Dec 17 2021

Jordan Giali

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As 2021 comes to a close, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the first year of XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion, the first-ever food-focused XPRIZE competition. But before we dive into the major highlights from this year, you may be wondering – how did this competition come about in the first place?   

Competition Origins
Every XPRIZE begins with the end in mind, and we get there through rigorous research. XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion was first conceived in 2019 as part of the Future of Food Impact Roadmap. This in-depth report identified the top 12 most significant challenges facing our global food system, along with proposed breakthroughs that could positively transform the current state of things. Through extensive research, workshops, and interviews with innovators from around the world, alternative proteins at scale were clearly identified as a promising way to feed the planet without destroying it in the process.

Thankfully, we were able to team up with a few organizations that are also determined to change the world. We are grateful for the support of our Title Sponsor, ASPIRE, our Benefactor, The Tony Robbins Foundation, and a third group that wishes to remain anonymous at this time. Without these organizations' financial support and commitment to our future-positive mission, this competition would not be possible.

Registration & Ecosystem Building
With our Sponsors on board, we officially launched the competition on December 7, 2020, kicking off the registration round. This was an exciting time, as we received interest from hundreds of individuals, companies, student groups, and others around the world. More than 60 countries were represented, marking one of the most geographically diverse competitions we've ever hosted. The best part? Getting to meet these bold and audacious innovators. We learned that there are so many capable and inspiring people in the world. Whether or not they entered the competition, they’ve instilled immense hope in our view of the future.

“Diversity is so essential for breakthrough innovation and I am super excited by the diverse approaches that Semifinalists are taking as well as the geographic diversity that they bring to this XPRIZE competition. This cohort of Semifinalists represents 14 different countries working on groundbreaking approaches from plant-based, cell-based, fermentation and fungal-based products, to find sustainable and nutritious ways to feed the world.” – Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE

With registration in full swing, we got to work recruiting our Advisory Board – a group of business and food science thought leaders who help set the competition's strategic goals. No XPRIZE competition is complete without an Advisory Board, and it has truly been an honor to work with these experts.

“Getting involved in the Feed the Next Billion challenge has been one of the more rewarding moments of the past year; in 2022 I’m looking forward to seeing the competitors and hearing them all discuss their solutions. Sponsored by Abu Dhabi’s ASPIRE, the rigorous screening process, the competition parameters and methodologies, and of course the significant prize pool, have all helped to turn this XPRIZE into one of the most exciting and competitive scientific awards of the decade.” – HRH Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, Advisory Board Member

We also set out to build an outstanding Judging Panel – and we're sure we met that goal. The Panel consists of protein scientists, sustainability and commercialization experts, and a professional chef – all at the top of their fields and representing the critical specializations required to evaluate the teams' submissions. As the competition advances and the scoring criteria grow in difficulty, expect our list of Judges to expand, too.

“​​My favorite moments of 2021 were getting to open and evaluate each of the team’s outstanding applications and feel energized by the innovation happening around us in the food industry. For 2022, attending the in-person judging summit will definitely be a highlight. I can’t wait to meet the teams and see their products in real form.” – Brian Jacobson, Judging Panel Member

We were also fortunate enough to recruit a set of key Partnerships within the food-tech ecosystem. These organizations have core values and objectives that align with the overall mission of the competition. They also have extensive connections within the bioscience and alternative protein ecosystems, extending our reach and supplying the teams with state-of-the-art research and support. It's worth noting that we're always looking to form new partnerships to help our teams succeed, so please reach out if you'd like to learn more.

Selecting the Semifinalists
After registration closed on June 7, 2021, the Judging Panel went to work evaluating each application in-depth. It wasn't easy. With so many excellent submissions, the Judges spent multiple days deliberating, ultimately selecting 28 top-notch teams from 14 different countries – representing every continent of the world. In recognition of their accomplishments, the teams split a $500,000 award, the first disbursal of prize money.

Announcing the Semifinalists was by far our proudest moment of the year. With any XPRIZE competition, we’re never quite sure how it will be received at launch. Will people apply? Were our goals too audacious? Success is never guaranteed, but these Semifinalist teams are the best food innovators in the world. They boldly stepped forward, ready to build a sustainable future of food. If anyone can transform the global protein industry, it’s these men and women.

So, with our first year down, what's next for the competition? 

Late Registration
Since the summertime, the competition has been open for late entries, and we've received dozens of interested teams from various countries. The Judging Panel will evaluate these applications according to the same standards used during regular registration, ultimately selecting up to two new teams to join the Semifinalist cohort. Keep an eye out for a public announcement in January 2022!

Semifinalist Testing & Judging 
From now until the first half of 2022, the Semifinalists will be working to develop their products for evaluation. They've been given a specific set of criteria that they'll need to meet to qualify for the next round. In early 2022, the teams will be evaluated for their level of readiness (known as "Semifinalist Verification"). 

“We couldn’t have dreamed of a better turn-out…I am most excited for the completion of each team’s preparation and cooking, followed by the evaluation of these prototypes by a trained Judging Panel.” – MJ Kinney, Plant-Based Protein Expert, XPRIZE

Once they make it through the Verification checkpoint, the teams will proceed with testing their products for various characteristics, including nutritional equivalence to conventional chicken/fish products, along with structural and physical aspects. At that point, the teams will begin shipping their products to professional laboratories for these analyses. The labs, in return, will produce quantified datasets for the Judging Panel to incorporate in their deliberations.

During this time, the teams will be asked to calculate their environmental impacts of production, along with the estimated costs to scale their processes. This information will be crucial to evaluating the long-term sustainability of these products in comparison to conventional chicken and fish.

In Fall 2022, the teams and Judges will convene in a central location (to be revealed soon!) for live testing. At this point, the products will be evaluated for taste, texture, and other sensory properties that consumers value. Shortly after that, the Judging Panel will select up to 10 Finalist teams to advance, who will split a milestone award of $2.5 million ($250,000 per team).

New Events, Judges, and Partners
It won't all be work, though. Between now and the Finalist Announcement, the Semifinalists will have the opportunity to attend a series of exclusive workshops and events to meet industry stakeholders and connect with fellow innovators in the food-tech community.

We are also looking to onboard new Judges and Partners to help with the testing operations. If you or someone you know is an expert in food safety testing, nutritional facts panel analysis, or techno-economic modeling, please reach out to us at [email protected] 

As we close out the year, we are grateful to our friends in the ecosystem for all their help, support, and guidance. And we are incredibly proud of the work that our Semifinalist teams are doing. Check out their websites and follow them on your favorite social media platforms if you haven’t already. Thank you for joining us on our mission to create an abundant future for all! Until next time, happy holidays and new year!  

Jordan Giali