‘Farmer-preneurs’ Improve Crops in Southern Africa
2014 Big Bang! winner does well, does good
A team of Business Development Fellows, UC Davis MBAs and their Zambian colleagues has built a company around simple technologies and practices that help local farmers to avoid losses and grow more crops. Zasaka has taken off since winning both the People’s Choice award and the Ag and Food Innovation prize in the 2014 Big Bang! Business Competition.
A veteran pediatrician, Schery Mitchell-James has always placed her heart with children.
And as both her 30 years in practice and her early experiences at home as a busy parent clearly taught her, trying to satisfy picky young eaters with a healthy, balanced meal is no picnic.
Mitchell-James, now an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at UC Davis, and her daughter, Briana James, had often talked about those childhood meal struggles—and the passion they share today for delicious food. When the early-stage company James was working for abruptly closed doors last year, the mother-daughter team fell into “accidental entrepreneurship.” Drawing on their combined interests and experience, they created and launched Scrumpt, a startup that delivers affordable, nutritious lunches and snacks via mail to elementary school children.
“Parents need something that’s convenient,” says James, who brings both her training as a lawyer and her entrepreneurial expertise to the venture. “We wanted to take the fun of grocery store lunch kits and make them something kids can thrive on.”
In May, Scrumpt took the $10,000 first prize in the 2015 UC Davis Big Bang! Business Competition.
Five finalists—out of more than 50 teams representing over 150 aspiring entrepreneurs who participated in this year’s competition—pitched their ventures to the Awards Ceremony judges and audience on May 21. It was a satisfying conclusion to a journey they embarked on eight months earlier. The Big Bang! provides workshops, mentorship, financing and networking to accelerate commercialization and advance the startup process. The competition is open to students, researchers, faculty and staff.
—Professor Andrew Hargadon, Founder and Faculty Director, UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Many of the contestant ventures focused on innovations in food delivery—the how, what and when we eat for optimal nutrition and minimal waste.
“Given the university’s strengths in food, engineering and life sciences, we saw some very promising technologies come out of the competition,” said Cleveland Justis, executive director of the UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which organizes and runs the Big Bang! “We can’t wait to see where these companies lead.”
Scrumpt, which brags that “Every Scrumpt Box contains only those products that have been approved by our panel of pediatricians, nutritionists and health-conscious moms,” has already launched successful pilots.
“The Big Bang! helped us hone our narrative and tell our story in a clear and compelling way,” says James. As Scrumpt gears up for its first back-to-school season, “we’re excited to use our Big Bang! funding to activate marketing channels, accelerate our growth—and share Scrumpt with even more families nationwide.”
Foodful.ly took the $5,000 Second Prize for its web-based service and mobile app that addresses the underlying causes of household food waste: forgetting about foods already purchased and not knowing how to cook them. The team also received the $2,500 Gary Simon CleanTech Award and the $4,000 Mobile Apps for Societal Impact Award, sponsored by the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) at UC Davis.
The company was founded a year ago, after CEO Brianna McGuire, a plant pathologist working in California vineyards, realized that although “A great deal of effort goes into preventing spoilage and disease while fruit is growing, the same attention is not given to produce post purchase.
“Foodful.ly was born out of the realization that we could be doing more to prevent spoilage and waste in the home.”
McGuire, who received her master’s in food science from UC Davis in June, said that “the mentorship with industry-knowledge experts that Big Bang! provided really moved us forward.” She plans to use the $11,500 in prize money “to fund our incredible team and buy necessary equipment.” Foodful.ly will seek beta testers for its app this summer. “We want to improve features, make it very agile,” McGuire says.
—Akshata Mudinoor, Founder and Executive Director, Sensozyme
Sensozyme received the audience-selected $2,500 People’s Choice award. Led by UC Davis biological and agricultural engineering doctoral candidate Akshata Mudinoor, the team has developed a real-time biosensor to measure glucose concentrations across a wide range of applications and at one-third the cost of current options. Sensezyme is using the award to help fund the process of patenting its technology, incorporating and developing a prototype.
“Our venture started as a project in our laboratory,” Mudinoor explains. “Our mentor and advisory board member, Dr. Tina Jeoh, envisioned this idea. As biofuel researchers, we measure sugars on a daily basis, and current methods are painfully long and tedious. That led us to pursue the creation of an easy-to-use, real-time and inexpensive product.”
Other awards recognized particular areas of innovation:
Finalist team branBYTES received the $3,000 Award for Innovation in Food & Agriculture sponsored by the World Food Center at UC Davis. branBYTES makes meal supplements and snacks that provide complete wholegrain nutrition. Watch video >
Aventeal, which produces a product that can be attached to biotechnology-based therapeutics and deliver them to different areas of the body, received the $4,200 UC Davis Biomedical Innovation Award, sponsored by the Office of Research, the School of Veterinary Medicine and the School of Medicine.
Vision Vanguard, a competition semifinalist, received the $3,000 Poverty Alleviation Award presented by the UC Davis Blum Center for Developing Economies. This team of biomedical engineering students created an inexpensive, portable device to prescribe eyeglasses in developing nations. Read more about their innovation >.
The Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is a Center of Excellence at the Graduate School of Management.
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