UAE's FoodTech Challenge returns with a $2m prize pot

The competition, which first ran in 2020, seeks to find agritech solutions to address food security issues

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A competition introduced by the UAE to deliver high-tech solutions to pressing food security challenges facing the world is doubling its prize fund this year.

The second run of the FoodTech Challenge, which is aimed at early stage start-ups, will offer a prize pool of $2 million and a high-profile platform to turn ideas into reality.

It is seeking to attract entries related to managing food production, loss and waste to improve availability and sustainability.

Applications are welcome internationally from university-based research teams, individual entrepreneurs, small companies and others.

The first event was held in 2020, having been announced the previous year by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

“The importance of food security has never been more pertinent, with supply chain challenges and climate change disrupting the world as we know it,” said Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment for the UAE.

“The pressure is on for us to rethink food for the future, to rethink resilient agricultural practices, and to leverage the best of technological advancements in doing so.”

The challenge is organised by the ministry and Tamkeen, an Abu Dhabi company supporting the UAE's development of a knowledge-based economy.

They will work with local partners in the UAE to help develop the ideas.

Rima Al Mokarrab, chair of Tamkeen, said the second FoodTech Challenge will support the finalists end to end to develop their ideas.

“The second FoodTech Challenge is designed as a comprehensive initiative that ensures innovators are championed throughout the innovation cycle with everything from R & D support, licensing, market insights, access to capital, corporate partnership and more,” she said.

“To do so, each of our partners — Aspire, ADQ, Silal, the Emirates Foundation — plays a critical role in attracting, developing, and scaling innovation in UAE. Together, they present innovators with an unparalleled opportunity to develop and deploy tech-enabled solutions for our food security challenges at speed and at scale.”

Ms Al Mokarrab said food security is a complex challenge that cuts across borders and requires a collaborative approach.

“AI, robotics, low-cost sensors, the Internet of Things (IoT), and bioengineering — these are some of the key technologies transforming agricultural practices and the global food supply chain today.

“We are calling on innovators to leverage these technologies — and others — for the particular challenges faced by UAE, challenges, I might add, that are also shared by other countries with a similar climate and natural environment.

“The solutions to our challenges, ultimately, would also contribute to the global food security tool kit.”

Applications will remain open until June, when submissions will be shortlisted.

The top 10 teams will present their business cases at the Awarding Ceremony in November. Entrants can submit their applications via the challenge's website.

The first edition attracted 437 applications from across 68 countries.

The four winners, who were each awarded $100,000, included a start-up that produced a light-emitting device to help fishermen attract the right catch.

The UAE has embraced advanced technology as a key tool to bolstering food security.

Last May, Dubai unveiled a major new food technology hub set to act as a "global destination" for enterprising businesses and a key driver of the emirate's economy.

Sheikh Mohammed said Food Tech Valley would help further develop vertical farming and other advanced agriculture technologies and bolster the UAE's food security.

The state-of-the-art centre aims to triple the UAE's food production and make the country more self-sustainable.

Updated: June 07, 2023, 4:36 PM