News - June 28, 2019

ReThink Protein Challenge: and the winners are...

Tessa Louwerens

Energy bars made from brewing residue and dogfood from silkworm pupae. These were the prize-winning ideas of the WUR Student Challenge: ReThink Protein, whose final was held Thursday. The winning teams receive a cheque for 5000 euros and support to develop their ideas.

All prize winners on the podium. First prizes went to team GrainGain and team SWAP: silkworm as protein. © Guy Ackermans

Team GrainGain’s idea to reuse residual flows from beer breweries won in the prototype category. Draff, also called brewer's grain, is the main by-product of the brewing process. It is currently mainly used as cattle feed but not in human consumption. The students of Team GrainGain, Gopee Logeswaranathan and Bo Schippers, think it could be otherwise, as this product is rich in proteins and fibres. They used a drying process to pulverise the draff, and together with a local brewery, the created several different products, such as energy bars. The jury was unanimous in their verdict and all agreed this was an idea with substantial potential that is easy to up-scale.

The men want to use the prize money to set up their own production line. ‘The money will be put to good use’, says Logeswaranathan, ‘but participating in the challenge already yielded much. We learned a lot, and it was a great opportunity to network.’ They can also participate for a year in the incubator programme of The Protein Cluster (TPC), a platform that works on the protein transition and helps companies to continue their development.

Versatile silkworms
Team SWAP-silk worm as protein won the ideation category. Insects are often mentioned as a sustainable new energy source. But breeding insects is still expensive, and it often requires the development of new techniques. However, the silk industry already has thousands of years of experience in this field. Yet the pupae are disposed of or used as fishmeal.

The team found a way to process these pupae into a protein-rich powder that they want to process in pet food, for example for pets with allergies or for owners who want to feed their animals sustainably. ‘We have already found a silk farmer who is willing to support us’, says team member Anjani Nayak, Erasmus exchange student at WUR. She intends to use the prize money to fly to India with her team member Fabiola Neitzel to visit this farmer, among others. If the product catches on the pet food market, the team hopes to make products for humans within a few years.

ReThink Protein
The WUR Student Challenge: ReThink Protein is an international competition for individual students, student teams and student start-ups. The competition was organised for the first time this year. Students were challenged to come up with a business plan (ideation) or a prototype that would provide 9 billion people with sufficient protein in a sustainable, healthy and affordable way. The teams submitted their concepts in January and further developed these in the following months under the guidance of business coaches. The winning teams receive a financial boost and support from StartHub to elaborate their ideas.

If you want to know more on the topic, read the next edition of Resource, which will contain three interviews with finalists.