A collaborative team of innovative and creative researchers from the John Innes Centre and the Quadram Institute Bioscience took part in a competition to develop a commercial idea from novel research.
The team, called “SUSU yoghurt”, were finalists in the YES22 Competition with their hypothetical B12 probiotic yoghurt product. Their idea, pitch and creative use of digital communications won them the Social Media prize.
The Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) is a global competition developed to raise awareness among Master and PhD students, postdoctoral researchers, research fellows, and technicians about how ideas can be commercialised. YES involves teams of researchers developing a business idea and plan for a start-up company based on a hypothetical, yet plausible idea. The idea needs to contain novel science and engineering to address societal challenges such as the ageing population, sustainable food production and global warming.
Over the course of the 10-week competition, the team received online mentorship, participated in workshops and meet-and-greets with business start-up scientists and YES alumni, and worked together to develop their idea.
Julia Haarhuis, a 2nd year PhD student at Quadram Institute Bioscience and Chief Scientific Officer at SUSU, describes how the team began the task of developing a business idea which aims to solve a global problem: “Vitamin B12 is important for our brain, nervous system, and for forming red blood cells. We mainly get this vitamin from animal products since we cannot produce it ourselves.
Both dairy and fortified plant-based yoghurt have vitamin B12, but the concentration is too low to meet the recommended daily intake (RDI) in a single serving.”
Vitamin B12 deficiency is very common among populations worldwide, and with their expertise in plant science, microbiology and biofortification the team set about solving the problem of Vitamin B12 deficiency, and came up with the idea of SUSU yoghurt, a hypothetical “vitamin B12-producing probiotic strain.”
Dr Minglei Yang, a Postdoctoral scientist at the John Innes Centre and Chief Financial Officer at SUSU continues, “Our probiotic strain could offer vitamin B12, with long-lasting bioavailability in the small intestine where it is directly absorbed.
“The hypothetical business process of our product is that we licence the vitamin B12-producing strain to yoghurt manufacturers. This way, the manufacturers can improve their yoghurt and meet the demand for vitamin B12.”
The idea is rooted in solving a real-world problem. With high levels of vitamin B12 deficiencies and only a small number of companies that provide vitamin B12 fortification there is a market for a solution which meets the RDI needs and reduces the cost of vitamin B12.
Their hard work paid off when Team SUSU made it through to the final and were awarded the Social Media prize for their active participation on online platforms, mainly Twitter.
Rose McNelly, a 3rd year PhD student the John Innes Centre and Chief Marketing Officer at SUSU, tells about their social media strategy, “As soon as we came up with our name and product, we initiated a Twitter profile”, the team then used social media content “to promote the SUSU strain, captured the attention of businesses, and spread awareness about vitamin B12 deficiency”.
“At the same time, we also informed our followers about what the YES competition is and what is going on behind the scenes of the competition.”
Our idea is very relevant to the Norwich Research Park,” comments Aileen Magilin, a 2nd year PhD student at the John Innes Centre and Chief Operations Officer at SUSU.
She describes what it was like to take part in the YES22 competition, “It was hard work, we had to modify our business plan as we learnt more about intellectual property, finances, regulations, and more. Simultaneously, we knew we were learning a lot in a small time frame. Every one of us took up a different role within the company, which turned out to suit each of us very well and made up a compatible team.
“We recommend any researcher (PhD student or PostDoc) with an interest in entrepreneurship to join one of the next YES competitions. For those who decide to do this, we advise meeting with the NBI business teams, which proved extremely helpful.”
When asked what’s next for SUSU yoghurt, Ruth Kristianingsih, 3rd year PhD student at the John Innes Centre and Chief Executive Officer at SUSU said, “The SUSU strains are hypothetical products, so we can’t tell if SUSU will be a realistic product anytime soon. That said, we are looking for ways to move SUSU forward and exploring how our idea can potentially grow from hypothesis to reality.”
SUSU yoghurt may be hypothetical, but with the launch of a new Norwich Research Park Innovation Hub for research into biofortification to increase nutrient levels in crops and food it may well one day become a reality.
More about Team SUSU Yoghurt
The JIC-QIB team consisted of:
- Aileen Magilin a 2nd year PhD student at the JIC, and Chief Operations Officer at SUSU
- Julia Haarhuis a 2nd year PhD student at QIB and Chief Scientific Officer at SUSU
- Minglei Yang a Postdoctoral scientist at JIC and Chief Financial Officer at SUSU
- Rose McNelly a 3rd year PhD student at JIC and Chief Marketing Officer at SUSU
- Ruth Kristianingsih a 3rd year PhD student at JIC and Chief Executive Officer at SUSU
More about YES
The Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) is a global competition developed to raise awareness among Master and PhD students, postdoctoral researchers, research fellows, and technicians about how ideas can be commercialised.
It is organised by Nottingham University Business School and the Hayd Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and the competition runs for approximately 10 weeks from October to January, and this year’s final took place on 27th January 2023.