The India Smart Protein Innovation Challenge is targeted squarely at the next generation of plant-based protein pioneers. It’s open to Indian nationals, or non-Indian nationals who have been working in the country, of age 28 and younger. Applicants should be students, scientists, researchers, and young professionals from business, engineering, technology, and sciences backgrounds.
The free-of-charge program will last for four months, and will be split into four phases. The first of these is a ‘Smart Protein Digital Lab’ which essentially fufills the role of a crash course in everything alt-protein. Applicants will study towards a certification by watching videos, reading white papers, and completing what the Challenge’s organizers say is the world’s first MOOC (massive online open course) covering this area.
Participants will need to successfully complete a number of multiple-choice quizzes, as well as up to 15 hours of compulsory reading, watching, and listening of learning materials, in order to progress to the program’s second phase. Here, they’ll be encouraged to form teams with like-minded applicants and begin ideation to come up with product concepts in one of five different categories: plant-based meat, plant-based seafood, plant-based egg, plant-based dairy, or materials or technologies that can be inputs for products in the previous four categories.
Each team will have to put together a five-page proposal, on which they’ll be scored in accordance with criteria such as rationale, originality and novelty, quality and safety considerations, shelf life, and economic feasibility.
The top 15 to 25 highest-scoring proposals will go through to the third phase. Here, they’ll receive feedback and mentorship from the program’s experts and industry partners in order to turn their five-page proposals into 15-page product plans. This time, each team will have to meet more stringent evaluation criteria, covering issues such as the appearance, flavor, and texture profile of their product, its health and nutrition credentials, and their marketing strategy.
The five highest-scoring teams at this stage will continue to the program’s fourth and final phase, where they stand to receive a cash prize of ₹100,000 ($1,320) and a chance to pitch their concepts to investors at a demo day.
India holds vast potential as a market for alt-protein meat, dairy, and egg substitutes .According to a recent study from Pennsylvania State University, as many as 74% of Indians eat animal meat — including fish and seafood — on at least an occasional basis, despite the country’s reputation as a largely vegetarian society. Nevertheless, the study also found that plant-based analogs are most likely to gain acceptance among Indian consumers over ‘lab-grown’ cultured meat in the near to medium term.
Separately, GFI India recently signed a partnership agreement with AAK – a Swedish manufacturer of fats and oils for food processing and other industries – to support Indian producers and startups in the development of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives.