Competition Celebrates 25th Anniversary of Making Products Out of Soybeans

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A soybean-based drinking straw earned top honors at this year’s Student Soybean Product Innovation Competition funded by the Indiana Soybean Checkoff.

Morgan Malm, Natalie Stephenson and Ruth ZhongThe contest encourages Purdue University students to develop novel applications for soybeans that meet a market need. The 2018-19 competition winner, Team Stroy, took home the award for replacing a common restaurant item with a biodegradable, environmentally friendly straw.

“A biodegradable drinking straw really combines a concern in today’s headlines with the potential of innovation,” said Nancy Cline, a farmer from Kirklin, and Indiana Soybean Alliance grain marketing and utilization committee chair. “Team Stroy captured the essence of this contest. We want to show the versatility of soybeans while addressing a need in society.”

Team Stroy consists of Natalie Stephenson, a senior from Fairland, in the Krannert School of Management studying marketing and data analytics; Morgan Malm, a graduate student from Fort Wayne, pursuing a master’s degree in food science; and Ruth Zhong, a senior from Carmel, studying electrical engineering. The trio received a $20,000 prize for their first-place entry.

The team’s invention, Stroy, a completely biodegradable soy-based drinking straw, offers the material consistency of a plastic straw. This straw outperforms the primary commercialized alternative, paper straws, in quality, price and materials. Team Stroy wants to enter three markets: fast-food chains, fast-casual dining and the coffee and snack shop industry. If accomplished, Stroy will increase demand for soybeans, generate jobs and improve the overall agricultural economy.

Thirty-seven Purdue students representing 12 teams participated in this year’s contest. Team Soy Seal, students Alyson Chaney of Clinton and Peyton Clark of Hillsdale, earned the second-place award of $10,000 for making a wood finish with soy nanocellulose. The third-place award of $1,500 went to Team Soyshield, students Jason Clark and Thomas Smith, both of West Lafayette, for innovating a soy-based windshield wiper fluid.

Funded by the soybean checkoff through the Indiana Soybean Alliance, the annual Student Soybean Innovation Competition introduces Purdue students to the multifaceted uses and vast potential of soybeans while drawing on students’ creativity to develop new products that utilize soy. Previous contest winners include SoyFoliate, soy-based exfoliating beads for personal products, and Soy Sniffs, a soy-based air freshener as well as soy candles.

Keynote speaker for the event was Jocelyn Wong, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Lowe’s. in 1994, as a Purdue engineering student, Wong’s team won the first soybean utilization competition by inventing crayons made of soybeans.

“At the time, there was a lot of negative press on lead being found in crayons in China,”Wong said. “We got lucky in the lab. One of our first trials worked.” Wong parlayed the invention into a career that started at Proctor and Gamble.

“I was being interviewed at a job fair and was asked by the interviewer why should P&G hire me.” Wong pulled out one of her crayons and drew a crude picture. She was offered a job on the spot.

“I don’t want to talk about this (competition) in terms of innovation,” Wong said. “I’d like to talk about it in terms of innovators, because if we do, then it lives beyond tonight as it has done for me.”

The work of all contestants aligns with Purdue’s Giant Leaps celebration, acknowledging the university’s global advancements made in sustainability as part of Purdue’s 150th anniversary. This is one of the four themes of the yearlong celebration’s Ideas Festival, designed to showcase Purdue as an intellectual center solving real-world issues.


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