The Jakarta Post
Handcrafted trophies of the Liveability Challenge that will be sent to all finalists. (Courtesy of /Eco-Business)
Singapore-based sustainable dairy start-up TurtleTree Labs dominated this year’s The Liveability Challenge, an annual competition in search of sustainability solutions, taking home the S$1 million (US$ 719,112.91) grand prize on July 8.
The challenge was supported by Singaporean nonprofit Temasek Foundation, organized by media outlet Eco-Business and convened by Closed Loop Partners, a New York-based investment firm from the United States.
This year, the Liveability Challenge attracted over 400 participants from 60 countries. The six remaining finalists pitched products ranging from plant-based milk to cell-based alternative seafood.
The judges was a panel of Asia’s industry experts, investors and changemakers, including Temasek Foundation Ecosperity CEO Lim Hock Chuan, Closed Loop Partners’ executive director Daniella Joseph and Vertech Capital board director William Feng. In addition to the S$1 million grand prize, judges also awarded their own prizes to some of the finalists.
TurtleTree Labs received S$100,000 from one of the judges in addition to the main cash prize.
TurtleTree Labs responds to questions after their pitch in the Liveability Challenge on July 8. (Courtesy of/Eco-Business)
“We are proud to be here,” said Max Rye, chief strategist of TurtleTree Labs, moments after judges announced the winner. “This opportunity means a lot for us.”
TurtleTree Labs uses cells to create sustainable milk it says has the same taste and functionality of milk from an animal. They hope to take on the US$700 billion dairy industry and cut down on emissions and land used by cattle.
The judges lauded TurtleTree Labs’ potential for growth and said its product could alleviate problems for communities around the world.
Other finalists also saw recognition from the judges. After competitors called in from their computers at home and presented their products via video conference, the judges deliberated and announced their individual awards.
String Bio, a biotech company that uses methane to create biostimulants and alternative proteins, was awarded with a venture building package from one judge. Though it did not win the main prize, the company learned how to tell its story and communicate with an audience more effectively.
“It’s been a fun process,” said Ezhil Subbian, CEO of String Bio. “I was very impressed with how the whole finals was done.”
Another finalist team received two awards from judges. The team was a collaboration between Nanyang Technological University and a start-up called Alterpacks.
The NTU-Alterpacks team pitched a product called ChitoWrap, a biodegradable and antimicrobial plastic alternative made from chitin, a substance found in crustaceans. They hope to begin a path toward reducing food and plastic waste. The team received a spot in a business accelerator program and mentorship from Closed Loop Partners.
NTU-Alterpacks team members said the competition helped them see their shortfalls, but they were also heartened and validated by the support they received.
William Chen, director of the food and science program at NTU, said working with his two teammates from Alterpacks was a crucial part of the experience.
“These two dream partners really pulled me out of this arm chair,” said Chen. “It’s really an unforgettable experience.”
Besides having to attend the competition remotely, finalists have been impacted by the global pandemic in their work.
Subbian said an unclear future with COVID-19 has made her work more challenging.
“Uncertainty is affecting business decisions,” said Subbian. “Because of that, the pace of work is slowing down and that’s a huge negative for us because start-ups, companies like us, need to move fast. Our advantage is agility.”
There has been a silver lining, however, with Subbian saying that since the pandemic, she’s seen more interest in sustainability from the food production and alternative protein markets.
The NTU-Alterpacks team said it felt motivated to continue pursuing its common vision because much of the world would need sustainable solutions more than ever because of the pandemic.
“These are real world problems in every society,” said Karen Cheah, founder and CEO of Alterpacks. “The ability to at least make a mark, a start, is our contribution.” (wng)
The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post.