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From Idea to Product - Cross-disciplinary student team wins annual innovation competition

A Daniels School freshmen and a junior engineering student recently combined their skills to take home the $20,000 first-place prize at Purdue’s 30th annual Student Soybean Innovation Competition.

Through a partnership between the Indiana Soybean Alliance and the university, participants explore a wide range of soybean applications, fostering creativity and the next generation of agricultural leaders. Each team is tasked with creating an original idea previously unavailable in the market or competition arena.

Team Soysilk

While some assume the competition is engineering based, it requires students with a range of skills, including business planning, marketing, supply chain management, prototyping and presentation. “Students from any degree area can and do contribute to their team’s success,” says Micky Creech, program manager of the Student Soybean Innovation Competition.

Comprised of Ben Gottlieb (BS, Finance ’27) and Kyle Han (BS, Biological Engineering ’25), Team SoySilk created a soy-based baby wipe product with only one non-soy ingredient. It is gentle on the skin like silk and made with soybeans incorporated in every aspect of the baby wipe production. SoySilk is a plastic-free, vegan, non-toxic, environmentally friendly, biodegradable and compostable alternative to current baby wipes used in the United States.

The team was advised by Cara Putman, a clinical assistant professor of law, communication and ethics at the Daniels School, and Rodolfo Pinal, an associate professor of Industrial and Physical Pharmacy.

“The idea for SoySilk came from us wanting to solve a tangible problem in the world that would also be responding to some sort of incoming regulation,” Gottlieb says. “With my partner’s background as an intern at Kimberly Clark, we settled on making a baby wipe that doesn't contain any plastic polymers. This is in response to incoming bans on wipes that contain such plastic content, which take hundreds of thousands of years to decompose and cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to plumbing systems.”

Team Soysilk

Gottlieb says the team’s combined skills helped them stand out from competitors. “As a finance student, I wasn’t much help in the lab when it came to manufacturing, but everything else I was able to do for the team was just as important,” he says. “The prototype was only a third of the judging. The rest was split between a business plan and business pitch, which are both skills that I have worked on in my first semester as a Daniels student and especially as a Larsen Leaders Academy member through the Eli Lilly Case Competition.”

Kelly Blanchard, associate dean for student experience and undergraduate programs and clinical associate professor of economics at the Daniels School, was a faculty advisor on the third-place team, Team Green Eggs, No Ham, a novel egg substitute made with multiple ingredients derived from soy. “Creating a business plan requires some understanding of marketing, finance, strategy, and even some analytics and accounting,” she says. “Knowing how to calculate unit costs, profit and opportunities for scaling production are all skills business students contribute.”

Gottlieb and Han hope to take their creation to the next level. “We hope to further this idea to leverage it for future career opportunities and create our own company,” Gottlieb says. “This is a product that we are both 100% behind, and with the help of the Indiana Soybean Alliance, we can see a path towards patents and either bringing it to market or licensing it to large companies.”

Photos by Tom Campbell