Student entrepreneurs at Purdue University have developed a soybean-based mulch, an alternative to rubber-based mulch, to keep children safe on the playground. Their idea, Smulch, earned top honors at the 28th annual Student Soybean Innovation Competition at Purdue. In this week’s episode of Agbioscience, a podcast presented by AgriNovus Indiana, team member Ethan Miller explained their focus.
“We really just wanted to find a solution to a real-world problem, something that we really thought that we could fix, and we found Smulch,” said Miller, who is a sophomore studying biochemistry at Purdue.
The team says its rubber-like material can be used to make gardening mulch or soft playground surfacing, eliminating potentially toxic materials used in the traditional versions of both products.
The competition, sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Alliance, challenges student teams to come-up with new ways to use soybeans that satisfy a market need.
Team member Libby Plassard, a sophomore majoring in business management, says the idea was inspired by a conversation with her mother about her younger siblings.
“My mom was talking about how the playgrounds that was at their school, they were looking for a new surfacing option. And she was like, ‘there aren’t a ton of great options out there. Maybe that’s something you could do,” Plassard told podcast host and Inside INdiana Business anchor Gerry Dick.
Team Smulch says they tested a lot of ingredients, and knew they needed the soy percentages to stay as high as possible.
“It took about like a month for us to finalize our final ingredients,” said Zuhal Cakir, a 3rd year Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering. “We did lots of trial and error to finalize our ingredients. So, this is how I we came up with the idea for it to function as a rubber mold or playground surfacing.”
The student trio captured the $20,000 top prize at the annual soybean, where students harvest new ideas to drive consumption of the crop. Plassard, who grew up in Indiana but not on farm, was surprised by the diverse uses for soy.
“I drive by soybean fields every day, but I just didn’t understand the depth to which the soybeans affect so many different products in our economy as a whole. I think that that’s just been kind of a rewarding experience,” said Plassard.
What advice do these budding entrepreneurs have for others who want to take their ideas to the next level? Listen to Agbioscience when the podcast is published Monday to find out. Click here to access the full lineup of AgriNovus conversations.