UC Berkeley hatches a new talent pool for the food industry

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The Food Weekly year started with a list of 12 women who will grow better food systems by 2022. I will stay on the bad women’s cart a little longer to tell you about Samantha Derrick, co-founder and program director at Plant Futures.

In 2021, she went from studying public health at UC Berkeley to leading Plant Futures, a fast-growing new initiative that connects the dots between plant-based food, public health and entrepreneurship. Along the way, it creates a global talent pipeline for the plant-based food industry.

Thus, the initiative hits one of the most dynamic markets in the food industry. In a 2021 report, Bloomberg Intelligence estimated that the plant-based food market will grow from $ 29.4 billion by 2020 to over $ 162 billion by 2030. Beyond Meat, one of the largest companies in the sector, lists 125 vacancies on its team.

Why do so many young people have their eyes on the plant-based food industry? And what is the role of universities in helping these climate-friendly companies thrive?

Four people gathered

Public health, driven by plants

“I wanted to focus on plant-based food and nutrition in my master’s program, but quickly realized that there was not really any teaching, resources, or even conversations at school about the plant-based food sector,” Derrick said. This does not make much sense for a public health school, as animal farming is a major contributor to diet-related diseases. In addition, pollution from factory establishments seriously affects the health of local, often BIPOC communities.

“This lack of resources in Berkeley also really surprised me because the plant-based industry is an important sector in the Bay Area,” Derrick added. She decided that this should be changed at a school famous for its food systems and education in sustainability.

She found a mentor in Will Rosenzweig, one of her professors and faculty chair at the Berkeley Haas Center for Responsible Business. He encouraged Derrick to write a syllabus for a new course on the subject – which she did. But Derrick did not just make a traditional course. In addition to tackling a new topic, Derrick wanted to bring more applied, experience-based and interdisciplinary learning to the university. Something that would be meaningful to students’ careers.

The new course consisted of two parts. The first was a weekend-long symposium where students, faculties and industry veterans like Beyond Meats founder Ethan Brown discussed public health, environmental, political and innovation challenges related to plant-based food systems.

In the second part of the course, the students participated in a 14-week challenge laboratory, where they connected with mentors from plant-based companies and assisted them in innovation projects.

Creating a talent funnel for the plant-based industry

David Katz, a physician and CEO of the nutrition startup Diet ID, was one such mentor. He worked with three students from different disciplines on tactics, market seeking and segmentation issues.

“The students gave us eight or nine specific recommendations, and we acted on at least seven of them. It was valuable to us and also meaningful to the students. They were on the edge of their careers and could see their ideas influence the direction of. A company takes in the marketplace, “Katz said.

This absence of [plant-based career] resources at Berkeley also really surprised me because the plant-based industry is an important sector in the Bay Area.

He appreciated gaining insights from leading faculties at Berkeley and the course community in general through the students. “It’s also a great way for startups with limited employment opportunities to get projects done, for students to gain work experience, and for companies to get to know potential future employees,” Katz added.

Jamie Raiss, who oversees a diploma program in food studies at UCLA, also sees the connection to the workplace that Plant Futures provides as critical. “Every year we do an exit survey with our students. They always express their desire for more practical, real-life experience through the program. When I learned from one of my students who attended the symposium that the challenge lab has industry partners, I thought it would be a really exciting opportunity. ”

This year, Raiss will join its first pilot group in the Challenge Laboratory, which will include industry partners such as Amy’s, Meati Foods, Cal Dining and the Plant Based Foods Association.

The birth of a growing social enterprise

The first Plant Futures Symposium took place online due to COVID-19 and was attended by 500 people from around the world, not just curious Berkeley students. “We understood how big the void was for this kind of conversation when students from all kinds of schools started asking how they could join our group or start something similar on their campuses,” Derrick said.

After graduating a few months later, Derrick decided to pursue Plant Futures full-time as a social enterprise. She raised funds from foundations and industry partners to further expand the program and bring it to more schools. In less than a year, she helped students and faculties establish 15 local departments in other elite schools like Harvard and Yale, community colleges like De Anza College and Pasadena City College, and even universities in Singapore and Sao Paulo.

Although Derrick did not track down whether any students were hired by their challenge lab companies, she knows that many continued a trusting relationship with their mentors beyond the program. This year, they will actively encourage industry partners to consider more formal internship and employment opportunities for their mentees.

For now, Derrick is excited about yet another success story. “I recently found out that one of our symposium students from last year, Kashish Juneja, founded a plant-based dairy company, Aura Tea, and they are soon launching a storefront in San Francisco.” The Plant Futures Symposium helped advance her idea and connected Juneja with the founder of Oatly, with whom she now has a partnership.

As the initiative continues to expand from Berkeley to the world, many more success stories will surely emerge. I hope it will also inspire universities to channel young people’s ideas and passion towards other markets in need of talent. Agriculture can be a top challenger, as the average American farmer is 57 years old, and farmers under 35 make up only 8 percent of the country’s producers.

If you would like to taste Plant Futures, the second symposium will take place 28-29. January.

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