Purdue Competition Furthers Brains and Beans

Dec 12, 2022

Team Brilliant Bean, including students (from left) Josh Stevenson, Sarah Juffer, Rob Bastain and Charles Sebright, created a soy-based dry erase ink for Purdue University’s 2021-22 Student Soybean Innovation Competition. Photo Credit: Purdue University

Soybeans are already widely used in food and industrial items, but each year the Purdue University Student Soybean Innovation competition sprouts novel ideas for innovative uses for the versatile soybean.

Sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Alliance, the competition encourages Purdue students to brainstorm and develop a new industrial product using soy. Successful projects go far beyond developing the concept, as teams must create a production timeline, conduct patent searches, develop a market analysis, design packaging, and then market their product.

A soy-based mulch called Smulch took top prize in 2021-2022, while Team Brilliant Bean earned second place honors with its soy-based dry erase board ink. A soy film took third, and a soy coffee filter earned the People’s Choice award.

“We were brainstorming a whole bunch of ideas and writing them down on a whiteboard,” says Team Brilliant Bean member Charles Sebright, a sophomore majoring in machine systems engineering. “We had something to do with concrete, something to do with a product out of plastic, and then we looked at the whiteboard marker we were holding and wondered if we could make it out of soy. That got us rolling.”

Student Soybean Innovation Competition Program Manager Micky Creech says more than 30 teams typically start the competition, but about 12 to 15 teams complete the process and vie for the top prizes of $5,000, $10,000, and $20,000. Teams are supported by faculty and industry contacts, but the students drive and pitch their products to judges in a competition similar to the television show Shark Tank.

“We teach a lot about soy and new uses for soy, but we also teach a whole lot about entrepreneurship,” Creech says. “There are so many things that already have soy in them. Teams have to come up with a novel idea at the beginning, and a lot of teams struggle with that, but once they do, it's their team, it's their product from conception through completion.”

Creech says previous competitions have yielded soy crayons, soy markers and soy candles, all of which are commercially available. Several more past winners are in the process of entering the market.

“It's really about research and development and trying and testing again and again,” Sebright explains. “You're going to fail a lot as you keep making your product until eventually something pops out that works and you've got a product that you can end up marketing”

“One thing that I learned through the course of the competition is that soy as a material is very versatile and there's a lot of things that you can do with it in turn,” adds Josh Stephenson, Team Brilliant Bean member and a sophomore majoring in biochemistry. “There are many novel products that can be made out of soy, you just have to research and be a little creative in what you make.”

Teams can participate more than once but must develop a new idea each year. If Sebright and Stephenson have their way, Team Brilliant Bean will be back shooting for top prize.

“We have some pretty good ideas right now,” Sebright says, “so we're hoping we'll have a good shot at it this year.” 

Editor’s Note: Innovation knows no state bounds when it comes to soy. Read more of this quarter’s issue for additional stories on soy’s unique uses—or check us out on ASA’s social channels.