Wageningen University: Twelve innovations to feed the world presented at the finals of the Rethink Protein Challenge #2

Twelve international student teams will present their ideas to produce sustainable, healthy and affordable protein during the Grand Finale of the Rethink Protein Challenge organised by Wageningen University & Research (WUR) on 25 June. They’ll compete not only for the prize of €6000 but also for professional support in making their idea reality. The ReThink Protein Challenge is not just a contest but a real quest for sources of protein that are needed to feed the world.

Researchers at WUR estimate that by 2050 up to 40 percent more protein will be needed to feed the world population. That calls for a sustainable solution, which might consist of tapping into new sources of protein (like insects or micro-algae), redesigning existing food systems or improving the quality of existing meat and dairy alternatives. To give students a chance to contribute to a solution, WUR organised the Rethink Protein Student Challenge for the second time.

Innovation and viability
The twelve finalists innovate in different ways. They tap into many new sources of protein: house-grown mushrooms, larvae and maggots, micro-algae, and ecologically grown nuts. They have also made the sustainable proposal to use the by-products of various industries like tomato and rubber seeds, waste from the shrimp industry or pig liver. Innovating technologically, not one but two teams have proposed genetically engineering yeast organisms to produce proteins for dairy alternatives.

But the Protein Challenge is not just about the proteins. The finalists also need to show that there is a market for their ideas, how their ideas differs from existing products and how they will positively impact the world. The best teams must have an innovative and sustainable idea that is also technologically achievable, scalable and economically viable. To achieve this, the teams were coached by experts from over 30 partner companies, including Unilever, Lely and DSM.

From idea to prototype
Some finalists do more than others. Those competing in the ‘Ideation’ category will present a concrete, well elaborated business idea, while the teams participating in the ‘Prototyping’ category will go one step further. Besides a complete business plan, they need to present a ‘minimal viable product’: an example of the products their innovation makes possible. This could be a breakfast spread made of mealworms, for example.

On 25 June the teams will present their ideas to a jury with broad expertise in the field of food production and that consists of high-level representatives of DSM, Lely, Bayer, AVEBE, IFF and GEA. The jury will choose three winners in each category, who will be awarded prize money and further professional support. This will enable the six winners to develop their ideas or products and contribute to a sustainable, healthy and protein-rich future for everybody.

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