From the 1-3 June 2021 the Falling Walls Lab’s second annual alumni workshop series, the Falling Walls Lab Factory, took place. After 2020s theme Circular Economy, this year’s event explored the subject of Bioeconomy, following our food’s journey from farm to fork. The topic was explored from varied angles such as alternative food sources and radical innovations, sustainable agriculture and farming, politics of food and agriculture and bioeconomic visions. This year’s Factory took place as a digital event and was spread across three days packed with subject inputs from experts, hands-on workshops, discussions, energizers and games. 15 Lab alumni tuned in from locations around the globe including Canada, Indonesia, Mexico, and Denmark, hailing from an equally diverse number of different fields in the bioeconomy sector. Through the Falling Walls Lab Factories we seek to continue the global exchange that takes place among our winners each year, connecting alumni working across all disciplines related to the yearly topic with experts, providing new insights and connections, ideas for possible solutions, and plans to put into action.

The Factory kicked off on day one with a welcome and warm-up consisting one-minute pitches from all participating alumni presenting their work. This year’s first input was then presented by Prof. Dr. Matin Qaim of the University of Göttingen, titled ‘Challenges for global food security and sustainable food systems.’ Hunger and malnutrition remain among the biggest threats for human health, yet the way we produce and consume food is a major threat for planetary health. Professor Qaim provided a global overview of the main issues and examined options of how to make global and local food systems more sustainable. Following a break, the first workshop took place, led by Myriam Preiss, Chair of Innovation at the Free University of Berlin. Discussions of and predictions about the future in public discourse are overwhelmingly negative, Preiss lead the participants in a thinking exercise from a different perspective under the heading ‘Could the future be good?’ Working in two groups, participants were tasked with creating a front-page newspaper spread on a Miro board, filled with headlines about collectively discussed good future, which was then presented to the other group.

Day 2 of the Factory began with an input from Dr. Fabricio Rodríguez of the University of Jena, who is a member of the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) junior research group ‘Bioeconomy and Social Inequalities’, which examines interconnections and interrelations in the bioenergy sector from a transnational perspective. In his input ‘How is the transition process towards a bioeconomy affecting social inequalities?’ Dr. Rodríguez took the promotion of the sustainable use of biomass as a way of decarbonizing the global economy, used by a rising number of bioeconomy strategies, as a point of departure and explored the agro-industrial complex of soybean production in South America, particularly Brazil, while illustrating its global interconnections with Europe and China. The presentation lead to an interactive discussion in four groups addressing questions such as “What and how big are the challenges concerning the establishment of sustainable relations of biomass sourcing from a bioeconomy perspective?” and “How can bioeconomy agendas address these challenges both locally and globally?” Participants recorded questions in a Miro board which were then pitched by a speaker to all attendees. Following the discussion everyone flexed their creative muscles with a game of skribbl.

The day’s second input came from food4future, a collaborative project funded by the BMBF and coordinated by the Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops (IGZ), which develops indoor cultivation systems for alternative food in urban environments and conducts sociological and anthropological studies. It focuses on different extreme future scenarios to identify possible challenges of future food security and subsequently drive innovation. The presentation was based around two scenarios: No Land and No Trade. In two groups participants developed ideas and solutions, analysing the effects of the two scenarios on food production and society. The workshop was excellently facilitated by the food4future team, coordinator Prof Monika Schreiner, Dr Babette Regierer, Julia Vogt and Dr Philip Albers, and the exercise led to lively discussions. As the final activity of the day, the Falling Walls Lab team hosted a happy hour via Sophya, which allows users to move in a virtual space as avatars and join video chats based on proximity. The event allowed discussions in smaller groups about professional topics such as work-life, and more personal ones such as favorite books and hobbies balance and included games and energizers.

The Factory on Bioeconomy’s final day was opened with an input from Dr. Richard Ansong Omari, researcher at the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) with expertise in agronomy, soil heath and fertility management, and organic residue management. Under the heading ‘Increasing Productivity of European Plant Protein Production’, he discussed soybean production and consumption in Europe and highlight the committed efforts of ZALF to closing the yield and protein gaps. Following a break and guided meditation from Falling Walls team member Nina, science communication expert Johanna Barnbeck of the agency Spread the Nerd lead a hands-on workshop on how to get started with creating video animations and GIFs for science communication. The workshop led to the production of some very entertaining GIFs which will soon be shared by the Falling Walls Lab team.

Johanna Barnbeck’s workshop also signaled the end of three action-packed days of fruitful discussions, knowledge exchange, and inspiration, spanning across 15 time zones. The Falling Walls Lab team would like to thank all speakers, workshop facilitators, and alumni for their participation, and are already looking forward to the Falling Walls Lab Factory 2022!