Are you a student in the United States with an idea that could improve the global food system? A 2-page business plan, and a presentation with up to 10 slides, could win you the first Agricultural Innovation Prize. The competition was announced in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. “We’re hoping that this will turns the heads of people who wouldn’t normally give ag a second thought,” says Molly Jahn, a plant breeder at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who is directing the prize.
The new prize stems from a 2012 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology about the ability of the United States to cope with agricultural challenges of the 21st century, such as climate change. “The top line was we’re not prepared,” says Jahn, an author. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy came up with the idea of using a cash prize for students to encourage early collaborations between disciplines and highlight the potential of businesses to quickly to improve the food system. The prize is modeled on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Clean Energy Prize, founded in 2007, which now awards a total of $310,000 in cash to five winners.
Brief proposals must focus on developing a business, which can be a nonprofit, that would have a positive social or environmental impact. The innovations could come from traditional agricultural R&D—better drip irrigation, a new plant variety, or a technique to improve food safety, for example—or they could originate from another discipline, such as computer science or sensor engineering. “My dream with this prize is that we spur crosscutting innovations,” Jahn says. This year, the competition is limited to undergraduate and graduate students at U.S. schools, but the innovations can have global applications.
Proposals are due 28 February. A first round of judging will select 25 teams, which will then be matched to mentors from academia, industry, or government to help them expand the pitch. On 25 April, five teams will be awarded prizes ranging from $15,000 to $100,000. A student team will help recruit judges. The Howard G. Buffett Foundation has provided $215,000 for the awards in 2014. The Foundation is also making 50 $1000 grants available to students to help promote the competition on campuses.