Meet the winners of the UAE's first $1 million FoodTech Challenge

Each team was awarded $100,000 in cash and are eligible to receive additional funding of up to $150,000 through the Catalyst Accelerator Programme

Aran Dasan, co-founder of SafetyNet Technologies, holds Pisces, a light to help fishermen. Courtesy: Tamkeen
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A start-up that produced a light-emitting device to help fishermen attract the right catch was among this year's winners of the UAE’s inaugural FoodTech Challenge.

UK company SafetyNet Technologies was awarded $100,000 to help further its mission to create more precision fishing around the world.

The enterprise was among four winners of the 2020 challenge and received a share of the $1 million prize pool.

Each team was awarded $100,000 in cash and are now eligible to enter the Abu Dhabi Catalyst Accelerator Programme, which provides up to $150,000 in seed funding and support.

Our first precision fishing product is a light that attaches to fishing nets

“The UAE is one of the highest fish-consuming countries in the world, eating over double the global average at 33 kilograms per capita,” said Aran Dasan, co-founder of SafetyNet Technologies.

“Against the backdrop of increasing fish consumption, the fishing process is wasteful.

“One in 10 fish that are caught are undesirable species and thus disregarded.

“Our first precision fishing product is a light that attaches to fishing nets.

“Depending on the colour of the light that it emits, it can attract or repel different species of fish to the fishing net.”

Sustainable food production in the Emirates has been a major focus over recent years as the country seeks to reduce its reliance on imports.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - May 03, 2020: HE Mariam Mohamed Saeed Hareb Al Mehairi, UAE Minister of State for Food Security (R), delivers a lecture titled “ Nourishing the nation: Food Security in the UAE ”. The lecture was broadcast on Al Emarat Channel as part of the Ramadan lecture series of Majlis Mohamed bin Zayed. 

( Mohamed Al Hammadi / Ministry of Presidential Affairs )

The FoodTech Challenge was launched in September last year by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, the UAE Food and Water Security Office and Tamkeen, an Abu Dhabi company supporting the UAE's development of a knowledge-based economy.

A total of 437 teams, including 71 student-led groups, put their projects forward in the hope of winning the 2020 edition of the prize.

A jury whittled down that number to a shortlist of 12 before the winning four were announced on Wednesday.

The winning projects were spread across different categories including water, nutrition and food logistics.

Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of State for Food Security, said the FoodTech Challenge was a catalyst to help the UAE achieve the targets of the National Food Security Strategy.

“The UAE is a water-scarce country which has less than 5 per cent arable land,” she said.

“By 2021 we want to increase our local food production by 15 per cent on certain food items and increase yield improvement by 30 per cent

“The competition was activated towards this transition.

“It kick-started the global community in helping us explore and find new ideas that are sustainable and have technology at its base to solve food security issues.”

Rima Al Mokarrab, Chairman of Tamkeen, and Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of State for Food Security. Courtesy: Tamkeen

Ms Al Mheiri said the 12 finalists stood out because of the innovative qualities of their projects and “their ability to set up and scale up in the UAE”.

On Wednesday, organisers also heard how one winning project hopes to bring algae-based foods to the UAE.

Has Algae, from Australia, uses salt water to produce algae-based superfood products rich in omega 3 and protein.

The team said it could help tackle the problem of trying to feed a nutritious diet to a growing population.

Congratulating the winners, Rima Al Mokarrab, chairwoman of Tamkeen, said they put forward solutions to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges from food production to logistics and food waste.

"I am delighted that the FoodTech Challenge has generated such compelling entrants, and its winners are set to help drive the UAE’s food security and sustainability for years to come,” she said.

Meet the winners

UK firm SafetyNet Technologies aim to create more precision fishing around the world. Courtesy: SafetyNet Technologies 

Who SafetyNet Technologies

Category Light energy

What is it A state-of-the-art light-emitting solution to enable fisherman to catch more sustainably

Where UK

One in 10 fish that are caught are undesirable species and thus disregarded. The fishing industry is lacking tools to responsibly meet global demand. SafetyNet Technologies' solution is a toolkit for fishermen to create precision fishing.

