Budding Nutrition Businesses Get a Boost

Winners in the Friedman School’s first entrepreneurship competition included ideas for healthy foods for Nepali schools and nutrition and farming apps
Dariush Mozaffarian, Robin Shrestha, and Sapana Adhikari holding large check at Tufts
Friedman School Dean Dariush Mozaffarian with winners of the competition Robin Shrestha, N15, center, and Sapana Adhikari. Photo: Matthew Healey
April 17, 2018

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Friedman School staff member Robin Shrestha, N15, and teammate Sapana Adhikari of Smartbakery won first place in the first Tufts Food and Nutrition Entrepreneurship Competition on April 12.

Shrestha, a project manager at the Friedman School’s Nutrition Innovation Lab, and Adhikari won $15,000 for their proposal to establish a bakery that would sell cheap, healthy lentil curry in fortified bread bowls at a school in a rural village in their native Nepal.

“We’re extremely grateful that everyone thought it was a good idea. To have this support really means a lot to us,” said Shrestha. “It’s such a great opportunity and it’s wonderful that they’re encouraging entrepreneurship here at Friedman.”

Twenty-four teams submitted their business ideas for the competition, which was sponsored by the Friedman School in conjunction with the Tufts Gordon Institute but open to the entire Tufts University community. The seven finalists who presented gave five-minute pitches and answered questions from the judges (and in a few cases, from audience members) for ten minutes.

Second place was a tie between two app ideas. One is OptDiet, a Chinese personal nutrition app proposed by Friedman students Xinge Ding and Yan Bai;  Ying-Ju Li, F16; and MIT alum Perng-Hwa Kung. The other, presented by Dylan Anderson-Berens, N17, Ulruch Dossou, and Lauren Betz of GleTech, is a mobile app linking small farmers in Benin, in West Africa, to buyers in an online market and coordinating cold-chain solutions to keep food fresh during transportation. Each team took home $3,750.

“This entire competition and hearing the other contestants really inspired us to move forward,” said Ding. “We’re really passionate about this project and we’re convinced we can make a difference.”

The crowd favorite prize of $2,500 went to BabyGen, a nutrition app for pregnant women proposed by Friedman School students Silvia Berciano Benitez and Alessandra Verme and Friedman School professor José Ordovás, director of the Nutrition and Genomics Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts.

Many of the fourteen judges, who included entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and experienced food business executives, also served as mentors to the finalists. The PepsiCo Foundation and Bunge were platinum sponsors of the competition.

The competition ties into the school’s larger entrepreneurship program, Friedman School Dean Dariush Mozaffarian told the audience, which includes a nutrition entrepreneurship course; links to existing food accelerators and incubators; a network of entrepreneurship advisors; and an innovation council to be launched later this year.

“Entrepreneurship is not the same as business or profit. It’s about bringing together a new idea with the intellectual resources and human resources and capital resources to get it done,” Mozaffarian said. “Whatever any of you want to do in the world, whether it’s social, for-profit, or government, if you’re losing money, eventually you’ll shut down. So thinking about the economics of what we do is crucial.”

Monica Jimenez can be reached at monica.jimenez@tufts.edu.