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Driving innovation with open data on nutrition: Business Innovation food.opendata.ch

The hall in Amsterdam is huge. Young people from all over the world are inside discussing and talking about one subject: feeding humanity. Maryam Yepes from Lausanne is also here. The inventor is testing her web app: “NutriMenu shows cooks from large-scale kitchens whether their menu plan meets domestic recommendations on nutrition.” Here at the Thought for Food Summit, Yepes wants to find out whether the Swiss software is also compatible with the nutritional requirements of other countries. 

The Swiss project is present at the international conference thanks to the Business Innovation food.opendata.ch programme, which aims to create value from data on nutrition. But: What does data have to do with eating? “At first glance, not much”, says online entrepreneur Hannes Gassert. “Eating means enjoyment, and our diets are still analogue, not digital. But that being said, there’s usually a mobile phone lying right next to our plate.” As the vice president of the association Opendata.ch, Gassert is responsible for the innovation programme, which has been made possible by Engagement Migros. Its objective is to make open data easy to use for innovation.  

“Everyone profits from open data.”

“Open data means that anyone can access these data at any time, free of charge”, explains Gassert. The potential inherent in such data can be illustrated using the example of the GPS navigation system. “Since satellite data are no longer accessible only to the military, smartphones and an entire ecosystem of apps have experienced an enormous leap in innovation.” Giant innovation labs could be created if businesses made their data accessible. “The main function of the new SBB app, for example, was not invented by SBB itself, but rather by a team of independent developers who were motivated by the open data made available by SBB.” Gassert is therefore convinced that everyone can profit from open data, because they accelerate the innovation cycle, thereby contributing to the added value. “This also works in the food segment”, believes Gassert.

Innovative apps through nutrition data

The innovation programme therefore started off in February with a hack day for the open data community. Approximately 200 scientists, programmers and designers locked themselves in for 24 hours, developing ideas and programming raw prototypes. Maryam Yepes was also there with NutriMenu, a start-up that is already a registered company, in contrast to the majority of participant projects. During hack days, the focus is on intensive networking, says Yepes: “A lot of creative energy comes together at these events. It’s important to make sure the energy doesn’t fizzle out afterwards”, since there is often neither enough money nor a large enough network. 

Sustainable hack days

The support from Engagement Migros is a great advantage in this case, offering the Business Innovation food.opendata.ch a long-term horizon. During the hack day, six projects out of 20 were chosen to receive consulting on their way to get ready for the market. Teams that have never met each other before now have time to develop their projects. In addition to financial support, the teams receive support in the form of a coworking space, if necessary, and coaching from Opendata.ch and its broad network, with the aim of also connecting the teams with investors.

In Amsterdam, the app testathon is coming to an end. Maryam Yepes is satisfied. Over 20 people tested her NutriMenu web app. “Now we know that NutriMenu can be used in other countries too.” The web app is already being used in Switzerland: the city of Lausanne is testing the meal plans of its schools with NutriMenu. With success: meals have become healthier. Now Maryam Yepes wants to persuade other cities and cantons of the usefulness of her app – cafeteria by cafeteria. The Business Innovation food.opendata.ch programme will accompany her on the way and accelerate the process.