TEDMED 2015 Hive Companies Create Serious Style that Improves Health & Quality of Life

Sneakers, specially designed with the Open Style Lab platform.

Tattoos and stylish clothing are on the agenda at TEDMED next month in ways that are anything but frivolous. Neural Interaction Lab creates “epidural electronics” that function as flexible electronic sensors – think temporary tattoos – that can comfortably track your biometrics, Another group, Open Style Lab, offers a platform for people with disabilities to collaborate with engineers, designers and occupational therapists to create functional and fashionable apparel that meets their unique needs.

Open Style Lab founder and Executive Director Grace Teo dreamt, in different stages of her life, of careers in fashion and science. Earning her PhD in medical engineering and medical physics at Harvard/MIT put her to work in hospital environments. There she encountered a woman with multiple sclerosis whose stories about her difficulties accomplishing even the most mundane and routine tasks in her life gave Grace the idea to combine her passions by making beauty accessible to all people.

Grace recounts how, in her desire to solve “serious problems,” she asked the woman what she missed most about being healthy. She answered by describing her difficulty, that morning, of dressing independently. This need, “so starkly basic and intimate” usually goes unnoticed, Grace explained, adding that “as a child, I had always wanted to be a wardrobe designer, so I jumped at this opportunity to combine my medical engineering training and interest in creating beauty!”

Open Style Labs
The “Rayn Jacket” from Open Style Labs has a magnetic pouch that, when closed, is a pocket.

Grace notes that she is “#BreakingThrough assumptions about disability and beauty by bringing to life the clothing dreams of people with disabilities.” Her goal is to overcome the lack of awareness of the functional shortcomings clothing poses for the disabled and the lack of strong fashion industry presence to meet this need. “We are focused on making full use of every opportunity to grow a community of partners, manufacturers and retailers with whom we can change the fashion landscape to cater to people of all abilities,” she says.

Collaboration is also baked into the culture at Neural Interaction Lab, where Todd Coleman leads a research group developing wireless tattoo technology that transmits medical data. Spanning the disciplines of medical electronics, machine learning, and public health, the team creates multi-functional, flexible bio-electronics that provide information for use by both patients and clinical decision-makers. Todd tells us that he is “#BreakingThrough traditional boundaries by identifying important medical problems that inherently require different perspectives and bringing people from different backgrounds to work together with a singular focus on attacking these problems in a manner that can make sustainable change.”

Neural Interaction Lab
Neural Interaction Lab’s temporary tattoo, a wearable patch of tiny circuits, sensors, and wireless transmitters.

The tattoo-as-medical-device concept evolved gradually, Todd says, as he worked at the intersection of engineering and medicine. Identifying an “unmet need” for less obtrusive sensor technology, Todd began to understand that, as he puts it, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Technology will only work if people are willing to use, or in this case, wear it. A key insight was that technologies and algorithms needed to be developed “in lock-step with trusted community engagement, with an eagerness to understand context and by partnering with other organizations focused upon empowerment.” Underlying the work of Neural Interaction Labs is a contextual and social awareness of solutions’ users and what their unique challenges or opportunities for adoption may be. These tattoos may be life-altering, it turns out!

Unconventional Collaborations for Farming Solutions to Solve Global Hunger

TEDMED 2015 - Food Fix Session

Exacerbated by poverty and climate change, food insecurity and hunger are significant threats on a global scale. Malnourishment is not limited to the developing world, though of course it’s a huge problem there since under-resourced farmers frequently fall victim to food price spikes and inequity in the food system. However (though counterintuitive), the truth is that malnourishment is also a pressing issue in the U.S. and much of the developed world, as well. There, dietary imbalances and consumption of cheaper and more widely available foods that are calorie-dense but nutrient-poor are major factors. Domestically and globally, healthy and nutritious food options are becoming a luxury that many cannot afford.

At TEDMED 2015, we’ll hear several talks from the stage that will share compelling (and wildly different) strategies to address hunger, and our Hive Innovators also offer opportunities to meet and network with people tackling the issue. Some of these, introduced below, are noteworthy for the surprising collaborations they propose, as each offers a fresh way to reshape food production technologies (aka, farming). Their goal: to create a global agriculture system that can produce enough food to meet demand while also achieving ecological balance and sustainability.

