ISPIC 2023

The Problem

How do we feed 10 billion people, one sixth of whom would be Indian by 2050, while protecting the environment and public health? Our food choices impact everything from climate change to food security, and we need a new approach to sourcing protein that supports planetary health, reduces malnutrition, and creates jobs.

The Solution

Smart proteins offer a sustainable alternative to animal-derived meat, eggs, and dairy. They require significantly less land, water, and energy while emitting fewer emissions. They’re also free of antibiotics, eliminating the risk of zoonotic disease—hence providing a way to meet the growing demand sustainably, safely and efficiently.

Smart Protein can be

  • Plant-Based

    Plant-based meats, eggs, and dairy made from nutritious plants like peas, mung beans, and soy replicate the taste and cultural significance of conventional animal-derived products.
  • Cultivated

    Cultivated meat is produced by growing animal cells in a fermentor instead of animal farming, and is identical at a cellular level to conventionally-produced meat.
  • Fermentation-derived

    Fermentation utilizes microbial organisms either to produce protein or to derive ingredients like flavorings, enzymes, and fats, which are then used in plant-based or cultivated meats.

ISPIC: Building the Future of Food

Through previous editions of ISPIC, we have mentored and advanced exceptional talent and enterprises in order to pave the way for a better future of food and the 2023 edition will be no different!

What to Expect

Over a period of six months, the selected cohort will progress through three distinct challenge phases each with curated programming, ultimately culminating in an in-person Demo Day


Indian nationals under 35 years of age, currently enrolled or recently graduated (within 1 year*) in a graduate, undergraduate or PhD university program affiliated with a university.

The program is focused on Indian nationals but if you are of non-Indian nationality and are working or studying in India or are looking to further your career in the Indian smart protein sector, please indicate the same in your application and we will consider your application.

* We would be open to making case by case exceptions here, please write to us at

Gain an in-depth understanding of the business, science and policy of smart protein through the Smart Protein Digital Lab. Attempt weekly evaluations and pass the cut-off percentage to get certified. The top-scoring 120 candidates will progress to Phase 2.

Network to form teams in chosen problem statements and attend mentor-led comprehensive masterclasses to build and submit a primary proposal.

Get 1:1 mentorship through a combination of dedicated calls, ad-hoc query resolution and AMA sessions. Attend the Career Showcase to connect with potential smart protein employers. Work on and submit final proposals along with Demo Day decks for evaluation.

Factor in mentor feedback to improve final submissions for Demo Day, and present to a panel of judges from industry and academia.

At the end of Demo Day, six winning teams will be announced — one from each challenge statement.


Pre-seed startup with a core team and PoC (proof of concept) in place, solving one of the six challenge areas.

Please note that the program is focused on Indian nationals. However, if members of your team are of non-Indian nationality or not based in India but you are looking to start a smart protein venture with an end market in India or a significant portion of the value chain in India, please indicate these details to us in your application and we will consider it.

Go through the Smart Protein Startup Toolkit: a compilation of resources focused on the business and technology of smart protein. In order to progress to Phase 2, submit preliminary business and technical plans for your startup.

Network with other startup teams and attend expert webinars to further flesh out and submit your business and technical plans.

Engage with seasoned smart protein entrepreneurs through live webinars and Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions. Utilize the Industry Networking Mixer and fine-tune your final business and technical plans, as well as your pitch deck in preparation for Demo Day.

Factor in mentor feedback to improve final submissions for Demo Day, and pitch to a panel of VCs and accelerators.

At the end of Demo Day, six winning teams will be announced — one from each challenge area.

Challenge Statements

ISPIC 2023 is your chance to come up with innovative solutions to address the most urgent needs and gaps in the Indian smart protein sector today.
This year we have identified 6 unique challenge statements across both tracks!

The career building track will stimulate research in solutions for problem statements across business, scitech, and policy for student capstone projects

Learn from existing GFI India consumer research to glean nuanced and additional insights to update the Indian consumer landscape by including sub-segments of the target demographic and devise positioning and marketing strategies for each of them.

