminate information about my invention. At the competition, I pitched an idea about an inexpensive paper test card that quantifies iodine levels in fortified salt with greater than 90% accuracy and how it can be used in low- and middle-income countries. At the time of the contest, my invention was making its way through the “Valley of Death,” which is a relatively low funding period between R&D and commercialization. The contest provided a platform on which I, a chemist, reached hundreds of experts in the micronutrient sector, and these multi-disciplinary connections are critical to push an invention through the “Valley of Death” and to commercialization.
Bromage – Participating in the Sight and Life Elevator Pitch Contest helped me realize the international potential of my innovation. Personally, it exposed me to nutrition innovation, a part of nutrition I have not had much experience with as I mostly work in research.

2. What was the biggest challenge you experienced through the creation process of your innovation?

Na – I guess there were many challenges but the biggest one for me probably was to identify the ‘big’ problem that maybe solved by a ‘small’technology, which I understood. Once a niche target population was identified, the process to identify and design an intervention, applying feasible technology to serve the population was straightforward.
James – The field of nutritional epigenetics is still rapidly developing, so consolidating the evidence base to design a supplement was an interesting but challenging piece of work. 
Myers – The biggest challenge for me was overcoming small but daily setbacks. I had to rapidly prototype dozens of devices with relatively minor changes, most of which did not work. I came to term this ‘Edisoning’ as Thomas Edison had to follow a similar process as he trialed 2000+ materials to develop the light bulb. My technology and I survived the research and development phase because I saw the benefits of the final product outweighing the emotional, physical, and monetary costs to create it.
Bromage – My biggest challenge is getting other people interested in my innovation because I am not really a natural born salesperson.

3. What was the most memorable moment from the Sight and Life Elevator Pitch Contest?

Na – It was the moment I decided to stay among the audience and not to give the pitch behind the podium. It was a completely random thought, mostly because I was very nervous. Once I started my pitch right next to the first row of listeners, I immediately felt a connection with the audience. It was an amazing feeling and my nerves immediately disappeared.
James – The session when we delivered our presentations was a great experience. It was so good to hear everyone’s pitches, get inspired by the creativity in the room, and to have the support of a room full of interested people. It was also encouraging afterwards to network with people who had further questions and advice.  
Myers – The moments I enjoyed the most happened behind the scenes when all the innovators had the opportunity to get to know each other personally. We are not just a bunch of mad scientists- we are a group of seemingly ordinary people with a shared desire to improve health, and with the motivation to do so.
Bromage – Getting to meet the other contestants and the Sight and Life team including Kalpana Beesabathuni, Kesso Gabrielle van Zutphen, and of course Klaus Kraemer.

4. What lesson(s) did you learn from your experience?

Na – Be bold, be confident. No idea is too small to share. Lastly, but not least, it is important for any speech-based contest to practice, practice, and practice. 
James – It was a great opportunity to learn how to explain an idea succinctly and avoiding technical jargon. An elevator pitch is a very different style of communication than I was previously used to and this was the ideal setting to learn more about how to develop those skills.
Myers – Even though I was one of the winners, investors and buyers are not knocking down my door to advance the technology. The lesson I learned is that perseverance is needed at all steps of product development and that I will have to keep pushing just as hard as I did through the research and development stage to survive the commercialization phase of my invention. It took a lot of hard work and gumption to achieve what I have so far, and it will take at least as much to reach the next level.
Bromage – Some of the greatest innovations are not devices but rather new ways of thinking about the world.

5. Where do you see the future of nutrition?

Na – I see a lot of potential for the future of nutrition is from the interdisciplinary perspective, where technology, engineering, biology, and other disciplines interact with nutrition making groundbreaking discoveries as well as solving critical nutrition and health problems.
James – I see a future where nutrition continues to be integrated with other sectors and disciplines. In my field that means analyzing nutritional biomarkers together with metabolomics, genomic, and epigenomic data to broaden our understanding of the complexities of human metabolism. 
Myers – The future of nutrition relies on all of us being citizen scientists making information-based health decisions. Ordinary people need to be provided easy-to-use and robust technologies to help them with these choices. We saw this at the competition, especially with the technologies presented by the three winners.
Bromage – Dealing with the effects of climate change.

Interested in learning more? Read the about the next group of EPC alumni here