Plant-based product development competition highlights student innovations

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Building material made of corn cobs, chips made of duckweed and grain, and a non-alcoholic oat fibre beverage, were each named top innovations at this year’s Project SOY (Sustainable Opportunities for You) Plus finale event at the University of Guelph on March 25.

The interdisciplinary program, now in its 26th year, gives students the opportunity to create new, scientifically sound plant-based product concepts and marketing plans. 

Why it matters: Innovative thinking and agri-food product development provide new uses and diversified markets for farm crops.

“It’s a pretty incredible chance for students to be creative and innovate in the plant-based protein space without many parameters,” says Jessica Bowes, assistant vice-president of research innovation and knowledge mobilization at the University of Guelph’s Research Innovation Office (RIO). 

“They have support from professors and researchers so it’s a nice collaboration between students, faculty and some of the other support services around campus.”

Nutrition and nutraceutical students Brooke Adams, Kyra Scott, Karlie Pluim and Rachel Von Holt were awarded first place in the graduate category for their fibre-rich, non-alcoholic functional gin products. Their company is called Femme-Botanique. 

“The sustainable portion of our product comes from oat fibre,” says Von Holt. “It is added to all of our beverage products to provide two grams of fibre per every two-ounce serving.”

Top honours in the undergraduate category went to Laura Hanley, Kaylie Mitchell, Tiffany Siu and Wanxin Xue, who developed a protein chip made of milled spent grains and duckweed powder called The Green Duck.

Laura Hanley, Kaylie Mitchell, Tiffany Siu and Wanxin Xue won first place in the undergraduate category for their protein chip, The Green Duck.

Rebecca Hannam

Hanley says duckweed is an up-and-coming plant-based protein source that has many nutritional benefits. 

Ridgetown Campus student Nicole Hiddema won the diploma category with her product called Eco OSB, an ecologically sound building material made by chipping corn cobs into small pieces and gluing them into flat sheets.

Project SOY Plus participants can now continue to develop their products and potentially enter the marketplace. Many of the winners plan to apply for programs like the hub incubator offered by the John F. Wood Centre for Business and Student Enterprise.

“We’re collaborating with the Wood Centre because we have strategic interest in empowering student entrepreneurs,” says Bowes. 

“Students can access support through the Centre and if there is research underpinning their product idea, they can also connect with entrepreneurial support staff at RIO.” 

RIO provided cash prizes of $2,500, $1,000 and $500 to first, second and third place winners, respectively, in each of the three categories. 

This year’s competition was judged by David Hobson, RIO manager of technology transfer and entrepreneurship; Mairin Scannell, business development centre manager at the Ridgetown Campus; and Domenique Mastronardi, who won Project SOY Plus as an undergraduate in 2020 and founded The Happy Era to bring her toaster waffle product to market. 

Originally called Project SOY (Soybean Opportunities for Youth), the annual competition began in 1996 to encourage new and diversified uses for soybeans and increase production and awareness of the crop. In 2019 the program was expanded to include all plant-based species and was renamed Project SOY Plus.