PhD student Jeanette Rapson KiwiNet Finalist for new baby food innovation

Riddet Institute PhD student Jeanette Rapson, founder of freeze-dried baby food company Early Habits, is recognised as one of three student entrepreneur finalists in the 2021 KiwiNet Awards, in the ‘Momentum Student Entrepreneur’ category. Winners of the KiwiNet Award categories will be announced at an evening reception on 16 September in Auckland. The KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards are designed to celebrate impact from science through successful research commercialisation within New Zealand’s universities, Crown Research Institutes and other research organisations.

Jeanette is a registered NZ Dietitian and an up-and-coming innovator on a mission to help new parents feed their baby nutritious food on-the-go. Through a unique processing method and her deep customer understanding, she will be the first in New Zealand to bring innovative freeze-dried 100% vegetable baby foods to market.

Jeanette’s entrepreneurial journey was kick-started through the 2020 Grand Ideas Competition at Massey University, securing 2nd place for her Early Habits idea. Following this, Jeanette received funding and mentor support through Massey Ventures, taking every opportunity to develop her understanding of business, entrepreneurial networks and give back to the business community. She also pitched her way to success as a finalist in Innovate 2020, run by The Factory in Palmerston North – securing a spot on Innovate’s ten-week accelerator programme. Additional support from Momentum and KiwiNet has helped Jeanette realise her passion for innovation and the need to bring her product to life.

Jeanette’s freeze-dried baby food powders contain only vegetables (e.g. broccoli, spinach, beetroot, kūmara, green bean, potato, pumpkin). The sachets are travel/storage friendly with a long shelf-life. With the simple addition of water, the powders rehydrate to smooth baby purées. The freeze-dried method retains the nutrients, flavours and vibrant colours.

Jeanette’s passion for innovation was ignited during her time with the Riddet Institute. The Institute future leaders programme trains doctoral scholars for their upcoming careers – this is often in the food industry or academia. Science careers require a level of entrepreneurial expertise and awareness of innovation pathways. Jeanette took part in an Institute’s Enterprise and Innovation workshop in September 2018, having just arrived at the Institute. This early training set the scene for her pathway to success; she worked with a team of researchers, developing a concept in the first year of her PhD.

Riddet Institute’s Director, Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh offers his congratulations, adding “Jeanette’s journey exemplifies exactly the type of future leader the food industry needs. Our mission at the Institute is to furnish our Ph.D. scholars with skills that will set them up successful careers. We wish Jeanette well with both the KiwiNet competition and her company, Early Habits.

Jeanette recognises the inspiration she has gained from the wonderful people she has met on her entrepreneurial journey. “I think the most exciting part so far has been the people – meeting inspiring innovators, learning from exceptional business mentors, getting to know my customers and connecting with other students on a similar journey. Through this I’ve realised my passion for innovation, leadership and being a part of something that could potentially change people’s lives”, she says.

“The Riddet Institute have provided me with incredible opportunities to meet industry leaders of today and the future from all over the world. As a dietitian, I’m often focused on behaviour change, which can be really challenging when I know poor eating habits are largely due to a lack of access to healthy food, rather than a lack of will. It has really inspired me to engage with students at the Riddet Institute and see how they are working on solutions to make healthy food more accessible. I have a whole new appreciation for the work and research that food technologists are doing, and I’m excited to stay in contact with all the people I’ve met.

Jeanette also has this advice for other students contemplating an enterprise project. “There is so much value in saying YES and getting involved in the opportunities around you, so my advice to any student or new entrepreneur is to take that challenge, pitch your idea and give it a go”

Having recently submitted her PhD research on infant nutrition to Massey University Albany; she is now ready to take her innovation further and seize every opportunity to upskill, work with industry and build networks. The Riddet Institute wishes her well for her PhD examination and on the next part of her career.

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