Published On: 03/26/2021Categories: Agbiosciences, Entrepreneurs, Talent

Soy-Based Biostimulant Wins Student Soybean Innovation Competition

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A liquid biostimulant, designed to promote growth in crops grown in vertical farms, earned the top honors during the 27th annual Student Soybean Innovation Competition on Wednesday night. Two Purdue University sophomores, Cai Chen of Elmont, N.Y., Nate Nauman of West Lafayette, Ind., and graduate student Emmanuel Alagbe of Ibadan, Nigeria, will share the competition’s $20,000 top prize.

The Student Soybean Innovation Competition is sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Alliance (ISA) and Purdue University. The awards ceremony was conducted as a virtual event for the second consecutive year due to restrictions for public gatherings as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. To win this competition, Purdue University students must develop novel applications for soybeans that satisfy a market need. This is among the most popular events each year for Indiana’s soybean checkoff.

“The goal of this contest is to highlight the versatility of soybeans while addressing a need in agriculture or the general public,” said Anngie Steinbarger, who is a farmer from Edinburgh, Ind., and one of the judges for this year’s contest. “ISA is very happy to work with Purdue students in the contest as we look to expand markets for soybeans grown in Indiana. This biostimulant is mostly made of a soybean protein, and it has been developed to help grow crops. This seems like a slam dunk for what we want from this competition.”

Biostimulants help crops germinate rapidly, achieve greater plant mass and yield, and improve nutrient uptake. However, they do not act as fertilizers or pesticides, because they do not add new nutrients like Nitrogen or repel pests. The winning product is 98 percent soy “So when our product is applied to plants, it has the capacity to improve the growth rate and also ease stress,” Alagbe explained.

The winning Purdue students said this biostimulant is unique when compared to products already on the market, because soy protein peptides have antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. These properties are significant, because many crops, especially lettuce, are sometimes recalled due to foodborne illnesses such as listeria. Soy protein hydrolysate biostimulants decrease the chances for pathogens to contaminate food. Additionally, this product is entirely composed of organic substances, which may be attractive for customers.

“One of the major successes we saw with our product is how great it worked with lettuce we’ve grown in the greenhouse,” said Chen, who added that when biostimulant was added to lettuce, it was 30 percent larger than standard lettuce.

The biostimulant market, which is mostly in Europe currently, is a $2.4 billion industry with abundant space to grow, especially in North America. This market is projected to be worth $5.69 billion in 2026, according to industry analysts. For now, though, these three students are making plans for spending the $20,000 in prize money.

“We now have enough money to buy our competitors’ products and test them against our own,” Nauman said smiling.

This year, seven teams composed of 22 Purdue University students and 14 faculty advisors, finished the competition. The participating students represent a variety of majors including food science, engineering, animal science and finance. In addition, each team works with two faculty advisors who provide technical and market research support.

The contest introduces Purdue students to the multi-faceted uses and vast potential of soybeans while drawing on students’ creativity to develop products that utilize soy. Following the contest, ISA works to develop the products, evaluate their long-term feasibility and commercial viability.

“Indiana soybean checkoff funds are used to find new uses and new markets for our soybeans; thereby creating demand and helping our farms to be more profitable and sustainable,” said Steinbarger. “This event allows us to create relationships with bright and innovative students and their mentors at Purdue. Some of the products that evolve out of this contest could potentially have a positive impact on our soybean prices.”

Previous contest winners include last year’s HerbiSoy, a non-toxic, soy-based herbicide, and the winner from 2019, Stroy, drinking straws made from soybean plastic. The ever-popular soybean crayons and soy candles are past winners, as well.

Earning second place, and a $10,000 prize, this year is Team Sage 2.0, which developed a soy-based, hypoallergenic athletic tape called Arachnitape. This team consists of four Purdue juniors including Andres Dextre of Lima, Peru, Erick Forkpah of Greensboro, N.C., Sarah Heffner of Indianapolis, Ind., and Jieun (Grace) Lee of Daejon, South Korea. Arachnitape is water resistant but still supportive, which should help athletes, Team Sage 2.0 said.

Finishing third, and earning a $5,000 prize is Team Soykind, which created an eco-friendly and innovative replacement for cosmetic face masks. Team Soykind is made up of three Purdue seniors including Luke DeLong of Sullivan, Ill., Vy (Vee) Le of Sugar Land, Texas, and Shulin Wang of Jining, China. Unlike most cosmetic face masks on the market today, Team Soykind’s product is completely bio-degradable.

This contest also includes a People’s Choice award of $500, which is determined by online votes during a presentation of each product. Team Soyrenity, which created a transdermal patch for patients who suffer from bone density pain or to sooth symptoms related to menopause. Team Soyrentiy members include Purdue seniors Natasha Abraham of New York, N.Y., John Mutter of Grayslake, Ill., and graduate student Diana Ramirez-Gutierrez of Bogota, Colombia.

Indiana soybean farmers’ investment in finding new soybean innovations is not limited to the competition. The state soybean checkoff also funds the Soybean Utilization Endowed Chair at Purdue’s College of Agriculture, Dr. Nathan Mosier, to lead research into new uses for soybeans. At present, ISA is working with companies in the concrete industry to market an innovative soy-based concrete durability enhancer developed through checkoff-funded research at Purdue University. This soy-based product, called PoreShield, is ideal for concrete roadway infrastructure where protecting the environment is a key requirement or consideration.

Go online to for more details on ISA’s investment in soybean innovation. To view the awards ceremony, go online to the ISA’s YouTube page at