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Purdue celebrates three decades of soybean innovation

From winning products like soy-based candles and styrofoam to chewing gum, for 30 years the Student Soybean Innovation Competition has served as a platform for students to showcase their talents beyond academia. Throughout the competition, a partnership between the Indiana Soybean Alliance (ISA) and Purdue University, participants explore a wide range of soybean applications, fostering creativity and the next generation of agricultural leaders.

Every team is tasked with creating an original idea previously unavailable in the market or competition arena. Micky Creech, Purdue University Student Soybean Innovation Competition Program Manager, emphasized the event’s distinction, stating that “No other college in Indiana offers a competition like this.”

Students who finish the competition gain valuable entrepreneurial skills, taking an innovative idea from conception to competition, with a working prototype in less than two semesters." -Micky Creech

Team SoySilk’s soy-based baby wipes took home this year’s first-place prize of $20,000. When asked about the product development, team member Kyle Han said, “Baby wipes are a huge market, and with the sources provided by Purdue and ISA, we are solving a big issue. It solves being able to make the product flushable. I think this is what Purdue’s all about – we’re innovators.”

Team SoySilk holding first-place price check. Team SoySilk members (left to right) Ben Gottlieb and Kyle Han holding the first-place prize check at the 2024 competition ceremony.
Leveraging Skillsets for Optimal Outcomes

While some think the competition is engineering based, it requires students with a range of skills, such as business planning, marketing, supply chain management, prototyping and presentation. “Students from any degree area can and do contribute to their team’s success,” said Creech.

This year, Team InsectiSoy won the $500 People’s Choice Award at the Student Soybean Innovation Competition ceremony. However, this wasn’t the first time they competed. In 2022 and 2023, the team was awarded second-place for their innovations Brilliant Bean and Soysafe. Their journey within the competition embodies the principle of interdisciplinary collaboration, showcasing how individuals from different academic backgrounds can unite to achieve remarkable success.

“This competition has really helped foster my interest in marketing,” said member of Team InsectiSoy Sarah Juffer. “Coming up with the full rundown of what our product is, how much money it’s going to make and marketing it to a panel of judges has been a great real-world application outside of the classroom.”

Team InsectiSoy members (left to right) Charles Sebright, Sarah Juffer and Josh Stepehnson with their 2024 product prototype.
Winning Tips from Past Champions

Unveiling their latest creation, a soybean-based insect repellent, Team InsectiSoy credits their success to effective teamwork. “I’ve been proud of how we’ve come together as a team to create a product from start to finish in just a couple of months,” explained Juffer.

Jocelyn Wong, a member of the first-ever winning team behind soybean crayons, not only highlights the importance of teamwork, but also points out the value of using trending media topics to generate market-friendly ideas.

At the time, it was very opportunistic. They had found lead in a lot of crayons and there was negative PR surrounding children eating them. 30 years ago, there wasn’t a lot of consumer awareness around sustainability, so it was an interesting moment in time. We were able to take this negative PR, come up with a crayon and develop a whole business proposition around this idea of good for you, good for the environment.” -Jocelyn Wong
Additional previous winning products include a soy-based non-toxic herbicide, playground mulch, drinking straws, fiber insulation and a liquid biostimulator to promote crop growth in vertical farms.
Team Soy Marx members (left to right) Melina Durack, Amanda Stewart, Rylie Vance and Brian Costigan, the 2002 first-place winners, showing their soy-based colored markers.
Team Soytronics members (left to right) Anand Venkatesan and Aniruddha Kelkar, the 2012 first-place winners, posing with their flexible, lightweight and low-cost substrate used for printing electronic circuit boards.
Paving the Way for Post-Academic Success

To this day, Wong is grateful for her involvement in the competition, recognizing its profound impact on her life, especially as an immigrant and first-generation college student. She even keeps the original soybean crayon prototype on her desk as a symbol of her professional milestones.

“I had struggled with not knowing what I was going to do for the rest of my life, as I found it really challenging in my engineering classes, so at the age of 19 this opportunity was a pivotal point for me,” said Wong. “What I got out of the competition was so much more than the cash prize.”

Following the victory and Purdue’s patenting of the product, Wong remembers gaining a newfound confidence. Reflecting on her first job interview, she recalls the moment she presented her crayon and drew a smiley face in response to the question, “Why would you be a great company asset?” This simple action was instrumental in opening numerous doors and initiating meaningful conversations.

Jocelyn Wong holding the first soy-based crayon prototype at the 25th anniversary of the Student Soybean Innovation Competition Jocelyn Wong speaking at the 25th anniversary of the Student Soybean Innovation Competition in 2019 and holding the first prototype of soy-based crayons.

To students looking beyond graduation, Wong offers this perspective. “It’s not just about your grades, it’s about your story, what makes you unique and your ability to creatively solve a problem, and that’s what the soybean competition was. It was an idea that my team brought to life and something I was able to demonstrate in a very authentic way.”

Her journey came full-circle, advising the 2024 winning team, Team SoySilk, after nearly 30-years of taking home the first-place prize.

Driving Soybean Innovation Forward

As the competition has grown over the years, reaching more undergraduate and graduate students, the soybean-based products developed have showcased innovation and opportunity within a competitive environment.

Team Soy Sniff members (left to right) Evan Anderson, Sara Richert and Sean Anderson, the 2015 first-place winners, with their soybean-based air freshener prototype.
Team Soycotta Pots members (left to right) Tyler Allen, Chelsea Sullivan and Levi Jackson, the 2015 runners-up, with their plant pots made from soy material.
By using soybeans, everything’s just better." -Kyle Han

Other Team SoySilk member Ben Gottlieb added, “We can make other kinds of wipes, just by changing our formula a little bit. Our quality is already better than hospital-quality thickness, so we can move it to other markets.” 

Team SoySilk  speaking about their winning product at the 2024 competition ceremony. Team SoySilk (left to right), Kyle Han and Ben Gottlieb speaking about their winning product at the 2024 competition ceremony.

With many groundbreaking products emerging from the competition, Creech affirms that, “The competition is really a win-win for Purdue, Purdue students, ISA and Indiana soybean farmers.”  

Discover more about the current and past champions here.

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