Food Innovation Lab

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The course 'Food Innovation Lab' aims at developing future-ready graduates skilled in collaboration and teamwork who can take responsibility for their well-being and learning. These skills are fostered by facilitating teamwork with team building exercises and emphasizing the students’ responsibility to co-create the lecture format from the beginning.

Why was it done?

The motivation for this course came from two former Food Science students who would have loved a more interactive, project- and teamwork-based lecture where they could apply their knowledge gained. A survey amongst current food science students confirmed this need. The course aimed/aims at strengthening participants to think out of the box, enabling them to develop human-centric solutions for global food challenges, and thus empowering them to have a sustainable impact as future entrepreneurs or employees.

How was it done?

The course was designed for a cohort of 30-40 students (Bachelor, Master, PhD) and professionals from various disciplines (ETH and non-ETH) and from all over the world. The cohort was divided into 6-7 groups of around 6 people on average.
The main lecturers focused on (i) framing and harmonizing the lecture to achieve the overall learning goals, (ii) designing interactive course sequences and (iii) drawing together high-quality experts/speakers from their network to get input from various view angles.

Lesson Sequence





  1. Frame/foundation setting in the lecture introduction (day 1):
    a. Elaboration of common rules and values (e.g., open feedback culture, be curious, be respectful), prepared by the lecturers & elaborated/agreed on by the students
    b. Exchange the students’ and lecturers’ expectations (method: e.g., by completing the sentence “I am satisfied/happy at the end of this lecture if…”)
    c. Live an open feedback and learning culture by communicating that the lecture is a learning environment for both students and lecturers and feedback is key for improvements (method: ”I wish/ I like” wall available throughout the lecture; lecturers incorporated the feedback immediately if possible to emphasize the importance of the students’ opinion)
    d. Communicate that the learning output for the students’ depends on them co-creating the lecture and adapting it to their needs (method: idea wall available for students to suggest additional exercises/input etc.; some organizational tasks were allocated to students to get the “do it yourself attitude” into the classroom rather than handing everything on a silver platter)
  2. Content-specific introduction prior to team building (not described in further detail)
  3. Team formation sequence:
    a. The students were asked to form the teams themselves according to their common interests/passion (“challenges”) related to the lecture content with the following methodology:

    • (20’) approx. 8-10 students with a strong passion for a topic (=“topic/challenge heroes”) are asked to stand up and pitch their favorite topic;
    • (5’) all students receive a colour tag according to their study background/skills;
    • (30-60’) all students mingle and discuss to finally form six teams with diverse skills but a common passion.
  4. After team formation: each team is allocated a team coach to observe and give feedback on teamwork; each team defines team rules/roles if necessary, team values and a check-in ritual, which they stick to at the beginning of each working day.


At the end of each working day, each team had to reflect for 15-30’ about their team work under guidance of the team coach.

Important for the sequence

  • Whiteboards or flip charts (utilized throughout the course); “I like, I wish” whiteboard
  • post-its
  • experienced/trained team coaches with good observation skills (e.g., ETH week or ARIS coaches etc.)
  • lecturers take a position of curious observation and show some flexibility as the team formation might be faster or slower than expected and team sizes might vary
  • challenges: some students might be left behind or disappointed – lecturer can communicate that the teams can always be switched if needed just like “in real life”.

What has changed for the teachers & for the students?

Defining and emphasizing rules and values led to a highly respectful and open discussion environment. The co-creation attitude and early expectation management helped to partly shift the responsibility from the lecturers to the students, who thereby took over ownership of their learning journey. The students were highly motivated and actively participated in the course.
Team formation, team building exercises and reflection under supervision of a coach created an intense teamwork experience. Daily reflection supported the learning process. Much learning expressed by the students at the end of the program was related to teamwork.
Learnings/feedback expressed by participating students:
• “Multidisciplinary and multicultural teams are key to creativity”
• “Team mates, drive and dynamics may be more important than brilliance of idea”
• “How to keep a team motivated”
• „Coming together is the first step, staying together is progress, working together is success.“
• “The course helped me to understand my position and capabilities in a team better.”
• “Great coaches and facilitators with good feedback”
• “Trust in your team mates”
The first run of the course was in form of a 2 weeks summer school. The course will be repeated as a seminar spread over the whole semester. The described teaching sequence will be kept the same except for limiting team size.

Course Description

Food Innovation Lab
"Food Innovation Lab" guides multi-disciplinary student teams through an innovation process to tackle challenges of the world food system - ranging from identifying problems, developing consumer-​centric solutions to prototyping and business model development. Experts from industry and academia will share their knowledge and provide feedback to facilitate the development of impactful solutions.
The lecture "Food Innovation Lab" strengthens participants to think out of the box, enables them to develop novel human-centered solutions for global food challenges, and thus empowers them to have a sustainable impact as future entrepreneurs or employees.
Lecture with tutorials
max. 30
mixed, letter of motivation required
Teaching Power:
2 + guest speakers
Ungraded semester performance