Digital Tech Summit 2021: Key Insights

Earlier this month, the Digital Tech Summit was hosted here in Copenhagen. We checked in with Gitte Storm Hougaard Jørgensen – one of the organizers – to hear about the key insights and outcomes of the event.


What were some of the biggest insights and outcomes that emerged from the Summit?

One of the most important things that the Digital Tech Summit has shown is that there is a need for a meeting point for actors, initiatives, networks, etc. in both the public and private sectors, to strengthen the digital transformation. With Denmark’s 8 universities as the driving force, a high academic level was set, in an ecosystem that already has international recognition in several areas. The role of universities as the 8 core pillars of the ecosystem and their willingness to collaborate, provided visibility and sent a strong message to the outside world.

In addition, the fair has been able to illuminate and set the direction for some important trends areas in digital technology.

* (The 8 universities: Copenhagen Business School, Technical University of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, IT University of Copenhagen, University of Southern Denmark, Aarhus University, Roskilde University, Aalborg University.)

AI Ethics were a key topic at this year’s summit – how might we build more human-centered and sustainable A.I. that can positively impact all of humanity?

Universities are concerned with putting people at the center of technology. This also applies to artificial intelligence, where massive investments are being made in research in Denmark. For example, in areas such as: Explainable AI, safe and ethical AI and the link between AI and sustainability. Likewise, efforts are being made across a broad spectrum of areas to develop new education programs within artificial intelligence and digitalization – so universities can meet the growing demand for digital talent in both the private and the public sectors.

At the same time, it is crucial that a good framework is created for the exchange of knowledge between public research and industry if we are to secure new digital solutions for the benefit of society at large. And here, the Digital Tech Summit plays an important role in this digital transformation.

The risk of crossing the line within AI ethics lies not only in the development of technology, but also to a large extent in how the technology is used. At present, the development and use of AI is based on trust. Therefore, political initiatives that can set standards and pave the way for ethical technology are also necessary for AI to have a positive impact on all of humanity. This is a topic that is a key focus of EU Commissioner Magrethe Vestager, who actively participated in this year’s Summit.

How is technology playing a leading role in helping us work towards major social and environmental challenges, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals? What were some of the more promising innovations at the Summit around using technology for solving social and environmental issues?

At the Digital Tech Summit, there were over 70 professional sessions, several of which had a direct focus on the role of technology in solving major societal challenges. It exciting to see in areas such as energy and sustainability, for example, where several sessions addressed artificial intelligence as a prerequisite for growing those sectors. For example, integrating AI in the establishment of smart and more coherent energy systems. Health tech also had a significant focus on AI, where, among other things, there was a focus on so-called “digital twinning” to develop medicines more quickly and accurately. All in all, the presentations from both researchers and business leaders showed that cross-disciplinary collaboration is crucial for technologies to truly help solve our societal challenges.

The summit was hosted by many major research universities – how can we bridge the gap between university research and technology industries? And how might these collaborations be oriented toward solving the SDGs?

Over the past 10-15 years, Danish universities have made a great effort to open up and strengthen cooperation with the business community. This applies to both the general dissemination of knowledge, but also the commercialization of concrete research – for example creating new spin-offs and startup companies based on university research. The Digital Tech Summit is a result of this positive development. The event also shows how crucial it is for universities to collaborate in the exchange of knowledge between the business and the public sectors. Digitization requires many types of competencies, both from the humanities, social sciences, and the technical sciences. The individual research environments may not necessarily provide all the knowledge that is required. Therefore, it is necessary to think across professional competencies. For example, when we need to develop robust and competitive technologies where people are at the center, where we create economic value and solve the challenges of society.


Gitte Storm Hougaard Jørgensen works to develop, execute and establish the Digital Tech Summit Startup Community as one of her personal visions is: to create value in the world, by strengthening the exchange of knowledge and the collaboration between research and business. By creating collaborations across universities and with the rest of the startup ecosystem, the future looks exciting.

Northern Lights: Business, Sustainability, and Innovation in the Arctic





Rasmus Schjødt Pedersen is CEO of Sustainia. He is a sustainability and communications executive, working with fact-based story-telling and positioning for global companies with complex operations.


As the CEO of Sustainia, you work at the intersections of sustainability and business – could you share a bit about what has driven and inspired you along the way, and shaped your journey? What are the core values, philosophies and ideas that motivate and inspire your work?

