Borrowing Innovative Food Technologies from Other Industries

Many of the most novel and groundbreaking innovations in the food industry have been adopted from other verticals. This white paper highlights several fascinating examples (algae proteins, prosthetic muscles, and cholesterol) and proposes a framework for teams to successfully seek out technologies from other industries and borrow them for new applications. Download this white paper to learn how to eliminate "known solution" bias and better identify opportunities for borrowed innovation.

Borrowing Innovative Food Technologies from Other Industries White Paper Copyright 2015 MindSumo, Inc. Introduction Breakthrough innovations can sometimes come from unlikely sources. It may seem counter- intuitive, but recent examples in food manufacturing demonstrate how borrowing technology and solutions from other industries can oftentimes be the best way to unearth new discoveries. Surpris ing Method to Process Algae Proteins Corjan van den Berg of the TNO Research Institute recently shared the discovery of a useful binding agent extracted from algae proteins1. This agent is a plant protein based gel that can be used in veggie burgers, chicken nuggets, and various bakery products. What is astonishing is that it is three times stronger than the bond created by egg whites and also outperforms other plant- based proteins like soya or lupin protein. The key innovation in this discovery? A process borrowed from the paint industry! Van den Berg explained, “The real potential lies in the products you can create by refining algae. Algae contain proteins, omega fatty acids, antioxidants, fiber and minerals. We’re focusing on proteins right now. We’ve managed to extract these from the algae by mechanically crushing the cells in a ball mill, a technology we borrowed from the paint industry.” Borrowed Innovations The concept of borrowing innovations from other industries is often described as the “diffusion of technology”. This societal trend is frequently studied – the propagation of mobile phones, the adoption of the internet, and the widespread use of nanoparticles are great examples of a diffusion of technology. However, diffusion is a naturally passive process often describing consumer behaviors. We need a new framework to describe the behavior of actively seeking technologies and intentionally borrowing them for new applications. Professors Poetz, Franke, and Shreier from the Vienna University of Economics and Business and Copenhagen Business School published a study in the Harvard Business Review in 2014 which looked at this exact question2. Specifically, they were investigating whether new innovations and ideas are more likely to come from within an industry, from a similar industry, or from an unrelated industry. photo credit: Carpenters, Roofers, & Skaters They recruited hundreds of roofers, carpenters, and inline skaters to contribute their insights to the problem of workers’ reluctance to use safety gear because of discomfort. The professors conducted standardized interviews with the participants, presenting the problem of lack of safety- gear compliance as it pertains to each of the fields (essentially they asked how roofers’ safety belts, carpenters’ respirator masks, and skaters’ knee pads could be redesigned to increase their comfort and use). Participants had a few minutes to suggest solutions and a panel of experts evaluated the suggestions on novelty and usefulness. People versed in analogous fields can draw on different pools of knowledge, and they’re not mentally constrained by existing, “known” solutions to the problem in the target field. The greater the distance between the problem and the analogous field, the greater the novelty of solutions. “Each group was significantly better at thinking of novel solutions for the other fields than for its own.” - Poetz, Franke, & Shreier, Harvard Business Review 2014 Engaging Other Industr ies Gathering insights from other industries is often difficult for managers. It requires assembling focus groups, calling experts, forming partnerships, or crowdsourcing. Luckily, the field of crowdsourcing or “open-innovation” has accelerated at a rapid pace in the last 10 years. Online platforms give a voice to individuals who were previously difficult to reach. MindSumo is a unique online service, in that it focuses on the millennial demographic, and specifically university students. This group of young innovators approaches problems from the perspective of a curious academic not yet tainted by industry. Just like Poetz, Franke, and Shreier described, these individuals are not yet mentally constrained by existing, “known” solutions. MindSumo has worked with nearly 500 companies to launch close to 1,000 projects called “challenges”. Since each challenge is a competition, dozens and sometimes hundreds of university students are competing for recognition and cash. On average a single project can generate 75- 200 concepts in 30 days. One interesting finding has been that the best solutions do not necessarily come from students who are studying the field associated with the project content. As MindSumo CEO Trent Hazy explains, “When we first started launching projects on MindSumo, we expected a strong correlation between a project’s subject matter and the academic discipline of the students who had the best solutions. However, we found that oftentimes the best solutions come from students that are studying a completely different field.” Chal lenge Winners from Academic Discipl ines Unrelated to Chal lenge Topic Unrelated Related Applying Prosthetic Materials to Ice Cream In a recent challenge on MindSumo, a student studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Utah applied a unique material used for prosthetic limbs to an ice cream mould concept for a global manufacturer. “They gave us something that seemed almost impossible at first,” said the student, Joseph. “I had to go to my knowledge of material sciences, I had to pull out a material we use for artificial muscles and prosthetics and apply that to food manufacturing. I can’t think of any other place where I would have had to make that jump or would have been able to.” The lead on the project shared her experience: “Students have no preconceptions in any of the spaces that we’re looking. We are thinking of those people who can come up with solutions that are not mainstream. It’s very intriguing to see people taking a business or non-technical course and come up with something great.” photo credit: Reducing Shrinking at Alt i tude Another recent challenge on MindSumo asked students to think of creative ways to reduce shrinking and expansion of ice cream during shipping over the Rocky Mountains. Logan Hilton from Tulane University was able to use his knowledge of chemistry and microbiology to come up with a creative solution. An excerpt from his solution reads: “I know that cholesterol aids in the shrinking and expanding of the phospholipid bilayer for cell membranes. Perhaps a molecule similar to cholesterol, though obviously one that is much more healthy, can serve this purpose. It would be difficult to find a molecule similar to cholesterol that wouldn't make the ice cream more unhealthy, but the effect is still intriguing. The effect occurs based on the amphipathic nature of cholesterol -- part of it is polar and part of it is non polar. It is attracted to a fatty acid, which keeps the membrane from getting too loose and expanding. It also permeates the cell membrane, which prevents the phospholipid heads from getting too close to each other with all the cholesterol in the way. In this way, cholesterol prevents both shrinking and expansion.” Conclusion The evidence from Corjan van den Berg’s research and the results from numerous MindSumo projects point to the same conclusion – borrowed innovation is here to stay, and should be embraced by those not just in food manufacturing, but across all industries. Looking to external communities for a fresh perspective can help eliminate the “known solutions” bias described by Poetz, Franke, and Sheier, and lead to new solutions that otherwise would remain undiscovered. About MindSumo MindSumo helps organizations crowdsource innovative solutions from bright college students. Companies post challenges for MindSumo's community of 200,000 undergrads, masters, and PhDs to solve. Since 2012, the company has hosted nearly 1,000 challenges from companies like General Mills, Coca Cola, Kroger, Unilever, Kelloggs, and many others. We are backed by top tier investors, including Google Ventures, and work with over fifty Fortune 500 clients. For more information, visit or email References: 1 “Five innovations in food” Food Valley Update, October 21, 2015. Retrieved: December 5, 2015. 2 Poetz, Marion, Franke, Nikolaus, and Shreier, Martin. “Sometimes the Best Ideas Come from Outside Your Industry.” Harvard Business Review, November 21, 2014. Retrieved: December 5, 2015.