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iFarm and Palm Co. Win The CovHack Virtual Innovation Challenge

Innovate4Good (I4G), purpose-driven sourcing, networking, and innovation platform for the impact startup and entrepreneurship ecosystem, has announced the winners of The CovHack Virtual Innovation Challenge that took place under the theme ‘Circular Economy for Food’. iFarm from Finland topped the Startups category, while Palm Co. from the UAE dominated the Teams category.

iFarm is an indoor farming solutions provider of plug-and-play automated vertical farms that can be set up anywhere – from stores, restaurants, and warehouses to people’s homes – and enable people to grow their own healthy food in a sustainable way. Meanwhile, Palm Co. has developed sustainable, affordable, and compostable food packaging using palm fibers as the main component.

The runner-up in the Startups category was Xilinat, an award-winning company from Mexico that makes low-calorie natural sweetener from agricultural residue, while Circa Biotech from the UAE that upcycles food waste into animal feed using insect farming came second in the Teams category.

The challenge ran in collaboration with UN75, the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE), Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development (Khalifa Fund), Masdar (A Mubadala Company), Catalyst (A Masdar – BP Initiative), Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park (SRTI Park), StartLife, Wageningen University & Research (WUR), and STRATECIS.

The CovHack invited ambitious changemakers from the ranks of startups, SMEs, entrepreneurs, and young professionals from the MENA region and beyond to explore innovative ways of building resilience in local and global food supply chains through shifting towards a circular economy in the post-COVID-19 world. Corresponding to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, the theme encompassed eight focus areas:

  1. Water Efficiency & Alternative Resources
  2. Energy Efficiency in Agriculture
  3. Innovation in Sustainable Growing Media
  4. Sustainable Greenhouse Technologies & Smart Farming
  5. Food Loss & Waste Management
  6. Distribution Channels & Delivery
  7. Sustainable Packaging
  8. Urban & Indoor Farming

The CovHack received 339 entries. A total of 112 applications – 43 in the Teams category and 69 in the Startups category – from 44 countries qualified for the challenge. A panel of 10 judges selected 12 teams from eight countries and 20 startups from 15 countries to proceed to the next round. The UAE had the strongest representation with four teams and four startups, followed by Lebanon with two teams and one startup, and Canada with three startups.

Over the past two weeks, the participants worked on developing their ideas and prototypes across three innovation types – technologies, services, and products – into viable solutions under the mentorship of pioneering specialists in diverse fields. The event culminated in The CovHack Virtual Demo Day on July 20-21 that saw the finalists present their solutions to the judges on Zoom.

Sheikh Dr Majid Sultan Al Qassimi, Advisor to the Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said: “The journey food takes is one few of us know, but are all affected by. Today, we have become more aware of and sensitized to the origin and journey of our food. The circular food economy is more relevant than ever, and the more these circular principles can be implemented, the stronger our future and economy will be.”

Mouza Obaid Al Nasri, Acting CEO of Khalifa Fund, said: “Since its inception, Khalifa Fund has been committed towards working in cross-sectoral collaborations with government entities and industry-leading partners to produce initiatives and programs that positively contribute to the UAE and its entrepreneurial ecosystem. The CovHack Innovation Challenge is a prime example of how thought leaders can work in cohesion in order to provide a platform for startups and aspiring entrepreneurs to showcase their innovative concepts.”

She added: “As we move towards achieving the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 and the National Agenda of the UAE Vision 2021, Khalifa Fund will continue to empower SMEs and enable them to integrate innovation and entrepreneurism so they can develop and implement sustainable solutions that will cement the UAE’s status as a leader in supporting the sustainability sector, elevate the nation’s food security levels, and operate within an advanced circular economy.”

Ara Fernezian, Founder & CEO of STRATECIS and Chief Innovation & Experience Officer at I4G, said: “We are happy to witness this new wave of impact-driven startups and young innovators in our region who are working on solving real-world problems. Today’s entrepreneurs, especially the younger generation, are taking environmental and social issues into account more seriously, starting at the ideation stage of their offer and aligning them with their long-term business goals. This is becoming a growing trend and a standard business practice. At I4G, we are fortunate to collaborate with and serve such innovative and purpose-driven entrepreneurs by providing them with a dynamic innovation and networking platform, and connecting them with capital, mentorship, and businesses to help them thrive and make a significant impact.”

The winners will benefit from incubation, mentorship, and acceleration support from MOCCAE, Khalifa Fund, and SRTI Park. The winner and runner-up in the Startups category – iFarm and Xilinat – will also have the chance to participate in Catalyst’s and SRTI Park’s acceleration programs with up to US$240,000 of funding opportunity, subject to eligibility.

Further information about The CovHack Virtual Innovation Challenge is available at https://www.i4good.com/thecohack

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