Sustainability is trending all over the place right now, and everybody wants to come up with answers. So, my journey with sustainability started well before I joined Sustainia as the CEO four years ago. Working with sustainability has been a part of my thinking ever since university. I went to Harvard University and at that time social innovation was a big thing. And you recognized some of those same elements now as you see environmental, social and governance issues that are also being implemented within large organizations. Social innovation was kind of an answer to some of the things that you do not cover when you’re pursuing positive financial returns. And whilst we are all familiar with the financial side of a business and how we account for value, the non-financial issues of business are profoundly important to society. So I started studying them back then at Harvard and at MIT and have continued to work with those areas up to today in my role as CEO of Sustainia.

What are some of the most promising trends and innovations you see emerging at these intersections of sustainability and business innovation?

I think there’s been a movement from just talking about sustainability and creating awareness, to taking concrete action. As for creating awareness, that’s also something that has been happening for many years – pointing toward the actual real solutions that are out there. Some of them are already scalable. Others need investors in order to grow. But there are definitely a number of technological solutions to nearly every challenge that we as a humankind faces. And now I see that there is this huge, vast and growing momentum around taking action and getting things done right. So all of the traditional business disciplines are leaning towards now putting sustainability front and center, and a lot of companies and organizations are challenged by how to do that effectively. But I think there is a growing consensus – at in least some parts of the world – that putting sustainability front and center is what we need to do. And so I think that that general awareness has spread from boardrooms and CEOs and visionaries to a lot of professionals working every day just to do their job. But now they also want to do it at the most sustainable fashion. I think that’s very positive.

Sustainia and HelloScience have collaborated on AOE, and the program had some exciting developments with this year’s cohort. Could you give us an update on AOE and how you see the program continuing to grow into 2022?

Artic Opportunity Explorers is made possible through a grant from the Nordic Council of Ministers – and they wanted us to focus on gender equality in the Arctic and the well-being of youth and kids. We’ve done it two years in a row now, and I think it’s wonderful to see the variety of answers to questions that are not necessarily clear cut and see the solutions that come out from these. These are collaborations developed by young university graduates from around 21 universities here in the second year. It’s actually it’s very inspiring and it brings hope because it’s everything from business development to mental health and new opportunities for women and men.

So I’d like to highlight a couple of projects that came out of this last year. One was a project about digitizing Artic art through NFTs – nonfungible tokens. And so those are appreciating in value, and they’re run by blockchain that verifies it, a digital asset. So if you’re creating an artwork, you can certify in the blockchain that this was actually the original piece of art. And this is creating a new marketplace, and recently at auctions double digit million-dollar pieces of digital art have been sold. And that’s something that you can do from afar, and that’s something that you can do remotely. So if you’re living in in a village in Greenland, you can still access these marketplaces. In short, it could be a new way to create growth and opportunity for people in more remote areas.

Another project focused on the vast disparity of women in shipping and in leadership positions and in the shipping industry and the fishing industry. That project won because it has a really good business case and the team came with a really strong argument that they could go out there and do this project. I think it’s an innovative idea that is concrete and solid and we see that there is some feasibility and some economic viability behind it. And then you have a team of smart, motivated young people. They can they can do wonders if they can get the right coaching, build the right foundations for the project and work in the right environment to make it happen.

What are some of the keys to building successful collaborations around the SDGs?

I would say you, we, need to have an open heart when working together – whether it’s a client or as an organization that you work with, because this area is changing so fast. What was OK yesterday won’t cut it tomorrow. And that’s especially the case with disclosure, and companies to really have to disclose much more than they used to in the past. So we’ll have a lot more transparency in the market, and I think that’s a good thing. Definitely the area is maturing and that’s that great, but that also makes it much more complex for organizations to navigate.

As we work toward the 2030 agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals, what do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities in building collaborative SDG solutions through business innovation? How do you see the role of HelloScience in catalyzing deeper SDG collaborations?

We see more and more that the default is collaboration, because, you can’t go it alone. You need to have others follow you. That means that you also slow down a little bit, because it’s always initially faster just to go it alone and then do it by yourself, your own organization. But you need to have a broader ecosystem, always, and that’s more complicated. That means that you need to collaborate more with others. And it’s easy to say, but it’s actually really hard, because there’s going to be a lot of noise in that process. So that’s also why you need to have tools that create clarity and kind of create some bottom lines along the way to say, ‘these are the people that actually know this or that’ or ‘These are the ones that we should collaborate with to move us forward’. And so I think that there’s a bigger need today for a curated experience when you’re doing innovation. And that’s why tools like HelloScience are beneficial.

Do you have any other insights as we look toward the year ahead?