Sharing the stage at the Food Fix session are University of California plant geneticists Pamela Roland and Raoul Adamchak, who manage the organic farm on campus. When it comes to genetic engineering vs. organic farming, the tendency is to pit one against the other. Yet, the couple (yes, they’re married!) posits that both approaches can contribute to the same, sustainable solution. Combining the best practices of seed technologies and organic farming is the most effective way to achieve a healthy and ecologically balanced agriculture, they believe.

The main challenges Pamela and Raoul have set out to solve include the negative impact of fertilizers and pesticides on the environment, farming practices that contribute to soil erosion, and unequal access to technology and inputs needed to increase yield amongst the world’s poorest farmers. The current pace of progress is insufficient, Pamela tells us, given predictions that the world’s population will increase by 3 billion in the next 50 years, while climate change will wreak yet more havoc for farmers. “We need to redouble our efforts to solve existing problems, feed more people, reduce CO2, NO, and methane emissions from agriculture, and utilize new technologies to address drought, flooding, salinity, and temperature extremes,” she says.

This same urgency to minimize global food insecurity propels the MIT Media Open Agriculture (OpenAG) Initiative, one of our TEDMED Hive companies for 2015. On a mission to create healthier, more engaging and more inventive food systems, OpenAG is at work on the first open-source agricultural technology research lab, the goals of which include enabling and promoting transparency while also networking experimentation, education and local production.

OpenAg Lab is “breaking through traditional agriculture by building collaborative tools to open technology platforms for the exploration of future food systems,” says principal scientist Caleb Harper (@calebgrowsfood). The word Caleb chooses to describe his team is “anti-disciplinary”: “We don’t focus on traditional disciplinary boundaries,” he says. “We’re more interested in figuring out the problem and who can help solve that problem. We answer the question ‘how does an electrical engineer become part of a food solution?’ We’re using a lot of different kinds of brains. While some of my team might not have horticultural knowledge, they have a lot of knowledge that the horticulturalists don’t have. Putting those two together is what has made it so powerful.”

At present Caleb says the group’s most inventive work involves “creating boxes at different sizes that create climates inside.” Plants are grown there, with sensors recording every minute detail of climate. “When the plant is harvested I know what biologic or plant-based expression occurred, which includes things like flavor, color, texture. I also know the environment that created it because I’ve been sensing it,” he explains. This essentially creates what he calls “a digital recipe” for the plant, which would produce identical results anywhere that the environmental conditions are replicated. “I can then email this digital recipe from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Ghana, and Ghana would be in immediate production of the exact same thing with the exact same quality. The big disruption is no longer shipping food, but sending information about food that creates it on the other side. Agriculture becomes constant, predictable, and networked – which it has never been.”

Caleb’s professional background previously focused on architecture and engineering, designing data centers, which are “controlled environments for computers,” he says. “I was also designing hospitals and was a specialist in surgical theatre, which is a controlled environment for people. So I came up with that idea and brought it home to the lab and started creating a prototype. I come from Texas, where my family was in grocery and agriculture production, so I combined my background in that with what I’m doing professionally.”

Inside Out and Upside Down: 3 Hive Companies that Shatter Convention in Solving Key Healthcare Challenges

Noora Health
In India, Noora Health is teaching family members to care for loved ones and achieving dramatic reductions in hospital readmissions.

As we all know, healthcare is full of complexity and troubling issues that seem to have no answer. Sometimes, approaching a project from wildly new angles or with fresh insight from industry outsiders results in surprisingly simple solution. That’s exactly what these three Hive 2015 companies are doing. Each tackle very different problems – traumatic brain injury, health insurance, and hospital readmission – with exciting and unconventional approaches.


The complexities of health insurance are, at best, frustrating even to healthy people with vast resources–let alone those who face medical, emotional, practical and/or financial challenges. Gravie is a health insurance marketplace that helps people buy and manage their own health insurance, and offers a seemingly simple and straightforward solution for dealing with the minor – and sometimes major – annoyances in our healthcare system.

What’s groundbreaking about the concept is that customers can use Gravie as their one-stop-shop for all healthcare needs. First, the platform provides a marketplace to help individuals and families understand the options in simple terms and then buy what they need; Gravie offers both private market and public exchange options. Thereafter, users can manage their payments (including employer contributions, government subsidies and their own money) and deal with all things health-related in one single place.

