San Francisco held its very first food hackathon last weekend. Put on by passionate food entrepreneurs, the hackathon’s goal was to concentrate the energy around food entrepreneurship in one space for 36 hours and build innovative hacks to solve problems in our food system and eating habits. Food is the greatest common denominator to spark creativity, emotion, and passion throughout the world. It was no surprise that 200 food lovers, designers, and developers united on their common purpose to build software and hardware tools to potentially change the way we eat and think about food.
There were many people, like myself, who have never participated in a hackathon before and there were those already part of a food tech company. There were people with strong ideas and there were those who just wanted to be a part of this new wave in food innovation. Most of the ideas pitched focused on the restaurant, takeout, and chef space. There were a couple of pitches that actually focused on the food system and improving health through nutrition. Teams formed quickly after the pitches and everyone settled down to make their idea into a plausible company and take home one of the $25,000 in prizes allotted to the top three winners.
This being a food hackathon, the catered food was impressive. Breakfast was pretty nutritious with green smoothies, granola, organic yogurt, and fresh fruit. Far from the usual fare of pastries and commercial orange juice. Contraband Coffee, a local artisan café and roaster, provided the caffeine fuel for the entire weekend. Callie Waldman, who is a Natural Chef from Bauman College, provided Sunday’s extremely delicious and nutritious lunch. There were also local food sellers sampling their amazing raw chocolates and other healthy edibles.
On Sunday evening, 14 teams pitched their hacks to a panel of judges in front of the 200 people. The more recognizable judges were Dave McClure (500 Startups), Ben Parr (Dominator Fund), Alexa Andrzejewski (Foodspotting), Danielle Gould (Food+Tech Connect), and Naithan Jones (AgLocal).
The overall winner of the hackathon was Vibrantly, an iPhone app to guide people to make nutritious food choices based on food colors. I liked the concept of this app since it focuses on nutrition and not calories for achieving health goals. The next notable winner was Tiny Farms, which makes hardware to make insect farming easier for people around the world who rely on insects for nutrients and income. The team charmed the judges and audience with their homemade “buglava”, baklava made with wax worms. Slim Menu won the new technology hack, which is an app that helps you order from a menu visually. Touchless Ticket built a gestured-based app to optimize workflow and ticket processing in the restaurant kitchen. I collaborated with Leslie Wu on an idea to make gardens out of unused spaces, called Garden B&B, and won the best social hack.
Most of the teams concentrated on recipe search and stocking the pantry. Although, finding a credible recipe and stocking the pantry with utmost convenience are pain points, there are much larger problems that we can solve with innovation in food and technology. We need to focus on food deserts, educating people about nutrition, sustainability, and health, alleviating the environmental toll of food production, and reducing inefficiencies in food distribution. We can change our broken food system. We can build a solution that is affordable, nutritious, and easy for those who need it worldwide.
In a city where great innovations and companies are constantly being built, we were long overdue for an organized food hackathon. This food hackathon proved that technology innovation is no longer limited to the programming genius, but is open to anyone who has the motivation to make a difference. The follow-up Food Hackathon is set to coincide with National Day of Civic Hacking. I will definitely be there and hope more people who want to change the global and local food system will join as well.