AgriNovus challenge to address food insecurity

Geoff Zentz is senior director of innovation for AgriNovus Indiana. (photo courtesy: AgriNovus)

INDIANAPOLIS (Inside INdiana Business) — AgriNovus Indiana, a nonprofit that focuses on growing Indiana’s agbioscience economy, is taking steps to address food insecurity in the U.S. The organization has launched the HungerTech Innovation Challenge. The goal is to use innovation and technology to improve food access, especially for people who take part in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Senior Director of Innovation Geoff Zentz said AgriNovus believes food insecurity can be solved with technology.

“Food insecurity, largely going forward, is not going to be determined by proximity to grocery like it currently is today. But long term, it’s going to be determined by connectivity and accessibility for folks to be able to order groceries online and get them delivered to home,” said Zentz.

Click to listen to more of the conversation with Zentz where he explains how AgriNovus Indiana CEO Mitch Frazier saw an opportunity to improve access to food.

Zentz says the challenge creates an opportunity for companies, entrepreneurs, and innovators to develop new technologies and models to enable SNAP recipients to purchase groceries online and receive the products regardless of location.

“Increasing access is going to be the main focal point of what we’re doing,” said Zentz. “We think of food deserts more historically in an urban environment. But in the state of Indiana, we have a lot of rural that experiences food insecurity, and drives 10, 15, 20 miles to get to their local grocery…and many times it’s a convenience store.”

AgriNovus says the challenge includes a four-week accelerator program that will provide participants access to advisors to guide product development, ensure integration with existing systems and validate application of solutions.

“With the significant adoption of mobile devices and tremendous innovation in ecommerce and on-demand delivery, opportunity exists to build a better system that better serves those in need and reflects the reality of today’s mobile-first world,” said AgriNovus Indiana Chief Executive Officer Mitch Frazier.

AgriNovus says it plans to work with the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration to explore piloting the solution developed by the winning team in the third quarter of 2022.

Not only is the challenge focusing on the technological aspect of food access, but AgriNovus is also preparing to face the political realities of federal food programs, like SNAP. Zentz says AgriNovus hopes to derive data from the challenge and present it to the House and Senate agricultural committees as Congress prepares to write the 2023 Farm Bill.

The federal agricultural law is written every five years and impacts every aspect of agricultural sector. Nearly 75% of the funding goes towards nutrition assistance.

“The big thing we’re looking at is that the 2014 Farm Bill allowed for online SNAP purchases to happen. But that Farm Bill does not authorize payment for delivery,” Zentz says that means SNAP recipients must still pickup food or have to pay out of pocket for delivery.

Indianapolis-based Anthem Inc. (NYSE: ANTM) is partnering with AgriNovus. The health insurance provider says it food security is directly tied to healthy outcomes.

“We believe in the concept of food as medicine and in the power of digital innovations to transform our healthcare system and improve the health of individuals across the country,” said Anthem Chief Health Officer Shantanu Agrawal, M.D.

AgriNovus has punched the accelerator on this program with registration ending May 31. A panel of industry judges will select the winning team in July. The winning team will receive a $25,000 grand prize.

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