Though Gravie’s very structure shatters many of the conventions regarding health insurance, the company’s founders “don’t think our idea is particularly inventive,” says Abir Sen, CEO. “In fact,” says Abir, “we find it incredible that someone else didn’t come up with it years ago. In 2015, we are still stuck in the archaic employer-sponsored health insurance system that evolved around the time the Korean War was ending.” No single “aha moment” was involved in creating Gravie, Abir says, noting that instead the group merely applied “very basic logic to how we can make the health insurance system better for consumers.”


Noora Health

Noora Health is making an impact on hospital readmission rates in India, where in comparison to the US the difficulties of healthcare delivery are magnified many times over. The company uses the principles of human-centered design to turn hospital hallways and waiting rooms into classrooms. Here, disenfranchised friends and family members can learn how to give their loved ones the care they need to continue healing, get healthy and stay healthy after discharge from the hospital.

“The health system is failing globally, as a select few are able to access and afford the modern status quo of healthcare,” Shahed Alam, a Co-Founder and the company’s Chief Strategy Officer explains, noting that Noora sees “untapped potential” for healthcare in patients and families themselves. “Currently, patients and their families are given home-care instructions in a rushed discharge synopsis, often not in their native language,” he says. Not only are the existing patient education programs ineffective but they are “seen as expensive, time consuming and do not address the perceived more ‘acute’ or pressing bedside issues,” Shahed explains. Noora prepares family caregivers to join the care provider team, integrating them into the formal healthcare system. Shahed continues, “We take complicated and disjointed medical information and repackage it in such a way that it is interesting, engaging and the lessons stick. Part of our innovation’s beauty lies in its simplicity – it begs the question, why isn’t this the status quo?”



A spinoff from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, MindMaze combines virtual reality with state-of-the-art brain imaging technologies to help people with traumatic brain injury transcend disability and live more complete and satisfying lives. “Coming from an engineering background, it made a strong impression when I came across the standard of care in neurorehabilitation, which has been stagnant for the last few decades with debilitating implications for patients,” says Tej Tadi. Founder of MindMaze and an electrical engineer by training, Tej realized that “something as simple as a mirror trick using virtual reality seemed to immediately improve patient outcomes.” That was the starting point for a company that now develops hardware and software to enhance a damaged brain’s ability to learn and adapt. Tej tells us that MindMaze technology is already being used to help heal those who’ve suffered from stroke and brain damage.

When asked to come up with a word that describes his company, he offered three: diverse, creative and multidisciplinary. As for the future of this field, Tej said that “the novel amalgam of virtual & augmented reality, brain imaging and neuroscience will enable a whole new generation of platforms to bring intuitive interfaces into every aspect of our daily lives.”


Data-Driven Innovation to Improve Outcomes in Families, for Hospital Patients, and Worldwide


Excellent healthcare treats each person as a unique individual; but the best way to learn the most effective treatment for each unique situation is through analysis of massive amounts of data – data about many individuals’ treatment – which improves our healthcare system on the whole.

Among this year’s collection of innovative Hive companies are three using data to craft a better future for individuals everywhere. Their tools support frustrated parents seeking treatment for developmentally disabled children, provide potentially life-saving insights to doctors on the front lines of critical care, and deliver valuable performance metrics to sharpen the efficacy of public health programs a world away.

Cognoa (@CognoaParents) Helps Parents Help Their Kids

The problem: Time is of the essence for a parent who suspects a child may have autism, a developmental delay, or some other type of neurological challenge – yet most face enormous obstacles getting the “system” to respond to their concerns. While the effectiveness of early intervention has been widely demonstrated, valuable time is often lost waiting for a diagnosis and interventions.

The solution: Cognoa has created a mobile app that uses machine learning to help parents evaluate whether their child’s social, language and communication development is on track – and to get the right help as soon as possible when it isn’t. Using the Cognoa platform, a parent answers questions and uploads videos of the child’s behavior. The app identifies if the child is at risk for development delay and/or autism and delivers a personalized report that parents can share with their doctor, identifying areas where the child is doing well and others where intervention is needed.