Build strategies for selling smart protein across the following channels:

  • HoReCa: Draft a white paper that informs product development for the HoReCa segment by mapping barriers for adoption, preferred formats and functionality chefs seek across QSRs, hotel chains, etc. while incorporating learnings from players who have smart protein on their menus, complete with a sample smart protein menu.

  • Retail/E-Commerce: Build the case for why retailers should stock smart protein by putting together a white paper highlighting the viability and recommending ways to reduce cost, mitigate the risks from listing a novel category, and build effective partnership models with brands.

  • D2C: Run a full-fledged social media campaign to increase traffic to a mock website or social handle for the brand, conduct follow-on focus grouping and condense learnings into a white paper on D2C marketing strategies for smart protein.

  • Map scientific whitespaces and play-to-win scenarios in the Indian smart protein sector (Eg. indigenous agri-biodiversity, biotech) followed by a mapping of academic research groups working in these areas to build a smart protein collaborative research directory for India and draft a review article narrativizing the whitespaces.

  • Build an in-depth dashboard of plant protein ingredients that would aid next generation smart protein product development by capturing parameters like nutritional quality (PDCAAS, antinutrient concentration), functional properties (solubility, water absorption, oil absorption, emulsification, foaming, gelation), combination and processing strategies, price points, sourcing, consumer perceptions, etc. with a special focus on indigenous varieties of millets and pulses.

  • Analyze existing regulation in the Indian smart protein sector to suggest reform and design new frameworks that inform representation to the Indian regulator. This involved studying the Non-Specified Food Regulations in India and Regulatory Risk Analysis (testing mechanism around novel foods) along with case studies of the regulatory landscape in other geographies (like Singapore) to bridge the gap in taking smart protein products to market, resulting in drafting a dossier submission incorporating all the learnings.

  • Conduct a small-scale environmental analysis to estimate the CO2 emissions involved in the formulation of a plant-based product and compare it to that of an equivalent animal-derived product. Based on which, map key Indian policy stakeholders and draft a policy brief drawing the government’s attention towards the environmental, economic, supply chain and trade benefits of investing in the smart protein sector.

The venture building track will advance startups that solve for a range of the Indian smart protein sector’s most pressing whitespaces

  • With 2023 being the International Year of the Millet and the global agenda around millets being largely driven by India, smart protein startups have an opportunity to leverage millets as a point of differentiation in their production of meat, egg, and dairy alternatives.

  • Achieving taste, nutrition, and price parity with conventional meat, eggs, dairy, and seafood, continue to remain critical opportunity areas for smart protein innovation. Startups can move closer towards parity through the use of functional ingredients, cost-competitive product formats (i.e. shelf-stable formats), and localized flavor and format solutions.

  • As ingredient processing is typically scale dependent and processing facilities are usually complex to build, startups can solve for one of the highest priorities in alternative protein scaling — the identification of inexpensive, efficient, and innovative chemical, mechanical, and biological ingredient processing methods that offer high output, quality and functionality benefits, that are compatible with diverse crop inputs, and less scale-dependent than current processes.

  • Capacity scaling is a key area for future innovation and investment in the alternative protein industry. Startups can optimize production equipment such as scalable tools for protein texturization, equipment with increased throughput, and machines designed specially to process indigenous crops. They may also repurpose manufacturing capacity from other sectors or develop low-processing, clean label products.

  • Startups can support the development of taste and price parity for cultivated meat products through the development of innovative growth factors, serum-free media formulations, scaffolds, and other such novel inputs.

  • An unmet need in the smart protein space is that of flavoring agents, animal-like fats, enzymes, and other such functional additives to make products meatier. Startups have the opportunity to create high value products for better nutritional properties, growth characteristics, improved sensory attributes, and amenability to downstream processing by innovating and optimizing fermentation processes across the value chain — including but not limited to target selection and design, strain development, feedstock optimization, bioprocess design, and end-product formulation and manufacturing.