9 June 2016

Novozymes rewards students for environmentally friendly ideas


A small gadget that can protect us against food poisoning and reduce food waste. Organic dyes which bond properly to the fabrics during manufacture, rather than being flushed out with the waste water and contaminating the environment. ‘Two sustainable ideas’ which won awards when 26 students from 13 countries came together in Fredensborg for a four-day camp of combining ‘great ideas’ with commercialisation and sustainable products. The organisers were the UCPH Innovation Hub at the University of Copenhagen and Climate-KIC Nordic, which represents a number of universities in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. Based on the UN’s sustainable development goals, the Danish company Novozymes’ Department for Sustainability had set up a number of business cases which the participants had to work with as a way of learning more about cooperation between researchers and the private sector.

Food waste is a huge problem - also in Denmark.

Having a great idea is not enough. It must be sold to the right people and investors, and it must be targeted at the right markets. Otherwise the road from idea to product development and sales can be very long and bumpy indeed, or it all may come to nothing for a young and promising innovator or group of innovators who have come up with a great idea.

This was the starting point when 26 PhD and MSc students (graduate students) from a number of Scandinavian universities gathered recently for a four-day camp in Fredensborg to the north of Copenhagen as part of the Cleantech Case Competition 2016. The students from the Scandinavian universities came from no less than 13 different countries. From Australia, India, Russia and the USA, and from Europe.

Global sustainable development

Behind the event was the UCPH Innovation Hub at the University of Copenhagen, which helps students and researchers commercialise their ideas, and Climate-KIC Nordic, which represents a number of universities in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, including the University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark, DTU.

Focus was on great ideas for the development of Cleantech products which are aligned with the UN’s global sustainable development goals for 2030, which were adopted by heads of government at a global summit in New York in 2015.

Based on the UN goals, Novozymes had set up a number of business cases at the camp for the students to consider, for example within the following areas: Hunger, clean water and sanitation as well as green and eco-friendly energy.

The overarching UN objective is about tackling climate change and eradicating extreme poverty in the world through a variety of sustainable initiatives and based on political support from governments and other influential forces around the world.

Lots of ideas

However, it is quite OK to start at a slightly smaller scale, as demonstrated by the camp: a great idea leading to sustainable products.

Or in the words of the Danish architect, inventor and critic Poul Henningsen: ‘Every little helps – you cannot save the whole world at once, but you can always help a little old lady across the street.’

And those words were perfectly in line with the high level of inventiveness and enthusiasm demonstrated by the 26 participants at a large number of workshops, plenary assemblies, a hard-talk session and presentations by representatives from, for example, the UNDP and Novozymes. And some of the good news emanating from the hard-talk session was, for example, that if you have a great idea for a sustainable product, it is possible to get support, both from the UN, from NGOs and from the private sector. It is not about large companies wanting a sustainable future and about companies moving in a green direction. They may like to, but their bottom lines must still be positive when it comes to innovation, it was said during the hard talk.

The experts’ advice to the students was: ‘Follow the money’. Go for the companies and foundations that have the money, rather than unknown and questionable business partners.

The winners of the first prize were Enzycator.

Strip against food waste and food poisoning

And as the grand finale at the four-day camp, the winners of the Cleantech Case Competition 2016 were announced. Two prizes were awarded!

The first prize went to Enzycator: ‘New business for Novozymes based on SDG goals’. The group successfully transformed a great idea into a business case, which held all the way from idea to product development, investors, marketing and global sales.

Working with food waste and food safety, the group sought to kill two birds with one stone under the motto: ‘Good taste with no waste’.

And food waste is a huge problem. In Denmark alone, 700,000 tonnes of food is wasted each year at the retail and consumer level, according to the group’s presentation at the camp.

The solution is a small strip which can tell you whether the chicken in the fridge or the packet of mince beef is still fresh, despite what the expiry date may say.

If realised, the method or the strip is both simple and ingenious. If the strip is green, the meat is still fresh. However, if the strip is red, the meat is too old and must be thrown out.

To market the strip, which could be sold at a price of DKK 2 each, the group needs a number of partners, including:

  • A research institution for prototyping the strip.
  • A leading Danish company in the field of plastic packaging for mass production of the strip.
  • Professional people for marketing the product, for example on the social media.
  • A Danish food company with a global network which can be used to promote the strip worldwide together with the company's products, for example in the huge Chinese market, where food poisoning is not an unknown phenomenon.