The breakthrough: “Cognoa originated from deep investigations into how the current healthcare system detects, diagnoses, and treats developmental delay in children,” explains Dennis Wall, scientific founder and developer of Cognoa’s proprietary child behavior assessments and data science. Citing 18-month long waiting lists, the fact that some children don’t receive a diagnosis of autism until they are almost five, and that many families must “endure self-managed navigation through an overly complex healthcare ecosystem,” Dennis says it isn’t acceptable to let children go “without therapeutic intervention during the time windows [when] they need it most.”

Cognoa was built to use the “lens of machine learning to create algorithms that can cut through the complexity and mobilize the exchange of information between parents and clinicians,” Dennis says, noting that the concept coalesced when it became clear that “these algorithms place the power of knowledge into the hands of the caregivers and enable action that helps them help their child in minutes instead of months.”

Medical Informatics Corp (@MedicalInfoCorp) Helps Doctors Save Patients’ Lives

The problem: Medical Informatics Corp (MIC) saw a need to “radically rethink” the way that patients are monitored within critical care environments. The current system places each ICU patient on a physiologic monitor, which – says Craig Rusin, co-founder and CTO at Medical Informatics – “is a dedicated piece of hardware that measures vital signs such as ECG, blood pressure, heart rate, etc.” This model of patient innovation typically requires the development and sales of new hardware. “That’s like buying a separate computer for every program that you want to run,” Craig says, adding that “it’s expensive, un-scalable, and it’s driving up health care costs.”

The solution: Seeing “a huge untapped potential in the data that is being collected by existing medical equipment,” MIC transforms existing clinical data streams into patient-specific analytics in real time. “Each monitoring application addresses a specific clinical question and can be enabled on a patient-by-patient basis,” Craig explains. The software-based applications can be developed five times faster and for just 10% of the cost of hardware-based solutions, creating what he calls a “fundamental shift in the economics of patient monitoring applications.”

The breakthrough: Algorithms that may not be economically feasible as a single hardware-based monitor become economically viable as a software-based virtual monitor. Considered a thought leader and architect of change in predictive and prescriptive clinical analytics, Craig and his colleagues are laying a foundation for real-time clinical decision support applications within Hospital IT infrastructure.

“At MIC, our people are quirky, passionate, and over-qualified,” Craig shares. “These traits enable us to navigate the often-tricky world of healthcare technology innovation. Everyone on our team shares the same goal: building software to empower health care teams to save lives.”

BroadReach Healthcare (@Broadreachinfo) Improves Access to Healthcare on a Global Scale

The problem: According to BroadReach founding partner John Sargent, there has long been a “profound divide between the application of big data in developed markets—where some believe governments and companies know too much—and in developing countries where all agree they know too little to provide life-enhancing services.” Fragmented and incomplete, the available data often overlooked the impacts of key metrics, including the social determinants of health.

The solution: BroadReach provides a powerful analytic platform with predictive modeling and data visualization tools that can be used to craft healthcare policy and programs based on performance, sustainability and accountability. Combining real-time data collection; powerful and accessible tools for data integration, analysis and visualization; and strategic consulting and operational support, BroadReach analytics drive programming that improves outcomes quickly and effectively.

The breakthrough: The “pragmatic visionaries” at BroadReach Analytics now work closely with governments, multinational health organizations, major donors and life science companies worldwide to integrate social, economic and health data for insights to maximize impact by improving access to quality healthcare in a sustainable way.

2015 Speakers: A Look Behind The Scenes

Raj Patel
Raj Patel conducts an interview for his film project “Generation Food,” a documentary that will be released in 2016. An author, activist and academic, Raj is breaking through “people’s fear of systemic change by showing how some of the world’s poorest people are saving the planet through food.”

In Food Fix, Raj Patel will introduce a novel “technology” to global farming that can help decrease chronic child malnutrition and ensure food sovereignty. Knowing where to start isn’t easy, he tells us, sharing that “Many people want to change the world, but the ways we’re allowed to do it are trivial. Voting for one party or another doesn’t help. Shopping sensibly or voting with our forks doesn’t do a whole lot. But the minute we stop thinking about ourselves as individual consumers – whose only power is to shop – and think of ourselves as agents and scientists for change, new things start to become possible.”

