‘Sharing food has always been part of the human story’

'Sharing food has always been part of the human story'
Common Spoon, a team of students from Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya, were recently selected as finalists for the 2016 Ericsson Innovation Awards. Their idea is all about making the world a better and more sustainable place - through sharing food.

Swedish multinational company Ericsson hosts an innovation contest each year – the Ericsson Innovation Awards. The international award challenges applicants to come up with innovative ideas to combat the rising population in cities.

This year a group of students in Spain was selected as finalists – from hundreds of applicants. They came to Sweden this week for the awards ceremony, and while they didn't win the contest, they left inspired and ready to do even more.

This year's theme was “the future of city life”.

Their project, Common Spoon, is based on a communal kitchen, where people can find local organic produce, cook for themselves and, sell and buy meals.  The goal is to boost the local economy and strengthen social bonds, while cooking, selling and eating.

We spoke to Nathan Brougher, one of the four team members in the project, about why they entered the contest and how they plan to change the world with food. 

Nathan, tell me a bit about your background. Where are you from and what are you studying? How did you end up there? 

I was born in the United States but raised in Colombia where my parents worked. I moved back to the US after high school to attend Wheaton College in Illinois where I studied International Relations. It was there that I first learned about the enormous potential for businesses to improve people's lives. Following my time at Wheaton College, I joined the US Peace Corps and served for two years in Albania. I lived in a small mining town where the fall of communism had devastated the local economy. I saw, firsthand, the ripple effects of economic stagnation on people's health, education, and family lives.

When I returned to the United States I worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Oakland, California for three years, developing my leadership and managerial skills while saving up for business school. It was during this time that I met my wife and after applying to several schools, chose to go to ESADE Business School in Barcelona. It was the school that best fit with my desires to bring together business innovation with social change and it has given me the skills to accomplish my goals.

How did you find out about the Ericsson Innovation Awards – and why did you decide to apply? 

I learned about the Ericsson Innovation Awards through my Common Spoon teammate, Chloé-Hébert Gérin-Lajoie, from Montreal, Quebec, who is also in the MBA program. She had found out about the competition through Ericsson’s social media accounts and along with me, recruited her boyfriend, Jacob Yvon-Leroux (also from Montreal) and his classmate, Sergio Ruiz (from Barcelona) who were getting their master’s degrees in Sustainability Science and Technology at the Catalonia Polytechnic University.

We decided to apply for the Ericsson Innovation Awards because we found the challenge of the competition–to imagine the future of city life–to be both compelling and relevant to the rapidly urbanizing world. We believe it would give us an opportunity to creatively explore ideas related to all of our long-term professional goals.

How did you come up with the idea? 

The idea for Common Spoon, though it might sound contrived, came to us in parts as we shared a meal together. With all the different problems that urban societies face, we kept coming back to the dilution of communal identity as a root cause. It was clear that social bonds had to form in a natural way if they were to withstand modern pressures and we had the epiphany that food was the key to this renewed togetherness. Sharing food has always been part of the human story. We would hack the strengthening of social fabric by harnessing the intersection of interests around food, leveraging automation, IoT, and adaptive pricing technologies.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in developing Common Spoon? 

One of the biggest challenges was finding the right business model for a concept with such a variety of stakeholders. To properly build the business around the value it would provide for interdependent groups, ranging from hipster urban farmers, to lasagna-making grandmas, to over-worked millennials, we had to revisit a lot of assumptions and get the details right. 

How did it feel to be selected as finalists?

We couldn't be more proud! To have been chosen out of more than 800 teams that entered the Ericsson Innovation Awards and have made it this far is a huge honor. We are excited about the recognition we're receiving from Ericsson, a company whose history of championing disruptive technologies is unparalleled, and can't wait to present Common Spoon to the world!

What's next for you guys?

That's a great question! We've joked about entering the Ericsson Innovation Awards competition again next year but we all have different ongoing studies or internships lined up for the next year or so and it would be hard to make it happen. We plan to further develop the Common Spoon concept and refine it, while possibly partnering with companies like Ericsson to take us forward into the next steps.

Why is it important to innovate in the social field – not just technology, but ideas which help people and also boost social bonds?

Innovation in the social field, aimed directly improving people's lives, is essential because when human lives flourish, we all benefit. This isn't simply a matter of appeasing our consciences by doing good deeds–it is concerted action toward building the type of world you think is worth living in.

Read more about the Ericsson Innovation Awards and the finalists here