Additionally, the group’s thinking included the idea of seeking to influence politicians to define a legislative framework for food waste and food safety, with the strip playing a natural role in these decisions as a practical tool for implementing such legislation.

The group's simple conclusion: A low-cost strip can reduce food waste in the developed world, while preventing food poisoning in developing countries.

Members of the group behind Enzycator and winner of the ‘New business for Novozymes based on SDG goals’ prize are:

Ammar Babar, University of Copenhagen, Marc Guasch Rodríguez, DTU, Marie-Louise Thøgersen, University of Copenhagen, and Jose Alfredo Samaniego Castruita, University of Copenhagen.

The prize is: Fifteen hours of consultancy from Novozymes to help the students combine their studies with innovation, product development, market sales and economic calculations.

Prodye was awarded the prize: Climate-KIC Nordic: Idea with start-up potential

Green river

The second winner at the camp was the group Prodye. The group won the award for its focus on clothes production in developing countries such as Bangladesh.

A major problem in the textile industry is the dyeing of the clothes. The textile industry in Asia is big and uses vast quantities of dye to produce colourful cotton clothing. The problem is that chemical dyes are used which do not bond properly to the fabrics, and which are therefore flushed out with the waste water from the factories.

The colours may look good in colour photos, but the dyes are a huge source of contamination of many rivers, which is the local population’s only source of fresh water. And when environmental protection is something which people worry about in Denmark, there is not much to be gained from doing something about the problem, not least because the local authorities tend to turn a blind eye.  

However, if solving the problem was associated with lower costs and improving the reputations of the foreign companies buying clothes from these factories, there may be hope for the future, the group behind the project pointed out.

This is due to the fact that 30-50% of the dyes are flushed out of the waste water, because they do not bond properly to the fabrics. It therefore makes perfect sense to invent organic dyes and at the same time install filters at the factories to allow the dyes to be reused in production and to ensure that the waste water is much cleaner – for the benefit of the locals, whose lives are dependent on having access to fairly clean water.

A great idea with considerable potential in the form of improved earnings for the local companies, better-quality fresh water for the locals and a sustainable image for the international clothing companies that have outsourced their production to developing countries in Asia.

Why Prodye was awarded the prize: Climate-KIC Nordic: Idea with start-up potential.

Members of the group were: Dariya Gavrish, Lund University, Marie Lisandra Zepeda Mendoza, University of Copenhagen, Spyridon Koutsos, DTU, and Mads Herbert Kerrn, University of Copenhagen.

New opportunities for ideation

A number of events will be organised in the near future for students and researchers who would like to have a go at ideation, innovation or entrepreneurship, for example Climate-KIC Accelerator:

Climate-KIC Accelerator is the EU’s only accelerator programme focused on climate effect through the commercialisation of cleantech ideas. The deadline for applications for the next Climate-KIC Accelerator round is 1 September.

Read more and apply via this link: http://www.climate-kic.org/for-entrepreneurs/accelerator/

Climathon is a 24-hour event, which will take place on 28 October in cities all over the world. Participants will have 24 hours to come up with solutions to the challenges and issues raised by the participating cities.

The deadline for registering as a participant is 30 September. Registration opens on 4 July. Read more here: https://climathon.climate-kic.org/

UCPH Innovation Hub open day: Monday, 20 June at Universitetsparken 1, 2100 Copenhagen Ø.

Meet students, entrepreneurs and the team behind UCPH’s largest incubator for an informal chat about your idea. We will also be present UCPH’s brand new pre-accelerator programme, which kicks off in September. Hot dogs and lemonade will be served. Go to the HUB’s Facebook page and read more about the event: www.facebook.com/katapult.netvaerk/?fref=ts

Further information:

If you have any questions regarding Climate-KIC, please contact KIC coordinator Sara Melhedegård Mørch on mobile +45 21 28 87 74 or by email to: sara.morch@science.ku.dk

If you have any questions regarding the UCPH Innovation Hub, please contact Business Developer Christina Pamela Christiansen on mobile +45 93 56 53 82 or by email to cpc@science.ku.dk, or contact Hub Manager Peter Ottesen on mobile +45 28 75 42 13 or by email to pco@science.ku.dk