© Levi Baruch
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Afterlife converts food waste from agriculture into a new source of protein using fungi. Although the chosen waste stream is difficult to ferment, through fungi students manage to turn it into a new and valuable product. The demand for non-animal proteins is increasing, the students point out. “There are vegetable substitutes, but they often have just a different taste. Our product is neutral in flavor and can, therefore, be used in different products,” said Marisol Calderon of Afterlife, a student team from Wageningen University.

The students want to make the food sector more sustainable with their new protein source. Calderon: “We think our food is important to be nutritious, tasty, and sustainable. That is difficult, but we are motivated to make a difference.”

In the 4TU Impact Challenge, the best student teams and start-ups from the four Dutch universities of technology compete against each other. Each university had already held its own preliminary round in spring to select its two best teams to compete in the national competition. Teams were prepared for the grand finals through an entrepreneurship boot camp. There, the start-ups pitched their idea to an independent expert jury.

Waste heat to electricity

In addition to the professional jury, the public also chose a favorite. The audience award went to Geotherm Electric, a start-up from the Technical University Delft. They are developing a technology to convert waste heat from industry into electricity. The waste heat is now often not used. That’s a missed opportunity, the students show. Next year, the students already want to set up the first – small-scale – power plant.

Innovative ideas

All eight finalists had surprising and innovative ideas for making tomorrow’s world a little better. Several teams focused on sustainability, but new technologies also emerged in the areas of food supply, healthcare, and AI. For example, Ai.Call presented a digital assistant to support customer service agents. SanSpore developed a new sensor technology to detect fungal spores in crops so that less pesticide is needed. Student team SOLID/IRHYS showed a new technology to store hydrogen in iron powder.

First steps in entrepreneurship

For the students, the 4TU Impact Challenge is a great start to a possible career as an entrepreneur. In the run-up to the event, the teams received support in working out a business case and preparing a good pitch, for example.

Sylvia Lenaerts, rector magnificus of Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), underlined in her speech the importance of student teams and start-ups to valorize what the university does. Solutions to social problems are found at universities. According to Lenaerts, it is essential to give that knowledge back to society. “Not only with publications but also with actions,” she stated.

The impact of 4TU

The four technical universities in the Netherlands work together in the 4TU.Federation. They join forces to make the best use of knowledge and creativity in the technology sector. They do this in education, research, and knowledge valorization, including the Impact Challenge. The students bring the knowledge they have gained back to society in the form of start-ups and student teams. Their products and services contribute to a more sustainable future.


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