The team’s first product is Pisces – a set of underwater lights that fit to a fishing net and aims to reduce the bycatch of unwanted species.

Depending on the light emitted from the tool, it can attract or deter fish from entering the net. They said their main aim is to save more fish, help fishermen, and protect an increasingly essential food source now and for the future.

“The win has come at a great time given the pandemic," said Nadia Laabs, co-founder and chief operating officer for SafetyNet Technologies.

"We were supposed to do a Pisces product launch in March, but it was postponed. We will use the money to carry out more demos and trials to fishermen around the world, either in person or virtually.”

Who Has Algae

Category Food nutrition

What is it An algae-based superfood that is rich in omega-3 and protein

Where Australia

The team said one of the biggest problems of today’s generation is how to feed a growing population a nutritious diet while facing a shortage of arable land, fresh water supply and climate change.

To tackle the issue it developed microalgae as food. Microalgae’s crop is extremely productive and matches all our nutritional needs.

Best of all it can be grown in a desert with just salt water. In one hectare of land the team said it can produce at least 50 tonnes of dry algae biomass a year.

In terms of protein productivity, that is 72 times more productive than soybean. Water use efficiency is also very high and can make use of lower quality water like brackish or sea water, which cannot be used to grow any other crops.

“Currently we sell raw algae powder but we are looking to develop a seafood substitute into a market-ready product. The money will help us develop something like a plant-based shrimp,” said Brendan Fu, co-founder and chief financial officer for Has Algae.

Red Sea Farms utilises saltwater and sunlight to grow food. Courtesy: Red Sea Farms

Who Red Sea Farms

Category Water

What is it Innovative greenhouse solution that uses salt water for irrigation to grow food

Where Saudi Arabia

Mark Tester, co-founder of Red Sea Farms, said the food on our plate consumes two thirds of fresh water produced in the world. That number rises when it comes to the Middle East.

To make a significant contribution to saving and protecting water resources, there is a real need to reduce freshwater use for food production. Red Sea Farms uses saltwater and sunlight to grow food.

Their Saltwater Greenhouse Systems use climate control and cooling technologies powered by salt water liquid desiccants and Artificial Intelligence enabled smart systems. It currently has two greenhouses in operation in Saudi. The company introduced its cherry tomatoes to the market in February, which have a higher concentration of vitamin C and longer shelf life compared with those grown using fresh water.

“Currently selling into the market we have cherry tomatoes, large tomatoes, lettuce, kale, celery, hot peppers and green peppers as well as basil and mint," said Ryan Lefers, co-founder and chief executive of Red Sea Farms.

"With the prize money we want to try and target both our internal product development and look at how we can expand and scale up the business in the region.”

Who QS Monitor

Category Food import

What is it An online platform to streamline food imports into the UAE

Where UAE

Joe Hawayek of QS Monitor said through digitisation of the food supply chain his company's platform helps to remove inefficiencies between traders, government, and service providers when importing and exporting food. That in turn improves access to a high quality, safe, and nutritional food supply.

Using AI and the internet of things (IoT), its system provides real-time feedback to suppliers when food is in transit. The team then captures critical data throughout the life cycle of the produce at different stages. That way suppliers can ascertain the most effective export processes to reduce waste and ensure it is being stored safely.

“The UAE is an import dependent country. Most of the food supply comes from more than 150 countries and it’s a big job to make sure what is coming in is safe and nutritious," said Burak Karapinar, managing director of QS Monitor.

"We operate in more than 50 countries but would like to scale that up and reach all 150 countries where the UAE imports from."

Mr Hawayek said the prize money will help fund the IoT integration of its system to develop an additional risk-based data analytics tool.