I think we see a trend where some of the absolute market leaders, they start feeling a little bit more responsibility for the ecosystem as a whole. They’re no longer just saying, ‘Well, I’m going to sponsor that event or I’m going to have bilateral talks with that start up’. Now we see that some of the ones that are most ambitious and take the most, the highest degree of responsibility and they say, ‘OK, what can we do as an industry leader to move the market forward?’ And so we see some of the leaders we work who are really ambitious in saying, ‘OK, we’re as almost as sustainable we can be. We’re doing all the right things. We’re checking all the boxes. But can we work with or guide our own suppliers and our own customers to do the same?’ That way we can advance this much sooner. So they’re taking responsibility for others actions as well, and I think that’s absolutely beautiful. I think we’ll see much more of that in the future. And that’s also where our focus is: if we can stimulate some of those market leaders to take an even greater responsibility outside of their own organizations.

Sustainable Futures: Cities, Water and Cross-Sector Collaboration

Ingrid Andersson is a senior expert addressing issues related to “smart” solutions through community engagement and behavioural change at the International Organisation for Knowledge Economy and Enterprise Development (IKED). Her engagements include international projects linking smart cities in Europe, Asia and the Middle East – focusing around pioneering methods to boost citizen adoption of new social and environmental solutions and innovations. In particular, she has been working on tackling effects of climate change and desertification in Oman, where she has used the “Groasis Waterboxx”( https://www.groasis.com/en) to plant over 3000 trees in the last three years with a survival rate of over 90%. Her other areas of interest and project development include: ecological villages; behavioural change around health; and women’s entrepreneurship programs.

You’ve been working across sectors and exploring issues ranging from water management to urban sustainabilty. What do you see as the major challenges and opportunities of collaborating across sectors around issues of sustainability?

I think it’s definitely difficult to work with both governments and large corporations because there’s a big gap in their interests as well as some of the big companies this is about, you know, giving the shareholders what they want and for the government, it’s about managing resources, but also to manage the strategies that are put in place by the leadership of the country. So there is a sort of gap of understanding… We have to bring government, business and other actors together. And I think the best way to do this is to actually collaborate actively together.

The more diversity we can have when we start the collaborative project, the better. So it’s not only the big company and the government just sort of starting a very big project together – we should work across industry, government, civil society, research and NGOs.

You’ve been working on issues of urban sustainability across Europe, what are some of the biggest insights you’ve gained from that work?

In many ways, it comes down to demand – encouraging populations to create a demand for more sustainable solutions and ways of urban living. While there are new technologies that can help conserve resources, there are also many nature-based solutions out there that have been around for thousands of years. As time has gone by we lost some of these competencies and skills. So now it’s about both educating people around certain behaviors and forms of sustainable living and looking at how to sustainably use resources. We have to look at resource recovery that comes in terms of the management of waste, energy and, of course, water. So there’s a tremendous need to educate people, but also for organizations and for governments. So how can we drive the demand for services and products that can create more sustainable resource use? Because when people start to demand these services and products they will be implemented and put in place more rapidly, so that we will have a more sustainable future.

You’ve also been working on water conservation efforts around the world. Could you share a bit about your pilot project around water and reforestation in Oman?

We are engaged in a reforestation project in the south of Oman, where actually 75 percent of the forest has been lost. We’re using our waterbox technology as a tool for the planting of trees.
We have a collaboration with Oman’s Environmental Authority and also some collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Water. And we have also BP Oman as the sponsor of the project, which is on land owned by the Omani environmental authority.

We plant on the land of the environmental authority. We have a mix of volunteers and professionals using this water box technology to plant trees. We only plant with native trees and we conduct research to see what kind of species are the most successful in terms of managing the dry and harsh climate there. These reforestation efforts also serve the need for the oil and gas industry now to start to mitigate what the CO2 emissions that they produce.

Ingrid at a tree-planting event in Siena, Italy. The waterbox technology and tree-planting efforts are on-going in different communities across the world.

How can we best structure cross-sector collaborations to create the most successful partnerships? And what are the biggest trends you see driving cross-sector partnerships and collaborations toward achieving the SDGs?

It’s essential that everybody has a shared vision, that you’re working toward one clear vision. It has to be a red-thread through the project. There must also be complete transparency, that everybody trusts and understands the agenda and the nature of the collaboration. That way everyone can take ownership and contribute most effectively with the resources they have. In terms of trends, I think that digitalization can play a very strong role. I see that the communication between people is key in this way, and that we are able to communicate the goals very well. In this way, actors can apply their strengths and their own wishes in a very sustainable way. We should be able to create a sort of cross-border collaboration between people, between nations as well and between regions and across disciplines. In this way, we have a possibility of not only connecting with people in the same system, but also other areas of expertise and knowledge.

