The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) collaborated with the NASA Tournament Lab (NTL) to sponsor ARSX2021 - Harvest for a Healthier Future. ARSX2021 called for transformative ideas to help achieve a resilient and healthy food system that provides affordable access to safe and nutritious foods while being environmentally, economically and socially sustainable. In particular, the challenge sought solutions related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions because plant, animal and food wastes all generate tremendous amounts of methane.
ARSX is an annual challenge internal to ARS staff intended to offer opportunities for high risk high rewards ideas and to promote collaboration within ARS. HeroX provided the challenge design services, hosted and administered the challenge on their platform, and also provided additional consulting services. ARSX2021, “Harvest for a Healthier Future,” featured two phases. In Phase 1, research proposals were submitted and then vetted by judges who selected the teams submitting the 10 most compelling ideas as finalists. During Phase 2, those 10 teams participated in an innovation forum to refine their ideas, had an opportunity to build out their teams with additional expertise, and received professional coaching from entrepreneurs and experts outside of ARS to help build out their pitches. This process provided a unique opportunity for participants to interact with colleagues from other parts of the organization, to get visibility within ARS, and to develop new skills.
This challenge received 36 proposals from the ARS community. In the challenge’s final event, the 10 finalists pitched to a panel of judges who evaluated their ideas based on the potential impact to reduce greenhouse gases, novelty of the approach, feasibility of the solution, and collaboration across groups within ARS. Innovative ideas at this stage ranged from seeding rain clouds with electrically charged water droplets to using microbes to fend off agricultural pests without harming honey bees.
At the end of the event, the judges selected three winning teams, each of which received $100,000 to continue developing their project. The judges also recognized one team with an honorable mention.