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Honey-based beverage grabs grand prize at food hackathon

Members of the “Bad Bees in Business” team were up late into the night Oct. 20, making trips to Wegmans and then mixing tea, lavender, honey and other ingredients to create their entry into the 2023 Food Hackathon, held at Stocking Hall. Same was true the next night as they refined their Powerpoint, their pitch and their packaging.

But the late-night sessions paid off, as the team of six won the grand prize of $3,000 for their beverage, “Ferda,” during the Oct. 20-22 event, which included 150 students and was organized by Entrepreneurship at Cornell and the Cornell Institute for Food Systems.

Ferda team members included doctoral students Austin Montgomery, Nicole Szeluga and Josh Felton, master’s student Lanye Luo (AAP), MBA student Erianti Edward and undergrad Ashley Liaw ’24 (HUMEC).

“I had an idea for a beverage going into team formation, I met these people who had good ideas and we decided to work together,” Montgomery said. “Our product changed in small ways probably 12-13 times during the process, with everyone adding a different perspective.”

Members of the Bad Bees for Business team pose with their product before their pitch at the Food Hackathon.

The event’s 28 teams formed during in-person and Zoom meetings the week before the Hackathon.

“I love the collaboration you have between disciplines at an event like this,” Felton said.

“Our group has a wonderful collection of skills and we all worked together so cohesively,” Liaw said. “This is definitely one of my best experiences working on a team.”

Students who took part in the weekend were tasked with addressing one of four challenges: creating new dairy products, coming up with more efficient food manufacturing processes, lessening the problem of food waste or creating products to increase knowledge and the use of honey and other bee-pollinated products.

“Students  had literally one and half days to come up with some very creative ideas and they truly impressed us,” said Carmen Moraru, chair of the department of food science in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who served as a judge and mentor during the weekend. “What stood out for me is the collaboration between different students from different majors, seeing how they integrated all of their knowledge and skills to come up with really credible ideas and solution.”

Saturday and Sunday were spent working with 30 mentors to research the market, refine their ideas and come up with a pitch.

“I was so impressed by the enthusiasm of our guests – our faculty mentors, our sponsors, our alumni from industry who came back to work with students,” said Rajni Aneja, managing director, industry partnerships at the Cornell Institute for Food Systems.

The event culminated with all 28 teams pitching to judges on Sunday morning, with eight teams then chosen for the finalist round Sunday afternoon.

Students work on their pitches during the Food Hackathon.

Other winning teams included:

Best functional product, the Alpha Bees team: Andria Cao ’27 (Hotel), Shreya Chitnavis M.A. ’24 (Vet), doctoral student Pedro Fernandez Mendoza , Mindy Ling MPS ’23 and Holden Hitchcock ’27 (CALS).

Most creative use of technology, the Extremophiles team: Vivienne Lin ’27 (CALS), Carlene Mwaura ’24 (ILR), Jessica Zhang ’24 (Dyson), Liyah Kimotho ’25 (Hotel), Kristina Mikhailova ’24 (CALS) and Akiva Mohebban ’24 (CALS).

Most disruptive consumer app, the Food Forte team: Shashank Chalamalasetty ’26 (ENG), Fati Mixha ’25 (Hotel), Lucas Keith ’26 (ENG) and Prasad Shirode MEng ‘24 (ENG).

Most market ready, the Yin Yang team: Omar Karim MBA ’24 (Johnson), Jordan Klein ’27 (CALS), Irene Myung ’26 (Hotel), Shreemann Raghavan ’25 (Dyson), Sophia Wang ’26 (Hotel) and Kyra Husen ’26 (CALS).

Best digital agriculture impact, the Harvest Heroes team: Saamia Bukhari MMH ’23 (Hotel), Rebecca Chen MPS ’23 (CALS), doctoral student Tong Chen, Kushai Kumar Reddy Digavinti MS ’24 (Johnson), Chithralekha Rajeev Meng ’24 (ENG) and Alliyah Taylor ’25 (A&S).

Best novel waste solution, the Prosperous Pros team: Grace Qi ’25 (Johnson) Davey Seeman ’27 (A&S), Rei Shi ’26 (CALS), Tianai Situ ’27 (A&S), Jeffrey Xue ’27 (CALS) and Christina Pitacco-Rivera ’27 (CALS).

Most Novel Consumer Product, the KimBee team: Joel Esparza ’26 (CALS), Megan Hsieh ’26 (CALS), Kaylee Yin ’25 (CALS), Ethan Duong ’24 (A&S) and Matthew Livingston ’26 (CALS).

This was the first year for the food hackathon, one of a series of hackathons put on each year by Entrepreneurship at Cornell. Other events planned for this year focus on animal health (Feb. 2-4), digital agriculture (Feb. 16-18) and health (March 8-10 in New York City).

“The registration and turnout really exceeded our expectations,” Aneja said. “Students have now had increased exposure to problems in the food system, problems that industry manufacturers and product developers, consumers, farmers, and growers are facing. And we’re engaging with industry partners on more than just career path discussions, but the real-world problems that they’re trying to solve and how Cornell students can contribute to finding those solutions.”

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