Bridging the gap

Joe Matta’s FoodTech meetups bring food and technology lovers together, over beer

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Joe Matta hosts monthly FoodTech meetups in Boulder, creating a space for tech-savvy individuals and foodie fiends to collaborate and grow ideas together.
Courtesy of Joe Matta

The worlds of food and technology are inseparably intertwined. From seedling to cellar, from farm to fridge and ranch to restaurant, our food systems and chain of supply hinge on technology.

It is a relationship on which we depend — and yet, it is far from perfect. There is still a lot of room for the worlds of agriculture and technology to grow together in more efficient, sustainable ways.

That’s why Joe Matta started FoodTech meetups in Boulder. He wants to coalesce a community of people who are passionate and involved in both agriculture and technology in hopes of expanding the intersection between these sectors.

“I want these meetups to be solutions-driven, to start bringing people together, to create a space for them to be creative and collaborate and then actually come up with interesting ideas,” Matta says.

It doesn’t matter whether these ideas take the form of a new startup, a new technology or concept, or just a new way of thinking about the relationship between food and tech, Matta says. “My hope is that I can turn this into something that can push solutions forward with the people of Boulder.”

Matta moved here a year and a half ago from Minnesota and started the FoodTech meetups to bridge a gap he recognized between the food and tech sectors.

The meetups are usually held every third Thursday of the month at 6 p.m. at the Sanitas taphouse — just in time for happy hour. And they attract an eclectic group. From restaurateurs to farmers, tech entrepreneurs, CU faculty, students, caregivers and journalists — people of all ages, from many different industries, all gather to talk about food and technology.

And there is a lot to discuss.

At any given FoodTech meetup you’ll likely hear about GMOs, perennial grains, crop rotation and livestock grazing. You might hear talk of supply chains, food transportation, methods of distribution, food tracking and quality control. There are discussions of how horticulture can be used for therapy, how water-rights bills can be crafted to improve the efficiency of irrigation, and how restaurants can limit waste using new materials.

The crossovers between food and technology are endless, limited only by the imagination. But, the discussions at FoodTech meetups don’t just focus on macro concepts; much of the discussion is locally oriented.

Matta describes how, at a recent meeting, a local chef and a web designer connected by discussing digital marketing, as the chef is trying to get her business off the ground. They exchanged information and a new partnership took root.

“It doesn’t have to be a deep ethical conversation about building robot farmers,” Matta says. “It can be just a basic connection between people who understand technology and people who understand food.”

Because of the casual nature of these meetups, the groups tend to range in size. Sometimes only a handful of people show; other times, the meetings push 20 to 25 people, filling every seat in the Sanitas meeting room. While the number of attendees might vary from month to month, what’s consistent, and more important, is the quality of conversation — which is always rich.

Matta, himself has great interest in this area. He is a masters student of environmental studies at CU Boulder and a recruiter for Techstars’ Farm to Fork Accelerator, a program aimed to help entrepreneurs, anywhere on the spectrum between agriculture and technology, accelerate their business growth through investments, resources and industry connections.

As a recruiter, Matta works to identify high-potential entrepreneurs with good ideas in ag-tech and bring them into the program. Which, he admits, has made the meetups something of a convenient asset, though that isn’t why he started them.

“I actually started the FoodTech meetups before I started working for the Farm to Fork program,” Matta says. “So, it’s kind of just an added benefit now.”

To Matta, it’s truly a matter of catalyzing a reaction between the food and technology sectors in Boulder.

On the weekend of Nov. 30, Matta is helping Techstars organize a startup weekend — an intensive seminar, focused on food and agriculture, which demonstrates how entrepreneurs jump-start a startup business.

If you’re looking for something a little more casual, something a little less intensive, however, drink a beer and kick back at the next FoodTech meetup. For anyone who is interested in environmentalism, or anyone who likes food or technology, it’s a fruitful place to be.

On the Bill: FoodTech meetup. 6 p.m. Thursday Nov. 15, Sanitas Brewing Co., 3550 Frontier Ave., Boulder.  The next one is scheduled for Dec. 20. For more info, visit www.meetup.com/Boulder-FoodTech/