18th October 2012

GeoVation supports food based innovation

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Last month, Ian and Chris from the GeoVation Team, were part of 2 day Wired for Food hackathon which challenged teams  to look for innovative ideas to change the way the world finds, grows and eats its food.

The event  sponsored by Forum for the Future, the Cabot Institut and Ordnance Survey,  was held over 24 hours on 21- 22 September at the University of Bristol, and challenged  designers, developers, coders and food experts to find solutions for a more sustainable food system.

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Photo from hackathon

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Data sets from Ordnance Survey and AMEE were on hand to help to develop prototypes. Ordnance Survey’s GeoVation  funded awards of £500 for ‘Best use of OS OpenData and ‘Best solution to a real problem’, to help nurture ideas into a fully-formed business plans .

The event was organised by Hugh Knowles and James Taplin of Forum for the Future to draw attention to a food system that they believe is currently unsustainable. ‘We wanted Wired for Food to build networks, spread the word about interesting challenges in the food system and help demonstrate what technology can do to help solve these with simple working prototypes. ‘ explained Knowles.

Many of the designers and coders who came to the event had not  previously spent time thinking about the challenges in the food system and those with experience in the food system weren’t aware of the capabilities of the latest digital technology. The event pulled these groups together to tackle the problem and build effective solutions.

Amongst the winning ideas to emerge from the Wired for Food hackathon were  Hatchtag — an app that connects small scale egg sellers with potential customers; Get on my land — a resource that inspires people to start a career in agriculture in eight steps; Food EQ — a platform that tracks your meal habits and helps improve your diet.

The winning ideas were beautifully simple, highlighting the potential that exists for digital entrepreneurism with the wealth of food-related data that is freely available.

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Take Hatchtag, the joint winner of the ‘Best solution to a real problem’ category’. Using the mobile messaging system Twilio and the map generator CartoDB, the Hatchtag team created an app that allows cottage-industry egg sellers to expand the reach of their business. By texting their address to the Hatchtag phone number, egg sellers are registered on a database and have their store indicated on the Hatchtag map app, allowing users to map a route to their nearest independent egg seller.

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photo of winners from event

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All the business account details, products information and updates — such as which eggs are on offer or sold out — are controlled via text messages.  Without the need for smartphones, ADSL, laptops or landlines, the service can be used quite literally ‘in the field’.  Another wonderfully uncomplicated solution came from the ‘Best use of OS open data’ category, Mapping Local Food.

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photo of winners

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By mixing data from 2012 GeoVation Challenge winner and food trade network Sustaination and information from organisations like the local currency provider Bristol Pound, a design team created a mapping service showing where local food businesses are. The map’s main aim was to break the lazy shopping habits many fall into if they only shop in major-chain supermarkets; the service highlights independent butchers, bakeries and food producers on a map that are closer than supermarkets — encouraging shoppers to rely on food sources that aren’t imported and thus cutting down on food-buying miles.

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“It’s key to look for where digital technology can disrupt business models and create radical change rather than just drive incremental improvements,” said Knowles. “The challenges we face in creating a better food system are pretty huge and daunting. There is also a vast amount of data already available and more coming every day. We need as much experimentation as possible in this area to encourage more ideas like those we saw at the hackathon.”

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