International teams pitch food, business ideas in food competition

Hannah Daniel

Twenty teams from around the world will pitch their business ideas at the Food Challenge Prize competition at the McCombs School of Business on Saturday in hopes of earning business startup products and services as well as monetary prizes totaling $50,000. 

The Food Challenge Prize is organized by Food+City, formerly known as The Food Lab at UT Austin. The goal of this annual contest, which is open to teams and individuals, is to increase innovation in the urban food system. For the past 12 weeks , finalists have been working with qualified mentors to prepare their businesses and technologies for the upcoming Showcase Day. 

The event is free to the public and will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. Attendees will have the opportunity to witness pitches, vote for People’s Choice and sample food and drinks from Austin vendors such as 512 Brewery and Mmmpanadas.

Among the 20 finalists is business administration graduate student Guilherme Sillman, who will pitch his business plan for “Eat at Home.” This mobile app will connect customers searching for homemade food with people who are passionate about cooking and can prepare food for them for a reasonable price.

Sillman said this competition gave him a chance to develop an idea with the help of a mentor for a better final product.

“I started with a particular business model, and we have improved it,” Sillman said. “I believe it’s in the right direction to succeed.”

Several mentors are faculty at the University, including Eric Roe, executive director of the Center for Lifelong Engineering Education and senior lecturer John Doggett from the Department of Management within McCombs School of Business. Roe attended the event as a spectator last year, but plays a more involved role in this year’s contest as the mentor of a team from Israel. 

“I think we live in an innovation ecosystem here in Austin, so I think it’s a great opportunity to bring competitors with great ideas … to an area that already has a culture of innovation then share those ideas with other people,” Roe said.

Doggett, who worked with Food+City founder and director Robyn Metcalfe to design the competition over the past two years, said his role as a mentor was to talk to the founders of a company in Colombia and help them become more successful in growing their business.

“I think it’s a great competition,” Doggett said. “The pitches are really important, and I’m really happy that this is yet another thing we’re doing at UT to change the world.”