The Paradigm of Collaboration: Research, Action and Sustainability





David Budtz Pedersen is Professor MSO of Science Communication and Impact Studies at Department of Communication & Psychology, Aalborg University Copenhagen, and Head of Research at Humanomics Research Centre. His research focuses on science communication, impact assessment, science and technology policy. He is leading several large-scale research projects on research assessment and is the Chair of the EU Commission COST Expert Group on Science Communication. Alongside his research, David has an international public presence with outreach activities in science policy, speaking frequently on the topics of Science Advice, Impact Assessment and Evidence-Based Policy-Making. Read more about Davids research here

You’ve worked at the intersections of science, policy and collaboration for many years now – could you share a bit about the ideas and perspectives that drive your work?

So I think my main sort of purpose or concern, having become a professor in science communication, has really been to highlight and emphasize and also accelerate the public value of universities. The aim is to make universities more valuable to society and more impactful in helping researchers translate their research into real world applications, in order to drive collaborative partnerships and change in society. Research is such a strong resource, and science is such a strong power of humankind that we really need to bring it to the forefront of collaboration.

It’s important to start with asking ourselves, as researchers and universities – What do we really want to collaborate on? What’re really the issues at stake? What’s our mission? And then we build our research collaborations from the mission up and rather than from the product, the publication and the prestige.

Earlier this month, COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference was held with industry leaders, policy makers, and researchers from across the world. What are some of the most important takeaways from COP26, in terms of how we might drive scientific collaborations in building more sustainable futures?

Taking the long view on what climate change and climate science has taught us especially over the last ten years is really that facts don’t explain themselves. There needs to be more to the truth, the solutions, than only producing high quality research. It’s all about getting that research into partnerships, and it’s a lot about understanding the real-world intricacies of policy making. Then working together with activists, policy makers, with business, NGOs, civil society, with media organizations and with researchers across different disciplines, to stress the importance of action and informed action. Informed action is when you use research collaborations to really inform specific actions and solutions.

I think at COP26 and what we have seen lately is actually sort of a new beginning, in that sense that people have become much more focused and they have become much more aware of the power of collaborations. They cannot be making these decisions within silos. Silos really do not work anymore in our current policy and scientific landscape. So we need to bring in multiple stakeholders. We need to bring in different audiences. We need to bring in different disciplines, including cultural contributions from the social sciences, the behavioral sciences such as psychology, communication science and behavioral science, are also very important in order to understand what it takes for human perception and for human agency to make solutions that are actually viable.

How do you think collaborative innovation and open science can contribute to climate solutions and building sustainable futures?

First of all, I think industry leadership is extremely important. So it’s promising to see companies such as Novozymes with activities like HelloScience and to see companies taking the lead and working collaboratively toward the SDGs, along  with startups and universities and other actors. Is sort of an important moment of inspiration for many of us working to create institutional change, because institutional change only comes from the champions of change. It only comes from role models, people who can take the lead. And in that sense, I believe that what Novozymes has been doing here has really been important for other institutions, other companies, but also at the university level. It’s motivating to see innovation strategies go in the direction of open entrepreneurship and partnerships, to aim for impact.

What we see now really becoming a key priority is to move from a paradigm of cooperation into a paradigm of collaboration. And that means that you need open space in which you can actually create and open new avenues of research and development and actually go into a collaboration where you’re allowed to also come up with shared definition of problems. This shared problem space allows diverse stakeholders to really work together in real time and without always having to be focused on division of labor in results. There is a more open space in which we can not only inspire each other, but also work across different institutions. We can move from division of work into actual knowledge sharing and sharing of ideas. And we can only share ideas if we are able to co-create those ideas, if we can contribute, and if we can partner up and truly collaborate.

It’s also important to be an industry mentor for other companies and to open up for new collaborations that can really drive both the core business of the company itself – which is also then able to provide resources, inspiration, ideas and tools for other partners in the innovation ecosystem to really move ahead. So what we have seen coming out of HelloScience, I think is really promising in terms of solving some of the challenges working across industries and also getting new partners into the mix. We can see with the open science and open data movement that has been with us for more than for more than 10 years that I think open collaboration starts becoming a reality. It’s about working together and getting more and different actors into the mix. People on the ground across the world, people in universities, business and industry, people in NGOs, even activists and policymakers. The further you go in remixing your collective of actors, the more possible it becomes to then also come up with viable solutions.

