Smart Protein Challenge Returns To Offer ‘Springboard’ For Indian Food Tech Talent

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To support budding Indian entrepreneurs and their ideas for a better food system, the India Smart Protein Innovation Challenge (ISPIC) has returned for its second year. Launched by GFI India and partners, the competition is now open to participants to come up with solutions for “key whitespaces” across the alt-protein value chain, from plant-based meat to cell-based and fermentation proteins. 

The second edition of the ISPIC is now open for applications, with this year’s challenge aiming to nurture homegrown talent and further develop India’s flourishing alt-protein industry. Together with incubators, academic institutions and government partners, GFI India is looking for participants to join the competition and come up with new smart proteins to displace the unsustainable animal protein supply chain. 

Innovation Challenge

Teams joining ISPIC 2021 will gain a chance to be mentored, incubated and win cash prizes from a number of backers, among them investors like Capri Global, Alkem Foundation and Omnivore, the ag-tech VC dedicated to supporting startups across India’s sustainable food value chain, as well as accelerators like Bioincubator. 

This year, the competition will feature a new Smart Protein Digital Lab, as well as opportunities to be guided by industry experts and scientists hailing from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the government’s Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC). 

The challenge is looking for novel solutions across the alt-protein pillars of plant-based, cell-based and fermentation. (Image: Meatless Farm)

With investor partners altogether boasting more than $1 billion under management, the top 20 teams will each have a chance to win as much as INR 20 lakh (US$27,200) to make their concepts a reality. 

Participants are able to draw from all three main technological pillars within alternative protein, from plant-based to cell-based as well as fermentation. 

Homegrown Indian food tech talent

Fostering homegrown talent is the core goal of GFI India’s initiative, with the country’s population set to make up one-sixth of the global forecast of 10 billion people by 2050. The corresponding rise in demand for proteins will place huge burdens on the environment and public health, with animal agriculture being the crux of the current broken food system. 

Globally, livestock farming drives as much as a fifth of GHG emissions, and is a major contributor to deforestation, biodiversity loss, water waste, while also posing the threat of rising zoonotic diseases and antibiotic resistance. 

“ISPIC 2021 serves as a springboard for companies trying to address these issues through smart protein,” says GFI India.

Some of the success stories to emerge from last year’s Innovation Challenge, which attracted more than 1,350 participants from 150 Indian cities, include Brew51 and SeaSpire. Both food techs are now semifinalists at the prestigious XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion, vying for a chance to win $15 million to scale up. 

ISPIC aims to nurture homegrown food tech talent. (Image: Blue Tribe Foods)

Launching food tech careers

Beyond cash prizes, all participants of the challenge will gain a chance to broaden their knowledge and get familiar with an industry that is still in its infancy, but poised to grow dramatically in the coming years. Last year, investment into the alt-protein space globally topped $3.1 billion for the first time, tripling the figure recorded in 2019. 

“Coming from a food technology background, my peers and I spent many years trying to perfect skills which we could apply in a fast-growing, high-impact industry,” shared GFI India’s innovation specialist and challenge lead Shardul Dabir. 

“Smart protein is a sector which can enable us to align our careers with safeguarding planetary health. ISPIC 2021 will help augment those skills and get hundreds of young professionals, students, and entrepreneurs ready to build a sustainable, secure, and just 21st century economy.”

Alkem Labs’ managing director Sandeep Singh agrees, describing the challenge as a chance for young entrepreneurs to “get smart and get certified for their knowledge around the basics of the smart protein sector.”

“The certifications from the Smart Protein Lab are useful for certificate holders while applying for jobs, internships, or higher education programs, along with establishing credibility and helping them apply for the multiple career avenues presented by the smart protein sector globally,” he added. “Entrepreneurs also gain access to well-founded leads and networks to fundraise in the future.”

Lead image courtesy of GoodDot.


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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