Ten teams will square off Tuesday in a pitch competition as part of the AgriNovus Indiana HungerTech Challenge. For the past month, teams have been developing technologies to address food access, particularly among users of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Participants in the challenge are developing solutions that will allow SNAP recipients, who order groceries online, to use SNAP benefits to pay for delivery fees, which is currently prohibited.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, AgriNovus Chief Executive Officer Mitch Frazier said technology can help improve food access for people who live in food deserts.
“I think when we look at those who are served by SNAP, those who are food insecure, it is really critical that we do everything we can as a people, and as an economy, to help them out,” said Frazier. “And if you think about those who are food insecure, they also may be transportation insecure.”
LISTEN: Frazier further explains the need for the technology and the market opportunity it can create.
AgriNovus recently released a study in conjunction with the HungerTech challenge. It was conducted by Baylor University professor and national food policy expert Craig Gunderson.
Key recommendations identified in the study include, identifying ways to eliminate delivery costs for SNAP recipients, lowering barriers for stores to enter the program, and ensuring the same shopping experience for SNAP and non-SNAP recipients.
“If we think about the hierarchy of needs, the number one thing we have to solve for is hunger. We have to get the supply of that food to those who are demanding it. And we believe that technology is a huge piece of that,” said Frazier.
The AgriNovus chief says small retail stores are often a critical source of food for SNAP recipients, especially in rural communities. However, some of these stores, may not meet the requirements to be online grocers or do not have the resources to apply for the program.
He says the answer is not to build more grocery stores in areas where the economics do not work. But he believes technology can provide the path.
“What needs to happen, is creating the power of this new online era that is working, we saw amidst the pandemic, in each of our lives,” said Frazier.
The competing entrepreneurs will present their ideas to a panel Tuesday evening with the winner being selected at the end of the program.
The winner receives $25,000 to help launch their product to market. In addition to the prize, the winner will work with Indiana Family and Social Services Administration to pilot their solution in the third quarter of this year.
Frazier says the pilot outcomes along with the Gunderson research project will be presented in a report to Congress, who is beginning the process to write the next Farm Bill.
“To really help them think about how best we can integrate innovation into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” said Frazier. “The Farm Bill will come up for reauthorization next year, a significant portion 75%, approximately, of the Farm Bill, are these nutrition programs. And if we can bring efficiency to those not just efficiency, we can improve access, if we can improve the way that we can serve those communities.”