Kicking off 2021 with two new additions to the Innovator Fellowship program! Emily Steliotes and Nick Reitz will join Elemental Excelerator and The March Fund respectively gaining hands-on experience evaluating start-ups and identifying investable food system ventures. Using the knowledge gained during their time with the venture capital groups, Steliotes and Reitz will return to campus to conduct critical steps in de-risking their own innovations.
Using Science to Improve Food Safety and Sustainability
Emily Steliotes is a UC Davis PhD candidate studying agricultural and environmental chemistry. She is passionate about identifying unique ways to reduce food waste and increase food safety through sustainable practices. Specializing in food and wine chemistry with an emphasis on industrial ecology, Steliotes has identified a way to utilize byproducts from wine and beer production and repurpose them into a biobased substitute for chemicals used in food sanitation.
First and foremost, Steliotes’ work looks to control common foodborne pathogens like E. coli and Listeria. In addition to increased food safety, the work that Steliotes is doing goes a step further to promote circular economies through waste recycling and environmental impact assessment. Through her work at UC Davis, Steliotes hopes to drive food system transformation by working closely with industry to develop and produce renewable chemicals that are better for the environment and human health.
Steliotes is excited to join Elemental Excelerator and learn exactly how start-ups are evaluated for investment so that she can later apply that knowledge to her own start-up. Equally important, however, she looks forward to working with such a passionate group of people who share her vision for a more sustainable future. Steliotes explains her work as a piece of art. “The art doesn’t change, but when you look at it from a different angle, you see something new.”
“Plant compounds have been used for thousands of years for medicinal and industrial purposes, but looking at them from the perspective of modern-day problems in the food and chemical industries, you can see new ways to utilize them. That is what I am doing. I am finding new ways to use old things.”
“Emily has been very strategic in incorporating skills and topics that will steer her towards her professional goals while also having a real societal benefit.” Says her PhD supervisor Dr. Simmons, Associate Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Food Science and Technology. “Without question, Emily is an amazing ambassador for her research and science broadly.”
Producing Nutritious Foods through Economic and Environmentally Sustainable Processes
Nick Reitz is a UC Davis PhD candidate studying food science with Cooperative Extension Specialist and Pomologist, Dr. Mitcham. Through a focus on postharvest biology and technology, he is looking to expand his knowledge and expertise to solve issues around food waste and nutrition deficiencies.
Building upon decades-old methods, Reitz has been able to improve the understanding of plant calcium deficiency disorders that are responsible for about 1% crop loss in tomatoes and 10% loss in certain apple varieties.
Reitz compares the process of identifying and finding solutions to these disorders to a game of chess. “You don’t want to jump in too soon or make a move without considering everything that is going on,” he says.
Reitz spent three years identifying exactly why there is such significant crop loss in apples. Unlike tomatoes, apples experience calcium deficiencies postharvest and he found that this can be mitigated through simple changes in the production process.
“Nick is an impressive student with a passion for research and discovery,” supervisor Dr. Mitcham shares. “He is a voracious consumer of journal articles and uses the knowledge gained to propose and test research hypotheses. He has developed several novel methods that have enabled him to effectively test his hypotheses, speed up his research, and reduce laboratory costs.”
In addition to his extensive knowledge in food biology and chemistry, Reitz also enjoys economics. He is excited to join The March Fund as an Innovator Fellow to explore the economic drivers behind technology development and adoption in the agriculture sector, and apply that knowledge to the development of new technologies that will improve the food system.
In addition to becoming an Innovator Fellow, since 2017 Reitz has been a Teaching Assistant for UC Davis courses in food production, postharvest and product development, and food chemistry and properties. He enjoys mentoring students who demonstrate a passion for understanding and solving food system challenges.
Congratulations to Emily and Nick commencing their 2021 Innovator Fellowship! Be sure to check our regular quarterly fellowship openings for the next opportunity (multiple and repeat applications encouraged).