What do mushroom-based meat alternatives, shredded carbon fiber made from old hockey sticks and biodegradable seaweed bandages have in common? 

They’re a few of many exciting prototypes coming to the University of Guelph’s student competition Project SOY Plus, which will seek the best products for building a sustainable economy. 

This Thursday, March 21, undergraduates, graduates and diploma-level students will compete to showcase their ideas and products that aim to change the way we produce, consume and recycle towards a sustainable future.

The theme for this year’s competition is “circular economy.” In that spirit, more than 15 projects have been entered, including:

  • non-dairy coffee creamers
  • fertilizer made from food waste
  • biocarbon hairbrushes
  • digital tools to collaborate on space-related projects

“Sustainability has always been part of the University’s mission,” says Nakita Byrne-Mamahit, project coordinator, commercialization outcomes and organizer of Project SOY Plus. “This theme of ‘circular economy’ is timely and necessary, but it also lets students be innovative with their ideas.”

Project SOY (“Sustainable Opportunities for You”) Plus is an annual student contest that tests competitors’ creativity in developing new products and marketing strategies. 

New to this year’s competition will be a creative stream that challenges students to create expressive artworks or compositions that align with the circular economy theme. This allows inclusion beyond science and business students, who typically make up the majority of participants.

“Innovation is perceived differently across the sciences, business and the arts. Each field has its own way of creating, thinking and building,” Byrne-Mamahit says. “The creative stream will embrace these differences, and it’s a great chance to show the value of interdisciplinary collaboration.”

Cash prizes of $2,500, $1,000 and $500 will be awarded to first, second and third places across the project stream categories. At the finale event, the panel will also announce one creative stream work to be commissioned by the University’s Research Innovation Office (RIO).

Two bottles containing murky yellow liquid seated in table booth, labelled as "Femme Botanique"
Non-alcoholic gin as a 2021-2022 entry
Student presenting a poster display labelled as "The Green Duck" and various sample products on table
Plant-based protein chip as a 2021-2022 Project SOY Plus entry

Project SOY Plus: Not just about soy

Hosted by RIO, Project SOY began in 1996 to develop new products for soybeans. It evolved to Project SOY Plus in 2019–2020 to include other plant-based species beyond soy, targeting student competitors in food sciences, agriculture, engineering and beyond. 

Student teams learn more than just product development during the competition. They get a chance to learn from experts in RIO about what it takes to go to market with a new product, including patenting, licensing and commercialization.

“This competition gives students a unique experiential learning opportunity. They get to transform their ideas into reality,” Byrne-Mahamit says. “It’s an intense and deeply engaging experience that lets students learn the process of innovation and development.”

Some students have used their Project SOY Plus entries to fulfill class projects or design courses. Others have gone to the Hub Incubator at the Wood Centre in the Lang School of Business and Economics to further develop their product. 

Project SOY Plus student coordinator Madelin Miller-Gouk hopes competitors start to understand sustainability and the circular economy in a deep way. “I want them to see that they have the potential to drive real, positive change.” 

Fellow student coordinator Emma Tamburo adds, “I want people to understand how easy it is to make adjustments and incorporate new products in their lives. That’s how we encourage a more sustainable Earth.” 

The competition and finale event are sponsored by Food From Thought. Official competition day takes place March 21, 12-3 p.m. in the Summerlee Science Complex at U of G. Winners will be announced throughout that afternoon. 


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