An interview with Toni Laming: Feed the World 2030 Power of Plants Hackathon


Lincoln Hub is one of the major sponsors of the ‘Feed the World: 2030 Power of Plants Hackathon’ taking place in Lincoln on 2 & 3 December 2017. We chatted with Lincoln Hub CEO, Toni Laming, who ran us through what to expect at the Hackathon and what’s she most excited about in terms of the future of food …

 Who is the Feed the World: 2030 Power of Plants Hackathon for? Can anyone attend? 

Absolutely! This hackathon is for anybody who is passionate about how we grow and produce food, and how we front the challenges we have to feed the world. So, participants can be entrepreneurs, food technologists, scientist and chefs, marketers, product designers or anyone who is passionate about growing and producing food, likes to create, innovate and wants to be part of doing something great.

What is the format of the hackathon?

Teams are generally self-formed at the beginning of the Hackathon based on an idea, interest and skillset.  Over the weekend an idea is developed and worked on by the team.  This event is for individuals  or companies who may enter a team from within their organisation.  Hackathons are great opportunities to develop innovation capabilities.

The event will be lead and facilitated by Creative HQ – they are one of New Zealand’s leading facilitators of innovation and startup’s. There will also be a range of mentors who have been involved in start-ups and from the ag-sector there to coach and guide the teams as they start to form, provide them with challenges and help them with the frameworks that are used to frame innovation and ideas. Most innovation is a very deliberate process and that’s why you get great ideas that become great outcomes. To get to the great ideas, you have to go through a lot of iterations testing with customers and working on the business models. The two days are about learning about those frameworks and forming an initial great idea.

At the end of the weekend each team will pitch their idea to a panel of judges for 3 mins (this can be by one person or multiple from within the team). In terms of something physical to present, it could be a presentation, a mockup of the idea or a poster – the point of the exercise is the generation of an idea which may or may not involve code and technology. That’s the difference between a pure tech hack and this plant hack.

Why have Lincoln Hub and Creative HQ (event organisers) chosen the hackathon format for the event?

We’ve gone with the hackathon format for the event because it’s a great way to start a conversation and initiatie the creation of ideas and possibilities for a particular space or domain.

The hackathon is also a way to get people together who wouldn’t otherwise connect – just what innovation needs. It allows people from different disciplines, ideas and perspectives to come together and create something that wouldn’t happen on its own through a very disciplined and structured process.

It’s about formulating an idea, not about starting a business, but quite often out of those ideas is a germination of something special, whether it’s a new product or service. Companies often use these ideas to get outside the box and think differently.

Why is it important to have such an event take place now?

In 10 years’ time we will have a whole set of other challenges but right now what we need to do is manage our precious resources like water quality and our rivers, how we use land to produce quality food while looking at future production and figuring out how to feed people more efficiently and sustainably through our food system. We create about 30% waste in our food system. If we can halve that think about how much more food we would have for people and how affordable food would be.

We have also got very trapped in a few monocultures of food which has reduced the world and New Zealand’s  biodiversity. The challenge is how do we stop this loss and use the skills and knowledge we’ve built up over the last 30 years to solve future problems ensuring diverse and complimentary ecosystems systems  are created. The Hackathon is aimed to generate ideas to address some of these issues.

What kind of skills do participants need to partake in the Hackathon?

A hackathon is great for people who enjoy being in an environment where they are creating and innovating, while being able to think about how to add to an idea, how to shape an idea and shape a concept. They should enjoy working in a team and contributing, as well as bringing their expertise to the table. They should also be open to different ideas and shaping the concept by getting input from other people. It’s not just about one person’s idea, but how to take thinking from many people and  come up with something that individuals could never have imagined when they started.

What is Lincoln Hub’s involvement in the Hackathon?

We are one of the lead sponsors of the event, and we’ve teamed up with a range of other organisations passionate about the agrifood industry and the challenges and opportunities.  We all see that collaboration is really important to create future food platforms. Creative HQ are leaders in facilitating hackathons so they are leading and facilitating this event – collaboration allows us  to play to everybody’s skillsets.

The other sponsors are FAR; AGMARDT; Callaghan Innovation and Plant & Food Research.

Lincoln University are helping by letting us use their facilities for the weekend.

What are you most excited about in terms of the future of food?

For me, Canterbury is New Zealand’s food basket. We have been innovative and adaptive over time to harnessing our natural resources to grow what the market wants. Our challenge going forward is doing that in a way that is good for the environment and makes sure what we do makes the most sense for future generations, to leave Aotearoa  in a better way than when we found it.

We should produce things that make sense for New Zealand but also get the best value back, particularly things that the rest of the world want. We are a small country, so we can’t compete with the big commodity players. Our challenge is how do we harness what NZ is all about? The world sees us as being special so we need to invest heavily in the industries that can help us to innovate and leverage this “specialness”.

What is Lincoln Hub’s role in helping NZ feed the world?

Lincoln Hub has been set up as a connector across an innovation ecosystem in agriculture.  Our role is to help power up that innovation system, connect people together so innovation and commercialisation happens? If we can help build the connections that flourish, create new products, services and new organisations, then we’re doing a really great job.


Keen to attend the Power of Plants Hackathon? Register for free on the Creative HQ website.