Cricket-fortified pasta pitch wins $7,500 Ag Springboard top prize

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A team of food science graduate students won the Ag Springboard student business pitch contest and $7,500 grand prize on April 13 after pitching and serving judges pasta made with cricket flour.

The team — Pasta 2050 — wants to help westerners warm up to eating crickets by fortifying pasta, a familiar staple product, with cricket flour. The insects are a source of high-quality protein that can help to feed a growing, global population.

“Since we are food scientists in training, we wanted to have a greater knowledge about business and what’s involved in making a product and how to basically build a brand,” said Lauriel Stewart, who is a first-year master's degree student in food science.

They are learning business by doing it, and creating a business plan and pitch, said Weslie Khoo, who is studying for a doctoral degree in food science. “Taking the steps to make this product a reality is going to be very exciting,” he said.

Stewart and Khoo teamed with roommate Haoshu Zhang, a doctoral degree student in food science. The most difficult part lies ahead, said Zhang, as they look to produce and market the pasta.

One way in which they won over judges was to offer samples of the cooked pasta. A good taste is critically important, said Bill Donley, a finalist judge, retired CEO of Tangent Rail and chairman of the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Advisory Board in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Finalist judge Deanna Spaniel said the flavor and texture was very close to that of wheat pasta. Spaniel, an agribusiness student in the College of Agricultural Sciences, won Ag Springboard in 2016 with specialty potato chips made of colorful potato varieties.

The Pasta 2050 team spotted an opportunity in the market: demand for healthier pasta with fewer carbohydrates and a higher, more complete protein content. Their food product made with crickets would join a few others on the market, including Chirps Chips made with cricket flour, a product pitched on the TV show Shark Tank.

Ag Springboard is a student business pitch contest like Shark Tank — but for pitches to solve problems in the agricultural sciences. Teams must include a student in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Ag Springboard is the signature event of the college’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation Program.

Judges awarded the $2,500 second-place prize to ModZero, a patent-pending technology invented by competitive rifle shooter Luke Yost, a junior studying material science and engineering.

Currently, rifle scopes are “zeroed” or calibrated to a single rifle at a time to accurately hit a target, which means shooters must have several scopes and spend time, money and ammunition to calibrate them.

Yost figured out how to reverse engineer the zeroing process, so that the rifle can be zeroed to a scope and a scope swapped among several rifles can still be calibrated.

Yost teamed with Sam Collins, an agribusiness management major, and Curtis Hershey, an animal science major and hunter. They met early this year at an Ag Springboard Meet & Greet event.

Collins, who is studying for an entrepreneurship minor, said he knew he wanted to compete in Ag Springboard because the real world is full of competition and there are not a lot of awards and trophies just for participation.

“It was a wonderful experience,” said Collins, adding that learning in a classroom is one thing, but then actually preparing a business plan and pitching a product is an entirely different learning experience.

ModZero’s next steps are to produce final prototypes of its scope device, then market and raise money with an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign.

Five finalist teams pitched to judges on April 13. Winners were announced at an awards banquet that evening at the Nittany Lion Inn.

Keynote speaker Todd Eardley, co-founder and CEO of Videon, a technology company in State College, delivered a keynote talk on the risk-fail-pivot process that is common to entrepreneurship.

This year's field of Ag Springboard teams raised the bar with their ideas and pitches, said Mark Gagnon, entrepreneurship coordinator in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

“I enjoy witnessing our students as they move forward with their own entrepreneurial journeys," said Gagnon. "Experiences like Ag Springboard help develop student entrepreneurial capacities that will certainly improve their career success.”

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Last Updated April 17, 2017