Hacking Hunger

88Nine Labs presented by Northwestern Mutual is proud to host Hacking Hunger MKE in partnership with Maker Faire Milwaukee, Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin and MIAD.

Students, programmers, marketers, entrepreneurs, designers and anyone interested in tackling these issues are invited to take part in Hacking Hunger MKE. Ideas can be anything from a business solution to a marketing campaign to apps.

Hacking Hunger MKE will take place at Maker Faire Milwaukee, which will be hosted at the Wisconsin Center.

What is Hacking Hunger MKE

Focused on food innovation and collaboration, this challenge brings together industry leaders and students in technology, design, marketing and business with the brightest and most ambitious ideas to tackle the most pressing challenges in food waste, food access and food literacy. We welcome all ideas that push the boundaries of food innovation and make not only Wisconsin but the world, a better, more sustainable place. Our three main focus areas for attendees are:

  • Food Waste
  • Food Access
  • Food Literacy

Food Waste

Every year, 1.1 billion pounds of food goes to waste in Wisconsin via farmers, grocers, restaurants, industrial or residential. The rise and acceptance of imperfect food have helped with food waste reduction, but with a meal gap of one in seven households in Wisconsin being hungry we believe more food can be diverted from the landfill to people’s dinner plate.

Challenge Prospectus

1. Farm Gleaning – Many farmers do not harvest their farms bare due to the sunken costs of produce gleaning. It is not cost-effective to glean food that will not sell so farmers leave the food in the fields for cattle and rodents to feast on or they’ll burn a portion of the harvest to prepare the land for the next growing season.

*The challenge is to design a system that supports gleaning all food from farms and diverting excess goods to local food banks and food pantries.

2. Food Labeling – Food pantries get donated food from manufacturers that don’t have labels. These items are often nonperishable food items such as canned goods, cereal, and other boxed items. Although the shiny cans are within code date, clients facing hunger will often not take the cans without the labels because the cans are not branded.

*The challenge is to design a process or campaign that makes the shiny cans appealing to clients facing hunger.

3. Imperfect Food – Every year grocery stores waste about 11% of the food they intake and restaurants waste about 33%. The good food that is usually diverted to the landfill is sometimes recouped by dumpster diving.

*The challenge is to design a system or process that brings dignity and mutual benefit to diverting food from retailers/ grocers and restaurants to people who need it rather than the landfill.

Food Access

Every year, a total of 46.1 million American’s are food insecure and live below the poverty line (<$25,000/ annually) – that’s one in eight – who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. In Milwaukee County, the ratio is even starker being 1 in 4 households (157,770 households), where children are present.

The Federal government spends $51 billion annually on feeding programs such as food share, free school breakfast, and lunch and specialty programs like free formula and cereal through the Women Infant and Children Program (WIC). The problem is that people who need food services often don’t know about them, have transportation to get to them or qualify for them.

Challenge Prospectus

1. Transportation – A number of federal programs will provide seniors and select populations’ transportation to and from grocery stores, but will not provide transportation to a food pantry. Many households facing hunger have to choose between food and another life necessity such as medicine or electricity.

*The challenge is to design a system that provides access to homebound and limited mobility households with the food resources from food pantries.

2. Knowledge of Resources – There’s no specific profile for who is food insecure. Impact 211 is the county’s clearinghouse for emergency resource needs. There are no public billboards or posters promoting 211. The average person doesn’t have knowledge of 211’s existence or its benefits. A person has to go to a social service office to learn about 211 if the information is offered at all. Unfortunately to access some food pantries, hot meal programs and shelters you have to be referred by 211; which often causes even more distress to someone experiencing trauma.

*Develop a marketing campaign or tool that serves to connect vulnerable populations to the resources available in the community and notifies those in need upfront of the criteria for accessing the public benefit.