What sparked Raj’s commitment to ending poverty? He shares the compelling experience: “I was five years old visiting Bombay, and couldn’t understand why a little girl was begging at a traffic light in the monsoon rain. It struck me as unspeakably unfair. As soon as I got back to England, I rented out my toys at kindergarten, and sent the money for hunger relief. It was an early career change. And I’ve yet to find a good reason why she was outside our taxi, and we were inside it.”

Raj Patel at work
Little boys from Bwabwa, Cameroon, make sweet potato donuts
Bwabwa, Cameroon.
Bwabwa, Cameroon



Dr. Dilip Jeste
In his office at UCSD, geriatric neuroscientist Dr. Dilip Jeste specializes in wisdom and other positive attributes of the aging brain.

“I am #Breakingthrough stigma against aging by discovering how late life can be a period of wisdom and growth – a time to thrive, not just survive,” says Dilip Jeste.

Dilip’s goal is timely, especially considering increasing life expectancy rates worldwide. He urges us not to view the aging demographic as a financial burden on the healthcare system, but as a valuable resource. Rather than the pejorative term “Silver Tsunami,” he tells us that it is instead “a Golden Wave of wise, emotionally stable, experienced decision-makers with a generative world view and a great deal to offer the younger generations.”

Dilip has no plans to slow down. “In 2008, for the first time in my life, I ran for a public election as a Trustee-at-Large of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the largest psychiatric organization in the world, with 35,000 members. The election involved political-style (but fortunately, without negative ads!) campaigning, seeking votes from a large and diverse body of members scattered across the country, giving presentations on why I was the best of the three candidates who were running for the position.” It wasn’t comfortable, he says, calling himself a “heavy underdog” at the start of the campaign. “Many friends and colleagues thought that I was risking my personal reputation by venturing outside the comfort zone of the academic ivory tower. Yet, I felt it was a great opportunity for me to get to know the world beyond academics and also to see if I could adapt myself to public campaigning. I won the election, while enhancing my friendship with the other two candidates.” He didn’t stop there. “After serving as the Trustee-at-Large for 3 years, I ran for APA Presidency, which was an even more demanding campaign. I won and in 2012 I became the first Asian American President in the 168-year history of this organization. It turned out to be one of the most fulfilling years of my life.”



Breakout Labs
Breakout Labs, workplace of Hemai Parthasarathy, Scientific Director of the Thiel Foundation and Breakout Labs and a speaker in our Catalyzing Great Science session.

Through her work at the Thiel Foundation, Hemai Parthasarathy tells us that she is “breaking through barriers between the laboratory and the economy.” At TEDMED, she will reveal what goes on behind the scenes of cultivating a scientist-entrepreneur and providing them with the tools to thrive.

But what about what happens behind the scenes outside of work? Curious to know, we asked her to tell us about the last time she did something for the very first time. Here’s what she shared: “In February, I started training a puppy for the first time. My family had dogs when I was growing up, but I’ve never raised a puppy before and it’s been fascinating to coach a non-human animal mind. Although I did animal research as a neuroscientist, watching non-human animal cognition and its evolution on a daily basis has given me a new perspective on just how fundamentally different and how utterly similar a different species’ brain can be.”



Vanessa Ruiz
Drawing from her love of street art, Vanessa Ruiz wants to break through “the confines of medical education by making human anatomy publicly accessible through art, design, and pop culture.”

Vanessa Ruiz’s company, Street Anatomy, is working on an online collection of top contemporary artists who use human anatomy in their art. She wants to shift public ignorance of human anatomy, saying “Most people know more about the settings on their smartphones than where their organs are located. I am attempting to make anatomy more accessible by showing how it is visualized outside of the realm of education—to break through the lack of interest, aversion to the internal, and perceived complexity. It is a step in making anatomy more ubiquitous and interesting.”

Vanessa Ruiz's office
A look into Vanessa’s office.

“OBJECTIFY THIS," curated by Vanessa Ruiz

In 2012, Vanessa curated a gallery show titled “OBJECTIFY THIS” that uses art as a vehicle for education. “I became more aware of the underrepresentation of female anatomy in medical textbooks and education,” she says. “The male body has always been the educational standard, possibly to the detriment of learning female anatomy. I have found that in art, there is no preference. It all depends on their frame of reference and experiences. I want to continue the theme of OBJECTIFY THIS and bring it to other cities around the world to educate the public on this overlooked issue.”

