Aug 18, 2022

HungerTech Challenge winner is using technology to benefit the food insecure

Geng Wang knew his business, Civic Champs, was a great fit for the HungerTech Innovation Challenge as soon as he heard about the competition in May.


“We’ve served over 3,500 people with Helping Hands, and HungerTech seemed like a perfect extension of that program,” said Wang. “We think we can help people clear that last hurdle that’s preventing them from purchasing groceries online so that you’re no longer constrained by your physical proximity to a grocery store.”


Sponsored by AgriNovus Indiana, a non-profit focused on growing Indiana’s agbioscience economy, the HungerTech Challenge was created to inspire innovation that serves food insecure people who participate in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

In partnership with Elevance Health (formerly Anthem), HungerTech challenged companies, entrepreneurs, students and innovators to compete for a $25,000 grand prize by developing new ways to enable SNAP recipients to buy groceries online and receive them regardless of location.

Wang’s Bloomington-based Civic Champs was ready to pounce on the opportunity. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, Civic Champs started a program called Helping Hands which matches volunteers with older people in the Bloomington community who need help getting food and medication from pharmacies and food pantries.

Wang was correct in his assessment that Helping Hands would be competitive in the HungerTech Innovation Challenge. It was identified by AgriNovus and a panel of experts as the winning entry and will now work with AgriNovus and the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration to pilot the program. If all goes as planned, AgriNovus will present to federal policymakers by the end of the year what it learns in the pilot about feeding the food insecure. The hope is that AgriNovus’ findings can be used to inform the federal 2023 Farm Bill.

Geoff Zentz, Senior Director of Innovation at AgriNovus, applauded Civic Champs for leveraging its core expertise in volunteer management to come up with a way to deliver groceries to people who would otherwise struggle with food access. He looks forward to what AgriNovus and Civic Champs will learn as they put the winning entry to work.

“The HungerTech Challenge has been such a rewarding and impactful experience, for not only the AgriNovus team but for our larger Indiana community,” said Zentz. “Bringing together supporters and experts like Elevance Health, the Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation in Fort Wayne, Community Health, Indiana Family Social Services Administration and more, we’ve been able to guide these innovators toward ideas that positively impact the food insecure while also building businesses that could be sustainable in the long-term.”

“The involvement of such a wide array of entrepreneurs shows that there is passion in the innovation community to ‘do good and also do well,’ and we believe the HungerTech Challenge is just the beginning of the impact we can have to eliminate hunger going forward.” he said. 

Wang is excited about the potential of Civic Champs’ winning bid. 

“We’re incredibly grateful for the opportunity…and that Agrinovus took the initiative to put this out there and help us expand what we’re doing,” he said. “If we can roll this out across the state, it can impact hundreds of thousands of people.”

Civic Champs uses web and mobile technology platforms to help nonprofits engage, manage and report the activities of their volunteers. For Helping Hands, it will employ its technological expertise to match volunteers with the online food orders of SNAP recipients.

Initially, Helping Hands will work exclusively with grocers that accept online SNAP payments and offer grocery pick-up. Civic Champs will create and monitor online accounts for its clients and find drivers to deliver groceries once an order has been placed. “It’s possible,” said Wang, “that one driver could deliver multiple orders using a routing function Civic Champs intends to create.”

Wang thinks Civic Champs’ entry stood out because it was already tested. He said that for most pitch competitions, there’s a lot of talking and not as much doing. 

“Not only did we have a history, but we actually made a delivery,” he said.

The $25,000 HungerTech prize will allow his organization to create a dashboard that can track and add volunteer drivers and food recipients as well as build in a texting function and other bells and whistles.

Wang is confident that if the service can be scaled up, there will be enough revenue upside for participating retailers that they’ll agree to pay a small percentage reimbursement for the increase in sales. 

Wang said the project is very meaningful to Civic Champs’ 10 employees. 

“We launched the business because we wanted to have a positive impact. The team believes strongly in the power of volunteerism,” he said. “Using it to fight a problem like food insecurity is a perfect fit.”

This article was featured in the August 2022 edition of the IEDC’s newsletter. Subscribe today.