What would you like to see in terms of some of these trends in science and collaboration by 2030? What kind of what kind of landscape would you like to be working and operating in, in terms of policy and research in climate science and how we work to solve some of these issues?

I think that we need we need to leave behind an emission driven economy and go into a mission driven economy. So I would really like to see some of these cross-sector partnerships strengthened, and I would like to see some of the silos being broken down – thinking about incentive structures, rewards, technology funding streams, schemes, partnerships to fund collaborations. They need to be driven not only by leadership and ambition, but also by funding and incentives and rewards. So I would really like to see our society takes the concept of of the climate mission seriously and engaging and getting all these actors to work together.

Any final thoughts or wisdom on building successful collaborations?

I work in on responsible artificial intelligence and ethics and AI policy. In that space we talk a lot about human-centric approaches to innovation, and how we need to put the human back into the center stage of innovation and design. And in those terms, it’s all about understanding the human being as this multidimensional creative being. Yes, we can be very formal and very economical, and we can be very scientific, but we can also be very playful, and we can be, as human beings, very social, very altruistic, very empathetic. And we do not always only need the knowledge, we also need wisdom, and wisdom emerges from these more open-ended explorative missions that we are on.

The Future of Clean: SKOSH Updates

We check-in with clean-tech startup, SKOSH and Co-Founder and CFO, Tom Hackenberg – as he provides an update on their probiotic cleaner and their on-going collaborations with Novozymes.

Q: Can you give us a little update on where you are on the journey and what have happened since last time?

Of course,! we have been “live” now with our probiotic cleaner for about 3 to 4 months. Before that we did a lot of research and development with Novozymes in order to find the right balance of probiotic formulation, as well as some long term studies and technical analysis, which was completed in spring after which we created our first production batch.

We also did some market testing with our customers, to receive some feedback on the cleaners and how they use them, as well as their advantages and their disadvantages. We had one iteration at the end of spring/beginning of summer and since we have started selling we’ve already seen very good traction around the products.

Right now we are preparing for the next round of production and for a new batch of probiotic cleaners.

Q: How have you been collaborating with Novozymes?

We did a lot of technical analysis and product development, and then we took our idea to develop environmentally friendly cleaning tablets to Novozymes, who contributed  their knowledge around probiotic cleaning. We more or less combined these 2 areas and came up with a probiotic cleaning tablet, which was tested over several months in all kinds of environments and fields.

In the future, we could see developing more product lines. For the moment though, it’s only one product, the specialized probiotic cleaner. We’re continuing to work on new product areas, such as surface cleaning and other fields or environments.

We had the pleasure to meet up with Simon and Max, on October 27th at their office, Minc, based in Malmö.

Some opportunities are too small for the big companies to pursue them from the beginning and that’s exactly the environment where start-ups are being formed and then, at some point, maybe the opportunity gets big enough for a big player to be interested in it as well and I think that’s something we can see in our industry as well and innovation is built that way.

– Tom Hackenberg

Explore Skosh’s Journey

Q: How has the open collaborative process with Novozymes helped you in accelerating the technology and the business?

I think it was great! I remember when we kicked-off the HelloScience accelerator/program, that there were many different parties who were able to give feedback, who had an idea of the industry we are working in and just wanted to help us going forward with the idea we had: of combining probiotics with our cleaning tablets.

I think in general, just being on the platform of HelloScience and having the different parties also following our stages and the development stages we had and giving feedback on those and every time is super helpful. At each stage we were able to state certain needs we had and problems that emerge and people in the ecosystem have been able to support us in those different areas as well.

We’ve also received great support from Marta Kinnunen-Grubb from Novozymes – who serves as our primary technical mentor – and the main technical support on our work has come from HHC EU Technical Service.

So, I think in general is good to have different groups and expertise combined, and that’s how innovations can emerge.

Q: Where do you hope you can take this collaborative approach in the future?

I see it mostly in new product development areas. We are now working on new product areas in different fields, both in household care but also personal care products. I think here is essential to get to know from existing players who have been in the industry for a while, in order to learn from them and they can learn from us at the same time. We might have a different view on the industry than they do and I think that’s the most valuable asset, to just combine these innovative companies and start-ups, and the industry players with a lot of know-how and expertise in different fields. 

Q: How do the next 6 months look like for you? What’s the next step?

