Setting the Table: The Digital Full Stack of Food

The Mixing Bowl’s FOOD IT summit offered a full menu on agtech

From blockchain and food smell sensors to big data analytics and consumer behavior, The Mixing Bowl’s recent Food IT conference in San Francisco served up valuable insights about food and agricultural issues coupled with excellent networking opportunities.

As an MBA student interested in agtech, the event was incredibly helpful to hear first-hand about agtech advances and shake hands with trailblazers in the industry.

The fifth annual summit brought together more than 300 food and ag thought leaders, startups, key industry players, investors and representatives from global food and agricultural innovation hubs to discuss food and agtech challenges and solutions. The event’s theme, “The Full Stack,” borrows from the tech sector’s long-used various schema of layers to help define the necessary components of a “full stack solution” to bring to market.

The all-day conference at the UC San Francisco Mission Bay campus featured more than 60 leading executives, innovators and researchers as panelists/speakers—including several UC Davis faculty and alumni.

Bringing together several hundred attendees from different fields like this, the diversity of ideas tend to create unique and lasting synergies.

THE LAYERED AGTECH STACK

The morning panel was divided into four “layers”: Physical, Data, Application and UI/UX (User Interface/User Experience). The idea relates to the process of optimizing your business with data: First, digitize the information available, then measure the data, make business decisions based on that data, optimize the results for stakeholders and then automate the process.

At the Physical Layer discussion, I learned about the latest developments in sensing equipment for food and ag, such as detecting smell quality. The Data Layer panelists then discussed how we deal with data in technologies like blockchain software and the importance of the three Ts: traceability, transparency and trustworthiness.

Jenny Hebets MBA 16 takes the stage at Food ITOn stage during the Application Layer panel, alumna Jenny Hebets MBA 16 shared her global experience in food and ag, and scouting cutting edge technology that help drive growth and innovation at Mars, Inc., where she is now business development and external innovation manager.

The Application Layer was about taking data into the real world. What struck me from the discussion was the excitement over technologies for the near future. Soon we will have systems in which each piece of data is strategically integrated into a central data hub. This hub data approach will reveal a lot of new business opportunities we can only begin to imagine today.

In the UI/UX Layer, the experts discussed how data can change consumer and producer behavior. Google Home and other smart assistants, for example, can now help children cook successfully without their parent’s help. Such new technologies also can change the producers of goods in unexpected ways.

DATA IN DAIRY

During lunch, the conference broke off into separate “Deep Dive” interactive sessions. I joined a discussion group on dairy farm technology, called “Separating the milk from the cream in dairy and livestock tech.” I was surprised by how many people had an interest in this industry, since other food and ag conferences I’ve attended have not addressed the livestock industry.

We discussed how technologies meant for dairy farms are different from ones for the rest of the agricultural industry, and how we can efficiently introduce new technologies to the sector. The discussion was exciting because we approached this topic from the angles of production, tech development and retail, with plenty of opinions from each side.

One thing that struck me from the discussion was the excitement over technologies for the near future.

MIXING IT UP WITH STARTUPS

After lunch, I caught “The Blender Competition,” in which six entrepreneurs quickly pitched their business ideas and judges recognized the best one. The pitches included a way to minimize food stocks in stores, delivery robots, a flying drone service, an app connecting workers to farmers, an app for choosing wine and a device for detecting early-stage mastitis in livestock.

During the day I was able to make many professional connections related to my background and passion, which is to improve the livestock industry back home in Japan. I networked with some of the major stakeholders within the industry, and attendees who came from Japan.

It would be great to see this event grow to become more international. Bringing together several hundred attendees from different fields like this, the diversity of ideas tend to create unique and lasting synergies.

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