The Hult Prize is a global movement and a championship in social entrepreneurship held by different universities all around the world, including ITMO University. The competition includes several stages: Hult Prize On Campus, Hult Prize Regionals, and the finals. 

ITMO University hosted the final pitch session of the university stage on December 6. There, 16 teams presented their projects about the main theme of the 2020 competition – Food For Good. The participants’ goal was to turn food from a simple means of survival into a way for society to grow. To do so, they had to rethink how food is grown, produced, and consumed in today’s world.

Vyacheslav Abdullaev
Vyacheslav Abdullaev

According to Vyacheslav Abdullaev, the main organizer of the Hult Prize On Campus at ITMO University, the championship aims to help students rediscover their role in the world and inspire them to change society for the better, so that they wouldn’t just make money, but bring positive change. 

The startups presented by contestants were supposed to have a positive impact on society by creating jobs or improving the economy. At the same time, the more people succeed in their projects, the better it is for them and for society.

For the winning team, the pitch session was another step towards gaining international experience and the main prize – one million dollars for the development of their project.

The final of the Hult Prize On Campus competition
The final of the Hult Prize On Campus competition

Results of the pitch session

Among the topics covered by the projects were IT solutions for purchasing food, storage of foods and raw materials, dietary guides, and even innovative methods of whiskey production.

The FoStore team had developed a food distribution system in warehouses to extend the products’ shelf life and more, the FulLife APP team came up with a nutrition app that takes into account a person’s lifestyle and environmental conditions, the NYM team proposed a design for biodegradable packaging made of silver nanoparticles, and the OurFridge team developed an app that helps people reduce food waste and save money: create grocery lists, track expiry dates, get recipe suggestions based on ingredients they have on hand, share and receive food from other users.

The teams presented their ideas, business plans, competitors, and potential risks to the jury. Then they had to answer the experts’ questions about their ideas, startups, and prospects.

The board wanted to know how teams planned to achieve their goals and distribute the prize money. Several teams were told that their hypotheses could be tested without starting a company.

“Some people have a hard time accepting help from others. But at such competitions, it’s crucial to talk to experts, as well as practice your presentation and work on your speech,” notes the leading expert Mikhail Podgaets.

Mikhail also adds that it’s important for participants to keep in mind why they participate in the competition and for the universities – to provide them with clear instructions.

Mikhail Podgaets
Mikhail Podgaets

The board evaluated the projects on a five-point scale based on the following criteria:

  1. The team (diverse, idea-driven, and passionate);
  2. The idea (innovative, fulfills human needs, and solves issues of the food industry);
  3. The effect (the solution changes the world for the better and demonstrates how food can be used for the good of all mankind);
  4. The extent of the project (MVP, terms of use, sales, and prospects);
  5. The WOW effect (a combination of other factors, the possibility of unlimited scaling, making money, and getting an impulse for development).

The board consisted of the representatives of the food industry, including Elena Karlysheva, Konstantin Homchenko, Ksenia Mamonova, Ludmila Morozova, Semen Chernonozhkin, Sergey Arhipov, Rudolf An, Mikhail Podgaets, and Oksana Orlova-Gorskaya.

“When you are at school, you rarely get to participate in such global events. It is awesome that the university gave us this opportunity and organized an international championship. It was interesting to work on the project: we attended lectures and meetings with inspiring people. Presenting our idea to the experts was overwhelming. Even if you’ve done thorough research, you may be asked a question you didn’t expect at all,” the FoStore team members share their impressions of the participation.


Finalists and winning team

Two teams – IonTrack and Algafood – made it to the final round.

IonTrack (Evgeniia Panova, Nikita Kurgan, Anna Andriianova, Dmitrii Tarasov, as well as Daria Dekina, and Polina Turina) has developed a system of personalized diet advice based on instant biochemical analysis of seven essential macronutrients (K, Na, Cl, Ca, Mg, Zn, and Fe) and six inflammatory markers using a saliva sample.

Today, if you want to do a similar analysis, you have to go to a laboratory or call the hospital to be tested at home, spend from 100 to 800 rubles for each analysis, and waste a lot of time and effort. Besides, standardized testing includes invasive sampling.

The analysis suggested by the team can be done without leaving the house and, according to the finalists, in a couple of minutes. It is also absolutely painless. Another advantage is the price – around 70 rubles for seven macronutrients and 150 rubles for six markers of inflammation.

The analysis requires the use of disposable plates, a prototype of which the participants demonstrated to the board, as well as a mobile app. The plates consist of a glass substrate and an optode membrane with special active elements. Once saliva reaches the membrane, it gets colored in a certain way. By uploading a photo of the stained membrane to the application, the user can receive the analysis results and personalized dietary guidelines.

The project is designed for those wishing to take care of their eating habits for various reasons, for example, chronic diseases, pregnancy, vegetarianism, a desire to lose weight, and so on. It can be also used to analyze the saliva of pets and livestock for individual selection of feed and health monitoring.

The team sees ways to monetize their inventions through direct sales of plates, their distribution in fitness centers, drugstores, and through cooperation with pharmaceutical companies. Also, after receiving a list of recommendations, the user can immediately arrange the delivery of the necessary ingredients from partner stores, or contact the delivery of ready-made food.

