Sustainable Futures Challenge (SFC)

Sustainable Futures Challenge

Are you interested collaborative problem-solving and for a more sustainable future? Use your skills and passion to work with people of various backgrounds to solve agri-tech problems and create impact. With the help of experts your idea will be grown into an applicable tech solution and business model over the course of 3 workshops. Each team will be able to present their concept at the Technology Ventures Conference, and hopefully develop it further into business with impact!

Find your inner innovator and inner entrepreneur while solving global problems with impact.
You will receive a problem, a team, and mentorship (technical and business).




What is the CUTEC’s Sustainable Futures Challenge?

In line with the theme of this year’s CUTEC’s Technology Ventures Conference (TVC), this new, interactive initiative will gather the best and brightest Cambridge students, academics, staff, and alumni to tackle problems relating to the question:

“How can we enable sustainable supply and production of food and water in a sustainable fashion?”

A resource is defined as a source or supply from which a benefit/need can be obtained in order to function effectively. The UN has estimated that in 15 years we will need 30% more water, 45% more energy, and 50% more food than today. The percent of arable land in the world is estimated to be 13.31% with only 4.71% sustaining permanent crops. However, by rethinking what counts as a “resource” people are finding clever ways to produce food in inhospitable environments, for example one experiment in the desert of Qatar takes advantage of abundant sunlight and seawater to turn out 75 kg of vegetables per square meter. How can we adapt to less than ideal environments to continue to live comfortably while supporting a planet of over 7 billion humans?

We will place scientists, engineers, business students, social scientists, and artists on teams to solve one of three challenges: (1) Compost, (2) Soil structure, and (3) Seed distribution. Solutions will need to take into account and will be judged on efficiency, sustainability, and economy.

Teams will workshop their ideas with industry experts at four workshops over the course of eight weeks and then present their solutions on stage at the TVC in front of investors, academics, students, and incubators.

The Challenges

Compost Challenge

Studies show that compost use in arable rotations can improve yields and resilience. Tons of organic, compostable material is thrown out in cities every day. How can we create an economical way to sort and get organic waste from cities to farms?

Soil Structure Challenge

The physical structure of soil affects crop development and yields.  Detailed soil structure tests can be performed in labs, but this is time consuming and costly. Can we make better in-the-field tool(s) to let allow farmers to check soil structure and resilience?

Seed Distribution Challenge

Cover-cropping is a great way to rehabilitate soil and can provide wide ranging benefits in farming systems. The most success often comes with mixing multiple species; however, these species have seeds of different sizes and shapes which makes it difficult to spread them evenly using current technology. Can we create a way to make it practical for farmers to sow seeds of different sizes?

The Format

Launch Event (27.04)

What: This event will introduce the Sustainable Futures Challenge. Keynote speeches from industry experts and entrepreneurs will talk about the need of creative problem solving for global grand challenges such as agri-tech problems. They will explain what the typical problems in the agrit-tech space are and how we should aim to tackle them – both from a technology and business perspective. The format of the Sustainable Futures Challenge and the application process will be explained. The event will finish with a reception and networking.
Speakers: Rob Stobart (Head of Crop Research Communication at NIAB), Jane Rickson (Professor of Soil Erosion and Conservation at Cranfield Soil and Agrifood Institute), Will Simonson (Coordinator of the Global Food Security Strategic Initiative at Cambridge Univeristy)

For more information and registration click here.


Submission deadline (08.05)

For registration/application click here.

Workshop 1 (11.05)

What: teams formed, challenges explained and discussed, teams brainstorm, teams suggest ideas, technology expert give feedback, business model canvas training
Experts: Simon Stockley (Senior Teaching Faculty in Entrepreneurship at Cambridge Judge Business School), Rob Stobart (Head of Crop Research Communication at NIAB), Philip Longhurst (Reader in Environmental Technology at Cranfield University), Mark HarrisNathan Morris (Knowledge transfer and farmer training at NIAB)

Workshop 2 (01.06)

What: teams present refined technology solution and business model, teams get feedback from other teams and mentors, mentors circulate teams to discuss and give feedback
Experts: Jaideep Pradhu (Jawaharlal Nehru Professor of Indian Business & Enterprise), Stewart McTavish (ideaSpace Director at University of Cambridge), panel of 5 business experts from MassChallenge

Workshop 3 (15.06)

What: teams present final concept and business model, get feedback from technology experts, business mentors and other teams

TVC2015 (26.06)

What: teams pitch their concept on stage

NOTE: all events will take place in the evening

Who should apply?

Undergraduates and Post-graduates at the University of Cambridge in all fields: Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, Business, International Relations, Anthropology, Plant Sciences, whatever you do, if you are interested in working on a diverse team to create sustainable solutions to real problems, apply!

Applicants are expected to be individuals. If there is a partner that you would prefer to be placed on a team with, please state this in your application. Because we want to encourage participants to meet and work with new people, applicants may not apply in teams of more than 2 people.

Why should I apply?

  • Do you want to challenge yourself intellectually in a collaborative environment?
  • Do you want to meet new friends and potential future work/research partners?
  • Are you interested in entrepreneurship but don’t have an idea or a team and just don’t know where to start?
  • Are you thinking about pursuing a career in agri-tech?

This challenge will foster a community of like-minded researchers and entrepreneurs who want to create a better world. The main focus is solving a problem together; however, if a suitable technology is developed during the project, CUTEC will provide resources for the team to turn that idea into a start-up venture. Our panel of judges providing feedback at the end of the event and who attend our Technology Venture Conference are always looking for bright, fresh talent to enhance their businesses, labs, and initiatives.

Sustainable Futures Challenge