We are now in a very fortunate situation that we are going to raise a lot our funding round in the next 6 months in other to expand to other countries. Basically, we’re focusing on driving forward our international expansion, but at the same time drive the product development we have in our pipeline.

At the moment we still have a small team, so we want to expand it in order to explore more areas and opportunities Our core focus is to bring sustainability to household care – and so we’re constantly exploring ideas and opportunities for innovation in that space.

THE NEXT GENERATION OF FOOD INNOVATORS

Christine Gould – Founder & CEO – Thought For Food
Christine is a global leader in agri-food-tech innovation. In 2020, Christine was invited by the UN Deputy Secretary-General to serve on the Advisory Committee for the UN Food Systems Summit. She also sits on various boards, including on reNature Foundation’s Board of Advisors. Christine holds an MPA in Science and Technology Policy from Columbia University, and is the author of the book “The Change-makers Guide to Feeding the Planet” (2021).


As the founder of Thought For Food, you work at the intersections of science, technology and sustainable food and agriculture – could you share a bit about what has driven and inspired you along the way, and shaped your journey? What are the core values, philosophies and ideas that motivate and inspire your work?

When I hear this question, there are a couple of books that pop into my mind as having influenced my thinking: Wikinomics and Grown Up Digital, both by Don Tapscott. These books talk about the power of mass collaboration to drive breakthrough innovation and how the next generations of digital natives will be an unprecedented force for transformational change in the world. I read these books at a time when I was working for a big agribusiness company, and I was becoming fed up with how hard and slow-moving it was to bring new ideas to life in the overarching construct of “business as usual.” 

I joined the industry with an idealistic vision that I could make a positive difference in the world by advocating for radical openness, transparency and collaboration. I knew that the technologies and business models that were impacting other sectors – e.g. things like open source, sharing economy, DIY innovation, etc. – would eventually have dramatic implications in food and agriculture too, and I was excited to start to implement these approaches in my job so that we could see existing complex problems through a new lens of possibility. 

But, reality turned out to be a little different than I had hoped. I soon realized how resistant to change this industry can be. And there are clear reasons why: the regulation that surrounds food and agriculture is extremely complex and any solutions in this sector need to be massively scalable before anyone pays attention to them. The average age of the world’s farmers is over 60 and agriculture is the least digitized industry sector there is. There is a concentration of power in the big companies and institutions, which leads to inertia. Back then, many of the industry experts I worked with believed that the innovations required to tackle global food challenges would only come from incumbents or from the expected innovation hubs like Silicon Valley. 

They weren’t seeing what I was seeing — that some of the most exciting solutions were coming from outside the traditional systems and from unexpected players. I went on a quest to connect with these new players and to understand their ideas and approaches. Through this process, I came up with this crazy idea for a new role in my company and pitched it to my boss – and, luckily, she accepted it. I became the “Head of Next Generation Innovation,” which gave me the chance to spend my days connecting with really cool startups and disruptive technologies. 

During this time, I also founded my non-profit organization Thought For Food, with a mission to engage, empower and invest in the next generations of purpose-driven innovators everywhere in the world. Due to the globally-connected, digital world in which our world’s young people have grown up, they tend to naturally possess many of the skills, perspectives and tools that we need to really shake things up. This wasn’t about engaging with youth because it’s the right thing to do. For me, it was more about empowering and learning from the next generations because it’s the smart thing to do. They were creating the future, and I wanted to be part of it. 

There’s a lot of misconceptions about millennials and GenZ’s and many people ask me why I would want to work with these demographics. Entitled, lost, narcissistic, lazy, and high maintenance are just some of the ways our world’s young people are described by the media – and, let’s face it, when your generation’s defining word is “selfie,” it’s easy to jump to unfair conclusions about what your priorities are. But, there is another side to the story. By the numbers, Millennials and GenZs represent the largest, most well-educated, digitally-savvy, culturally diverse, politically-progressive, and socially-engaged generations that the world has ever seen. They are thinking and acting in open and collaborative ways; they’re used to navigating our extremely complex and ambiguous world full of constant change; and they’re putting purpose and impact at the core of how they do business. These generations are also hacking their way around traditional rules and hierarchies. They are tenacious in getting what they want, and are finding these really creative bootstrappy ways to get things done. We have the chance of a lifetime by empowering and working with them. 

The challenge of feeding 10 billion people on a hotter planet is going to be their responsibility. And, since most of this demographic lives in developing countries, they have the potential to leapfrog ahead of existing entrenched systems. So, to me, the next generations are the exact people we should put at the center of innovation and our solution development process: they are open-minded, naturally-collaborative, purpose-driven innovators who have real skin in the game.