Very Personalized Healthcare from 3 of TEDMED’s Hive Companies

Personalized medicine – one of the most important and promising trends in the medical world – tailors treatments to the unique characteristics, genes, and lifestyle of each individual. It’s a fast-moving field, full of innovation and boundary-pushing breakthroughs. This November at TEDMED, The Hive will feature three companies that are helping to accelerate the personalized application to healthcare, each using a very different approach.

Emulate’s “Organs-on-chips.” President and Chief Scientific Officer Geraldine Hamilton says this will soon be followed by a new version, “You on a Chip,” which will provide truly personalized predictive technology.

Emulate Inc. puts living human cells in micro-engineered environments as a way to examine how diseases, medicines, chemicals and even foods will affect health. Their Organs-on-Chips technology predicts human response with greater accuracy and precision than either animal or lab testing because it allows for control of all critical aspects of a living cellular environment, such as tissue stretching, blood flow, breathing etc. As a result, Emulate can advance product testing, design and safety across a range of applications including drug development, agriculture, cosmetics and personalized health. Emulate is now developing “You on a Chip,” using the same technology with individual stem cells to accelerate progress toward a whole new level of individualized healthcare.

InSCyT’s bedside drug-manufacturing system isn’t quite small enough to carry around “in a backpack” but it’s truly portable says founder J. Christopher Love, associate professor in chemical engineering at MIT.

Thanks to the InSCyT (Integrated and Scalable CytoTechnolgoy) platform, we’ll soon have the ability to manufacture bespoke biological drugs in small quantities on demand, anywhere. With applications ranging from battlefield medicine to treatment of orphan diseases, InSCyT will impact health globally as well as on the very personal level. The concept began as a conversation about “what if you could make any medicine you wanted for a patient right at their bedside?” The MIT-led team has already built a portable prototype that, in under 48 hours, can produce dose-scale quantities (ranging from tens to thousands) of drugs like insulin, vaccines, hormones and cancer medications of a quality comparable to approved pharmaceuticals.

A customized drug-delivery device for self-administration of biologic drugs made by Recon Therapeutics, a startup whose culture is best described as “clutch” by Co-Founder Christopher Lee.

Recon Therapeutics used rapid prototyping and 3D printing technology to create its “one-stop shop” for self-administered biologic drugs. The LyoKit Disposable Reconstitution System has many important advantages over existing self-administered medications, making treatments easier for patients. Built from off-the-shelf components, it bypasses the need for refrigeration, can easily be customized for many different drugs, and (because it’s so simple) minimizes the likelihood of user error. The LyoKit also solves key challenges of personalized biologic medications, including unique solubility requirements, unreliable dosing and low patient compliance – freeing up patients taking these drugs to live their lives without fretting over how to take their medicine.

Hive Companies Reinventing “What’s for Dinner” Share Their Recipes for Start-Up Success

The Impossible Burger
The Impossible Burger is made from … plants?

It’s a creative time in the food world – and not just in epicurean circles. With a focus on addressing injustices to our environment, to people and to animals, several of this year’s Hive companies are serving up alternative meals that are fresh, nutritious and unconventional.

One Simple Solution Addresses Three Big Problems

Daily Table

On the Menu: Excess but wholesome food that would otherwise be wasted by growers, manufacturers and retailers. This wasted food is used to cook up freshly prepared “grab-n-go” meals that are sold along with fresh produce and other grocery items at far lower-than-typical prices at Daily Table, an innovative nonprofit retail store. Daily Table’s mission is to fight hunger and obesity in America by providing truly affordable nutrition to the food insecure.

Doug Rauch, Daily Table’s founder
Doug Rauch, Daily Table’s founder

“I am #BreakingThrough traditional mindsets about nonprofits, hunger relief and food recovery while engendering dignity and building a community’s capacity for health,” says Doug Rauch, Daily Table’s founder. Explaining that the organization is “using one massive problem (wasted food) to solve another massive social issue (hunger/obesity),” Doug – formerly a president of Trader Joe’s – collaborated with “world class medical education centers and nutritionists to adopt nutritional guidelines that will ensure that every product helps our customers feel and be their best. This great tasting, nutritious food is offered in a friendly retail format ensuring that the entire process engenders dignity and a sense of agency.”