3. Availability – Once you’ve seen one food pantry, you’ve only seen one food pantry. There are some food pantries that are set-up like a grocery store, allows clients to choose the food they want to feed their family and asks very few questions. There are some that ask for everything but your social security number and in return, you get a box full of canned and processed goods that are chosen for you.

Often times in the latter model, which lacks choice, clients will discard the items from the prepackaged box that they know their family will not eat. In most cases, food pantries get whatever the food bank can procure from wholesale, retail and manufacturer donations or whatever they can get a grant to purchase.

*The challenge is to create a model for food distribution that offers the consistent availability and reliability of household food staples (i.e. peanut butter, rice, beans, canned vegetables/ fruit, seasonal fresh produce, if available, etc.) clients in need can count on. Please advise on if you’d offer a choice model or a pre-packaged model and why.

Food Literacy

Evidence shows that the most economically disadvantaged are more at risk of experiencing health disparities than those with greater economic means. One in ten American adults have Type II diabetes – with 1 in 4 with A1c levels greater than nine are food insecure, while 7 in 10 food-insecure families have to choose between paying for food versus medical care. The problem is a lack of food and emotional eating has become a chronic public health concern, specifically among clients in need.

Challenge Prospectus

1. Culturally Appropriate Foods – Many food pantries are at the whim of donations, which in return is what’s available to clients in need. Although grateful, one of the biggest complaints is the lack of cultural representation in the food choices offered to clients from multicultural backgrounds.

*The challenge is to design an education system or tool that takes traditionally unhealthy multicultural foods and provides healthy alternatives given what is typically made available at a food pantry or can be procured on a nominal budget.

2. Preparation and Handling – Some clients facing hunger are living in transitional housing and only have a card table and microwave. Some live out of their car and don’t even have a can opener. There are some who have homes, with kitchens but don’t have electricity because they had to choose between electricity and a roof over their heads.

*The challenge is to support the health and wellness of transient populations receiving food from a food pantry by creating a solution that offers food accessibility to any household whether in a halfway house, in a car or doesn’t have access to electricity. The solution may be a policy for food pantries, an app, food preparation cards, etc.

3. Food Safety & Preservation – Much of the food donated to food banks and redistributed to food pantries is imperfect and is close to expiring. Much of the produce that is redistributed is ripe and needs to be consumed or processed immediately.

*The challenge is how would you communicate to food pantries and clients who may receive ripe produce on how to preserve it rather than allowing the currently good product to go to waste? 

Hackathon Sponsors


$1,250 in prizes

First Place

Second Place

Third Place

Devpost Achievements

Submitting to this hackathon could earn you:


After team forming, each team must list their project as soon as possible on our Devpost page.

Solution submissions can be any form of common technology, including websites, widgets, mashups, standalone applications, mobile apps, maps, commonly accessible technologies. Participants are expected to bring the necessary hardware and software tools to build the solutions (you need your laptop if you are a developer).


Rayna Andrews

Rayna Andrews
Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin

Romke De Haan

Romke De Haan

Javier Soto

Javier Soto

Judging Criteria

  • Innovative (10 points)
    Are you solving a problem better than anyone else? Do you have a new method for solving a problem? Are you taking an existing solution to new markets? Have you seen a gap in a market no one else has?
  • Impact (10 points)
    What impact will you have on the world? Are you focusing on certain regions or communities? How will Milwaukee be impacted? How meaningful is your impact?
  • Technology (5 points)
    What role does technology play in your solution? Do you use cutting edge technology to identify the problem, the demand, and/or achieve your vision? Does the technology allow for scale?
  • Business Model & Vision (5 points)
    Is there a vision for what you could achieve in the next five years? Is there a revenue-generating opportunity, or is it demonstrably fundable from philanthropy? Is it investible in its current form?
  • Pitch & Demo (10 points)
    Was the demo exciting and compelling? How did the team pitch? Was it engaging? Did you effectively explain the idea? Were you memorable? Did they work as a team and use their skill sets?

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