Through your work with Thought For Food, you work to support emerging entrepreneurs and innovators working across the world at the nexus of food, agriculture, science and technology. Could you tell us more about Thought For Food and how you see TFF contributing to building sustainable food futures? What are some of the most promising trends and innovations you’ve seen emerge across TFF platforms? How would you like to see the work of Thought For Food grow in the years ahead?

Thought For Food is the world’s entrepreneurial innovation engine for food and agriculture. We bring together diverse minds from all disciplines and all parts of the world, and we have created this unique process to get them to develop and share truly game-changing innovations through a process of global collaboration for local impact. 

We run the largest innovation challenge in the space, the TFF Challenge, which attracts thousands of applicants each year from every region of the world. We also work with our corporate partners to run “topical challenges” to drive targeted innovation in areas of strategic interest to them. As some examples, we have worked with Google and Danone on the circular economy of food, with Cargill on making the restaurant industry more resilient, with DSM on nutrition in Africa, with GFI APAC on diversifying the supply chain for plant-based proteins, and we are now helping to promote the Novozymes MYCO Innovation Open Call We then select the best teams to go through our fit-for-purpose accelerator program, the TFF Academy. This program takes promising startups to the next level through a very hands-on program of mentorship and coaching focused on business model development, pitch coaching and of course creating positive, systemic impact.

Everything culminates with our TFF Summit, which has been dubbed the “SXSW of Food and Agriculture.” It is a really special event unlike anything you have seen before in the food and agriculture space. We unite visionary startups from around the world with corporate leaders, investors, policymakers and creatives to experience an immersive and thought provoking program, infused with electronic music and larger than life energy. Prizes from TFF and our partners are awarded to startups coming through the TFF Academy, and connections and ideas really take off. You can’t help but open your mind and heart to all of the possibilities for the future when you experience the TFF Summit.

As an example, we just held the 2021 TFF Summit on October 2nd in Rome in partnership with the UN FAO World Food Forum. Since we couldn’t bring the startup teams we worked with to be there in person, we decided to take a different approach. We created a movie called Generation Food, which told their stories in an uplifting, cinematic and broadly-appealing “made for Netflix” format. Our goal was to inspire, educate and entertain our audience, helping more people in more places to care about and understand the types of challenges facing our food and agricultural sector. You can watch the movie for free here: www.thoughtforfood.org or https://vimeo.com/623371971

More than 10,000 viewers in 120 countries tuned in to watch the movie and take part in the TFF Summit this year. Our TFF Community leaders organized 12 Satellite Summits around the world in places like Colombia, Brazil, the USA, India, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria, Nepal, Malaysia, Australia, and Mexico – and there were more than 4000 watch parties taking place in people’s homes. At a time where large in-person events are not possible, using this fresh hybrid format united people around the world, inspired both old and young, and boosted the featured startups to continue what they are doing with renewed vigour. Even though the people watching could not be in the same place, everyone felt connected and was tuning in to the same energy – creating a unique, authentic, family-like experience during the challenging times of this pandemic.

Something else that sets us apart is that from the very outset – and well before Covid forced this onto the world – we have been a digital-first organization. This is due to our work with the next generations, who, as mentioned, are digital natives creating and consuming pretty much everything online. Our digital ecosystem integrates into the platforms that next-gen innovators are already using, like WhatsApp, Telegram, Discord and Twitch. 

We have also built the TFF Digital Labs as a first-of-its-kind collaboration tool offering world-class resources and masterclasses in areas like entrepreneurship, leadership, and science and technology, as well as direct access to peer collaborators and expert mentors. At TFF, we live life in “beta mode,” meaning that we are constantly experimenting and adjusting based on real-time feedback and changes in the market. This keeps us nimble, agile, and relevant. 

There are many ways that we are contributing to sustainable food futures. First of all, through engagement, inspiration and action, we are creating a groundswell of momentum and change across the food and agriculture sector, which desperately needs it. We work not only with people already working or studying food, agriculture or related sciences, but also with architects, engineers, artists and designers. We purposefully seek out all kinds of people with all kinds of skills and perspectives, because with challenges so big and urgent, we need all hands on deck caring about, thinking about and taking action. 