Asked how Daily Table evolved from an idea to the real-live supermarket that opened its doors in Dorchester, MA, on July 4, Doug responded that there were many “learnings.” To name a few: “When I learned that the issue of dignity was the number one reason a person didn’t apply for SNAP or use Feeding America’s services; or when I discovered that hunger in America is a shortage of nutrients, not calories; or when I wrestled with how to create a nonprofit that could generate funding (revenue) through delivery of its mission instead of for the delivery of the mission.” The word that brings it all together, he notes, is empathy. “It all flows from genuine care and empathy. It would be an empty shell without these.”

A Quest to Eliminate the Need for Animal Farming

Impossible Foods (@PatrickOBrown)

The Main Course: A delicious, nutritious, environmentally friendly alternative to meat and dairy that comes directly from plants – but tastes better than the best burger an avowed carnivore has eaten. Next year, Impossible Foods will start selling its “Impossible Burger,” the first product in a line of foods that look, smell and taste like – while also delivering the pleasurable sensory experience of – animal-derived foods (meat, cheese and milk). But amazingly, these products are are created entirely from plants.

Patrick Brown, Founder of Impossible Foods
Patrick Brown, Founder of Impossible Foods

“I am #BreakingThrough technical and cultural barriers to a sustainable, affordable and secure global food system,” says Patrick Brown, a world renowned geneticist, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, and Professor of Biochemistry at Stanford University. Founder of Lyrical Foods and maker of Kite Hill artisanal nut milk-based cheeses, Pat’s latest venture was triggered by a realization that, even as the demand for meat and dairy products continues to rise, animal farming is “absurdly destructive and completely unsustainable.” He started Impossible Foods and raised $75 million to “reinvent the entire system of transforming plants into meat and milk.”

Only a few of The Impossible Foods scientists have worked professionally with food in the past; however, they have figured out how to extract materials from plants that can convincingly replicate the feel, the flavors and the satisfying texture of foods that people really want to eat. The result is better for animals, of course, but it’s also good for those of us who will be able to enjoy a great burger without the attendant guilt that comes from consuming high-fat foods.

Breaking Through the Way We Think About Food

Aspire Food Group (@AspireFG)

Bill of Fare: Insects. They are a commonly overlooked and sustainable source of protein that, in many parts of the world, are considered a delectable delicacy. Aspire Food Group is working to advance responsible insect farming and consumption by developing culturally relevant business strategies and potential markets for these foods. They are also, simultaneously, educating rural farmers on the best practices of insect farming and helping them break into formal economies where a market for these foods already exists.

Shobhita Soor, Aspire Food Group founding member and Chief Impact Officer
Shobhita Soor, Aspire Food Group founding member and Chief Marketing Officer

Aspire is “breaking through” in many and varied ways, shares Shobhita Soor, a founding member and the firm’s Chief Marketing Officer. “We are #BreakingThrough the way we think about food and protein sources … the way we formalize an informal food economy … and the way we adapt traditional food practices on a global scale,” she tells us.

Shobhita and her partners found their inspiration as MBA students participating in the Hult Prize competition in 2013. Charged to develop a solution to address food insecurity, a member of her team “spoke to a physician who mentioned that he recently saw a patient who consumes insects in her native country, Columbia. Once we started looking into entomophagy there were several ‘aha’ moments, namely the understanding that many insects are highly nutritious and resource-efficient and that there is a real market gap in insect eating.” The realization “that insect-eating is a strong traditional practice for over 2 billion people in the world, but that they remain inaccessible in terms of cost and supply,” was when “we knew we were on to something.”

What’s most disruptive about Aspire, says Shobhita, “is that we are tapping into an extremely under-utilized resource that is familiar to 2 billion people in the world, yet virtually invisible to the rest. We are revolutionizing the way the majority of the world thinks about protein by working to make a traditional superfood more available and accessible through the improvement of its production, preparation and consumption methods.”

Bonus: You’ll have the opportunity to hear more about these innovative companies in the Food Fix session at TEDMED2015, where each of the three leaders will share more about their inspirations and hopes for feeding the world.