Plant protein from microalgae

The Algafood team (Dmitrii Shikliaev, Tatiana Volkova, Natalya Kutina, and Egor Lobanov) came up with a cost-effective plant protein from microalgae. According to the team members, the infrastructure required for production already exists, for example, at breweries.

The product is mostly focused on the B2B segment and the sale of biomass for the production of food and feed. The team also works on its own technology for the production of minced meat without flavoring substances, as well as cultured cheese.


“Don’t you hate it when there’s mold in your bread, especially if you only noticed it after having a bite? Just 2% of our product added to bread will expand its shelf life. Are you also tired of chicken breasts after workouts? Thentry our protein-rich pasta with cheese. We didn't forget about desserts either,” the team members tell about their product.

Their products are also high in protein and vitamins, as well as amino acids. According to the team, their technology has the smallest ecological footprint compared to the production of other types of protein, and the production life cycle of products is around ten days. The cost price will decrease due to the scalability of production. As of now, it’s 80 rubles per kilogram.

This technology will provide people with ethical complete protein at an affordable price, and prevent a lot of diseases caused by an unbalanced diet. Production can be installed both in Africa and in the Arctic to reduce logistics costs because soil and light are not needed. The jury announced Algafood as the winner of the competition.


“They can feed the whole world and it’s the most important thing. Yes, apps are interesting but the winning project, in my opinion, should solve global issues. For me, any solutions that can improve people's lives are the best. I am proud that young people are full of great ideas and eager to solve real-world problems,” comments Elena Karlysheva, the board expert, brand director of Konica Japan, top manager of Teremok, and founder of the All Together and LAVASH restaurant chain.

Elena Karlysheva advised young people who also plan to develop socially significant projects not to be afraid and present their ideas to the public. This is one of the ways to find people who are interested in your ideas and want to help you bring them to life.

Elena Karlysheva and Mikhail Podgaets
Elena Karlysheva and Mikhail Podgaets

“If you want to take part in an international competition, you can’t present small projects that already have analogs. You have to come up with something groundbreaking that has a chance to compete with German, American, and Chinese companies. I can’t assess the scientific and technical basis of the project, but if what the team says is true, then they have a chance,” says Mikhail Podgaets, the board expert, mentor, tracker, investor, speaker in the development of small and medium-sized businesses and startups, and SOBA’s expert council.

The third place was taken by two teams: smart.plant, which presented intelligent agritecture solutions for urban farming in harsh climates, and Adrenaline RUSH, which proposed a gamification project where you have to take care of a Tamagotchi-planet. It gives a clear picture of the impact that various food products have on the environment and allows to gradually change eating habits of users.

ITMO.NEWS met with Natalya Kutina, a member of the Algafood team and a first-year Master's student at the Faculty of Technological Management and Innovations at ITMO University, to learn more about the competition, the team’s project, and future plans.

Natalya Kutina
Natalya Kutina

What do you think about the event?

It was great! The event was organized at a high level. 

And what about your presentation at the pitch session? 

If you are sure about your product and know all the details, you aren’t afraid to talk about it to the public. We didn’t prepare a speech, we just practiced our pitch a few times before the presentation and that’s it. The right words come to you, and everyone can feel your confidence and sincerity. It was cool!

What helped you win?

First and foremost, it’s the team. It is impossible to create such a project alone. Also, we think that society is ready for our product and it’s high time to bring it to market.

What is your idea?

A low-priced, complete, ethical protein from microalgae for improving existing products and creating new ones.

What are the advantages of your product?

Compared to any vegetable protein, ours has the smallest ecological footprint, the highest content of proteins and vitamins, and a complete amino acid profile. It requires a closed-type production in bioreactors and no soil, hence we have full control of production risks and a stable supply of products.

We have significantly reduced production costs through heterotrophic cultivation and environmental optimization and can aim at mass production. Now we remove the green pigment from our microalgae strain by mutagenesis so that the biomass will be light beige.

What are your plans?

We still have a lot of work at the laboratory as each product needs its own production technology. Now the main thing for us is to reach the consumers as quickly as possible, while we still have such opportunities.


Prospects for the winners

The winning team will get into the second, international stage of the championship – the Hult Prize Regionals – to present their project in one of the European capitals. The participants will be one step closer to the Hult Prize Accelerator in London, where they will spend 16 weeks developing their project. The Hult Prize is also supported by the UN, so the final awards ceremony will take place at the organization's headquarters in New York.

“The winning team will advance to the international semi-final. They will have a list of potential host cities, they can choose only three cities as a potential venue for the competition. It’s an honor to represent your university and country on the international stage. If the team is lucky, it can get into the global accelerator. From that moment on, the participants will continue their journey on their own, but our On Campus stage was their first important step,” says Vyacheslav Abdullaev.

According to Vyacheslav, the program of the Hult Prize championship was aimed at inspiring young people who had never even dreamed of participating in a global international project.

Kirill Seredenko
Kirill Seredenko

“The whole team invested a huge amount of effort and time in the event and it’s impossible to single out just one person. This is our joint project – we gathered at the right time, in the right place, and with the right people, who are united by the common values of social entrepreneurship and helping the world. In my opinion, it looks more like a celebration of life,” concludes Kirill Seredenko, one of the organizers of the championship.