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We talked to some students while they innovated

Entrepreneurship school — Are you sick of not being able to squeeze the residual yoghurt out of its carton? Are you overcome with shame when you unpack three layers of cellophane from your organic vegetables? Then you will be inspired by the 31 students who met up with the purpose of innovate the hell out of three major companies in order to combat food waste.

Politicians are constantly urging students to skip all their theoretical discussions, put on a smart business suit, and start looking for venture capital for new small companies. The university needs to, they say, get students ready for the business world so they can invent, develop and, most importantly, innovate.

Innovation camp

The Summer School ELLS Innovation & Entrepreneurship Camp aimed to get students ready for innovation and entrepreneurship.

It took place between 28-31 August at Fredensborg. 31 students from the University of Copenhagen and a number of partner universities took part

The students were themselves deeply involved in the planning

The cases that the students were to work on came from the companies Arla, Chr. Hansen, and NIRAS.


Luckily, they like innovation at the Faculty of Science, where the students have set up a summer camp. The ‘ELLS Innovation & Entrepreneurship Camp’ had 31 young people competing to win a so-called case competition (the prize was a nice decoration in the form of a Niels Bohr model of the atom).

Students from all over the world had come via climate-friendly means of transport to a beautiful youth hostel in Northern Zealand. With a view of buses full of pensioners visiting the royal castle at Fredensborg and armed with an arsenal of post-it notes, the entrepreneurs played a whole weekend.

Three of the country’s largest companies Arla, NIRAS and Chr. Hansen, had signed themselves up for some innovation. They asked for help to improve their CO<sub>2</sub > bottom line and to come up with innovative ways to reduce food and water wastage.

We talked to some of the students while they innovated everything from yoghurt cases to fungal diseases in agriculture.

Maruša, who is from Slovenia, studies ‘Safety in the Food Chain’ at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Austria

What is your cool idea?

We would like to look at how Chr. Hansen can become an even more sustainable company. Right now, they work mainly with microorganisms in relation to food companies, but our idea is that they should start working with the waste industry.

A lot of new research has been carried out on a specific enzyme that can break down plastics. And the company will easily be able to get permission to work with it or sell it. As a large company, they already have the knowledge and laboratories to work with it, and it will therefore be relatively easy.

Why should your idea win the competition?

Our idea follows specific trends in the market on sustainability, and it is completely new. There is no one else working on it right now. If the company is granted permission to work with it, there are real opportunities.

Martina, who is from Austria, studies ‘Safety in the Food Chain’ at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Austria

What is your cool idea?

We would like to create some microbial products that can reduce fungal infections on crops and in this way limit farmers’ costs from food wastage due to fungus. We need to focus on the types of fungal infections that cause the most waste in the agricultural sector, and ways in which we can easily eliminate them.

Why should your idea win the competition?

It is an easy-to-implement idea that can generate direct revenue for both the company and its customers. In addition to reducing food waste, it can also indirectly cut costs for farmers. In this way, we can produce more food out of the same resources on the same agricultural acreage.

What is the most interesting thing you have learned about innovation so far?

I don’t think you can learn to innovate by just reading the syllabus or listening to lectures. You have to try to work ‘hands on’ with case studies, and we are allowed to do this here at summer school.

Gerrit, who is from Germany, studies ‘Rural Development and Resource Management’ at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science

What is your cool idea?

We are working on an idea to reduce food wastage and the use of plastics. Last year, an Icelandic student invented a bottle made of algae, and our idea is that the same approach can be used for food packaging, like milk cartons. But it is important that we develop the look of the bottle, because it does not look particularly appetising right now.

Why should your idea win the competition?

The idea of a biodegradable bottle is not new, but it is a solution that can be scaled up. Reducing the use of plastics should be one of the biggest concerns for large companies, and here we can step in and set up partnerships between them and developers.

What is the most interesting thing you have learned about innovation so far?

Innovation can also be combining technologies and needs that already exist. If you think twice about and try to fix the problem from several different angles, you can create something new. In my study programme, we often talk about how to create market opportunities for the local population, but innovation and entrepreneurship do not take up much of the teaching. Here is a good chance to get an understanding of it.

Marta from Poland, studies ‘Food Design’ at the University of Warsaw

What is your cool idea?

We are working on an idea of how to reduce food waste in the packaging of yoghurt. We want to make a brand new packaging, that is adapted to everything from single-person households to big hotels, where you use a kind of syringe to control the pressure and ensure that there is a vacuum in the carton.

Why should your idea win the competition?

»Packaging has a huge impact on the durability of the products and therefore food wastage. It’s the key to avoiding food loss and waste. Arla has a big problem with the food wastage that takes place when consumers cannot completely empty their packaging. Even though it is only a couple of grams per packaging, it all adds up to a lot.

Maria, from Uganda, studies ‘Animal Sciences’ at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science

Why should your idea win the competition?

We want to make sure that consumers can use all the yoghurt in the carton. The idea is that the consumer can avoid food waste and prolong the durability of the product. At the same time, it is good for the waste processing facilities, that can better reuse a clean product.

What is the most interesting thing you have learned about innovation so far?

You may have many very wide-ranging ideas, but you need to select one of them. Even if it means that you might leave an opportunity in the market somewhere else. This is very challenging.


Laura is from Denmark, and is studying biology at the University of Copenhagen

What is your cool idea?

We take Arla’s food waste case as our point of departure. They don’t know how much of their products are wasted among consumers, and we will therefore be doing a so-called ‘citizen science’ project, where you ask the general public to collect data for you in an interactive way.

Now, we are looking at how you can make it attractive both for schools and for families to participate in the project. What is the incentive to participate? Many people would like to be sustainable, but consumers can also be motivated by saving money by discarding less.

Why should your idea win the competition?

If you can get a population to collect the data themselves, you can save a lot of time and money as an industry or a research group. It is super cheap, and it has great learning value. Many teachers will hopefully welcome this approach, because they do not need any teaching material, but can get it directly.

What is the most interesting thing you have learned about innovation so far?

It is one big evolution that happens when you innovate. Your idea does not have to be fixed, but can easily develop. There are no silly thoughts or stupid questions.


Anjani, who from India, is studying ‘Plant Protection and Nutrition’ at Hohenheim University in Germany

What is your cool idea?

There is a lot of research being done all over the world about water wastage in different companies. But the companies rarely share their knowledge. A yoghurt company may find a smart way to reduce their wastage by 50 per cent. But even though the idea could be used in the whole yoghurt industry, it never gets out. We could make sure that this happens.

Why should your idea win the competition?

Because we focus on collective growth rather than individual growth for the companies. If we can make sure that each research unit in a company shares their knowledge, they will spend less time working on the same solutions. This will reduce the costs of research tremendously and ensure that companies do not do duplicate each others’ work.

Mayokun, who is from Nigeria, is studying ‘Agriculture and Food Systems’ at Hohenheim University in Germany

What have you learned about innovation on the summer course so far?

I have no background in innovation or entrepreneurship, but I have taken some courses. It’s fun to just sit down and try to develop new ideas on the basis of something random. If you just have a good idea, you can do a lot yourself.

The summer course has really prepared me and opened my mind and heart to taking more courses in innovation. I really want to learn a lot more.