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Industry Project 2023/2024: Transforming the Utilization of Fermentation Byproducts

The IDBM Industry Project Course involves seven exciting months of multidisciplinary collaboration, exploration, and innovation, addressing a real-life challenge provided by industry partners. This year, we want to take you along the journey by meeting our 13 vastly different Industry Project teams across different points in their process – from research to prototyping and final concept development!

The Onego Bio team

In this Interview, we had a chat with Yufei (ARTS), Ella (TECH), Kotaro (BIZ), and Sara (TECH), who are working with Onego Bio, a Finnish biotech startup specializing in the production of plant-based egg protein through fermentation. They presented our student team with the task of investigating meaningful applications for the byproducts generated during the fermentation process.

This industry project is one of two startup collaborations as part of our EIT-HEI initiative project INCREDIT, focusing on interdisciplinary entrepreneurial education in Deep Tech.

Status of the Industry Project course at the time of the interview

You are currently in the exploration phase of your project. Can you share insights into the progress and activities you've undertaken so far?

Kotaro: Already in the very early phase of our project, we went to travel to get an understanding of our context. Part of our team went around three countries in the EU: Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. We visited the Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant, which supports production plants that are working with various bio-startups from everywhere to develop their manufacturing process from everywhere, including OnegoBio. It was impressive to get to see those kinds of pioneering plants, especially, because we were still new to the topic.

Yufei: We also attended a biotech conference in Brussels and saw a lot of companies and startups working with biotech and biomaterials. That gave us insightful use cases for our future research.

Ella: Sara and I, the other half of our team, spent four nights in Boston for their vibrant startup scene. There are a lot of biotech companies and quite a few people to talk to, both from startups and references from OnegoBio.

We met experts at MIT focusing on various fields, for example, the MIT Energy Initiative, bioengineering, or architectural design, a field that might be beneficial for us when it comes to the material that we're exploring.

The people we met already gave us a lot of food for thought. For more in-depth research in the future, there are a lot of contacts we got referred to, and that we are eager to talk to, for example, a food tech company and a brewery.

Part of the OnegoBio Team explored Boston's vibrant startup and biotech scene

What significant lessons have you gained up until this point?

Kotaro: Understanding what deep tech actually is. Before the project, the first thing that would have come to my mind was quantum computers and deep learning or something more like IT software and IT, but we are working on biotech. Also, before we traveled, we did not have a good understanding of what the bio-startup journey entailed. we had less of an idea about how established the mass amount production is We didn't really understand why mass production of bioproducts was challenging and how everyone was up to the problem.

Ella:  What I learned was that there is versatility but at the same time complexity of it all. It feels like many people are looking for different solutions to use byproducts (in our case, mycelium) – whether it is circular use, meaning putting it back into your own system or trying to figure out how to make another product out of it. It is a very versatile product, but simultaneously super constrained, for example, when dealing with large amounts or if the product decomposes after some time. It is something that you can go crazy with, but at the same time, must be cautious about when it comes to long-term solutions.

Also, I learned that people are quite interested in our topic. I think everyone we talked to was eager to stay in touch and learn about the course of our project.

Snippets from the OnegoBio office

What are you looking forward to in your upcoming process?

Ella: I am looking forward to gaining more clarity about our topic. Already now I'm surprising myself while I'm speaking, realizing that there is already a lot of information that we have discovered and understood. I am excited to meet more experts within the field and from all of that, come to at least one or two good outcomes.

Also, I took a valuable thing from the last session with our mentor Antti, where he encouraged us to be in line with our partners' needs and wishes, but, simultaneously, pursue radical and bold ideas that might work according to our research. So, thinking from our partners as well as from the student perspective.

Sara: I’m excited to learn how to manage and follow through with such a big and broad project where we don't have many limitations. Also, I want to get to know more about applying my own knowledge in these types of projects, working with multiple people and experts.

Kotaro: For me, it’s two things: Firstly, in my previous working situation, we always had a lot of constraints through strict deadlines and boundaries. But in this project, the partner fortunately encourages us to think broadly and creatively. That is exciting to me.

The second thing is the exploring phase and design research. I am used to doing things more linearly and want to understand design approaches through practice.

Yufei: Interestingly, for me, it's the opposite. As designers or design students, we are often told to go wild. I am used to doing something innovative and interesting but would like to learn more about the real-world business and the market of our project. How can we bring up something interesting and innovative, while adapting to the market and bringing value to our partners?

I also want to experience the process of cross-disciplinary collaboration. We are feeling some kind of tension and different work styles between our teammates already. How can we convert that into “1 + 1 = more than two?” And what is the role of design in this process?

About the team: 

Kotaro (BIZ, background in working with the Japanese public sector) LinkedIn

Yufei (ARTS, background in industrial design)

Ella (BIZ, background in Marketing) LinkedIn

Sara (TECH, background in Chemical Engineering) LinkedIn

Curious to learn more about our Industry Projects this year? Keep an eye on our blog and social media to get to know the other teams!

Author: Nicole Hußmann


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