The TFF Community has grown to comprise 30,000 people – this is growing every year. Once we ignite their interest, we support these creative innovators in developing and accelerating their solutions no matter where they are in the world. Everything we do is free and digitally-available. And, we help to make sure these talents and their solutions can be successful by connecting them to jobs, partners and investment opportunities. In the past ten years, we have helped to launch more than 60 cutting-edge startups that have raised millions of dollars in capital, are creating hundreds of new jobs, and are working with industry leaders. In 2020, I joined the Advisory Committee of the UN Food Systems Summit, and with this opportunity, I was able to elevate and amplify the voices and needs of our next-gen community to world leaders.  

In terms of trends, I think it is important to point out that by working with the next generations, we get a front row seat to see the future as it is being shaped. This is really exciting and a big opportunity for our partners too! As an example, we have been talking about alternative proteins and regenerative agriculture since 2011. We get signals in the market before trends become mainstream. 

It is clear that the values that young people represent are taking root in the food system. They are calling for more transparency and traceability in supply chains, for decentralized structures, empowerment of smallholder and female farmers, and an increase in localization and diversity of foods and crops. They are also open to bringing together solution spaces that have previously been seen as at odds with each other – e.g. biotechnology and regenerative agriculture, or lab grown meat and veganism. A trend that I am personally diving headfirst into is the world of blockchain/smart contracts, NFTs, DAOs and crypto. There are some really interesting things happening at the moment that will fundamentally transform the world as we know it. We in the food and ag sector should be paying attention and even getting involved. 

As we work toward the 2030 agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals, what do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities in building sustainable food futures? What are the biggest challenges and opportunities to fostering deeper collaboration across diverse industries and geographic food systems? What voices and perspectives are missing from global conversations and collaboration around sustainable food futures and how might we more actively engage them in collaboration?

The biggest challenges we have in building sustainable food systems is thinking and acting incrementally. I think they next generations can get us past that. Many of them have almost exclusively known a world in which all kinds of people, ideas, and a sea of information is available quickly at their fingertips. As a result, they naturally approach problem-solving on a grand scale – with an openness and audaciousness that those outside of their generations often don’t (or can’t) comprehend. They also naturally possess a mindset that helps them to transcend the nearsightedness that has historically plagued our problem-solving efforts. And as I watch this mindset in action at TFF, I truly believe that, no matter your generation, it can be learned. In my forthcoming book “The Changemakers Guide to Feeding the Planet”, I talk about the ways we can all adopt this next-gen innovation approach in what we do, no matter age, job or position in life. At TFF, we call this mindset “multispectral thinking.” 

The name is inspired by multispectral imaging technology, which allows us humans to see wavelengths beyond our visible light range. Similarly, multispectral thinking pushes us to seek out and see new perspectives and influences that can uncover the hidden layers and vast color spectrum of creative innovation opportuntiies that we need in order to solve our most complex global challenges. Multispectral thinking recognizes that, when examining a problem, the more perspectives included, and the greater the diversity of those perspectives, the better the chances of uncovering a richer, holistic picture – including what isn’t apparent at first glance. As if we could attach a multispectral imaging sensor to our brains, it’s about having the courage to open our minds to understand the intricacies and complexities of the challenges we want to solve, and then pushing ourselves to “see beyond” so that we can uncover these hidden opportunities, and then act purposefully to maximize benefits and minimize any negatives. 

The main skills associated with multispectral thinking are:

Seeking nuance: This includes being mindful of the media and information you consume, and actively seeking out new and underrepresented voices when you are thinking about issues; 

Flipping dilemmas: This is about looking at issues from other vantage points. By using a lens from other domains, you can explore all kinds of scenarios and “what ifs?” 

Building bridges: This is one of the hardest skills to master in today’s world. It is about being vulnerable, asking questions instead of providing answers, and actively listening. Most importantly, it is about keeping the bigger picture and end goal in mind instead of fighting for one point of view or one way to get there.

You can read more about the this mindset and the 6 attitudes of next generation innovation in this recent blog: https://thoughtforfood.org/content-hub/facilitating-the-behaviours-and-attitudes-of-future-food-systems-leaders/

There is a famous quote from Steve Jobs that I love, and that sums up the idea we are trying to normalize through our work at Thought For Food – that extraordinary things can happen by the action of ordinary people:

“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much…. But, life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

By working with the next generations and building TFF with them, I have been able to do things I never thought possible. And so my mission now is to help more people everywhere to understand the power they have to get involved, to join our supportive community and innovate and build better food systems.  There is a bright future ahead for our work at Thought For Food, and we are excited for all that is to come as we continue to grow, collaborate, and unleash the power of next generation innovation into the world.


To learn more about Thought For Food, visit: https://thoughtforfood.org/

THE FUTURE OF CLEAN: PILOT UPDATE