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Students from AU FOOD win international fellowship programme with a new take on protein ingredients

Three PhD students from the Department of Food Science at Aarhus University (AU FOOD) have won the EIT Foods Innovator Fellowship Programme with their new venture; NOLA Protein Ingredients. With a grant from The Kitchen and additional funding for research from Spin-outs Denmark, they can now continue working on their budding business idea.

From left: Simone Bleibach Alpiger, Francesca Monticone, Roberta Bosu, Katherine Grasberger and Julie Frost Dahl. Photo: EIT Food

Should we rethink the way we produce food ingredients? That’s the belief of three young researchers from AU FOOD, who have just won the EIT Foods Innovator Fellowship Programme with their business idea, NOLA Protein Ingredients.

Their circular concept has not only impressed the European based, EIT Food Innovator Fellow jury but also received funding from Aarhus University’s startup hub, The Kitchen, and Spin-outs Denmark to continue their entrepreneurial journey.  

EIT Food is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union.

Should we?

Just over half a year ago, the three students from AU FOOD were tapped on the shoulder by their advisor. These three PhD students were Simone Bleibach Alpiger, Katherine Grasberger, and Julie Frost Dahl, and the advisor that approached was Professor Milena Corredig.

She encouraged them to apply for the EIT Foods Innovator Fellowship Programme, and it didn’t take much to convince the three students.

During an introductory day at a type of speed dating event, the three AU students quickly connected with Roberta Bosu, former student at University of Bologna and Francesca Monticone, postdoc at University of Bologna, who possessed precisely the qualities they needed for their team. Thus, NOLA Protein Ingredients was born.

From research to business idea

Their business idea is based on Simone Bleibach Alpiger’s Ph.D. project, where she worked specifically with protein ingredients.

The concept is to create more functional plant-based protein ingredients. The industry is currently challenged by the quality of the plant-based products that are already on the market, as extracted proteins from plant sources are not functional enough. Therefore, additives are often necessary to achieve the desired properties.

“We want to move away from the notion that ingredients must be purified to a specific level of purity. Instead, we focus on how to best create an ingredient with the functionality to make it suitable for a particular type of food,” says Katherine Grasberger.

Currently, most companies process oil seeds to extract a specific main ingredient, the oil. Only afterwards do they attempt to find a way to utilise the byproduct from production.

“Right now, we are working with rapeseed, but we are rethinking how we approach it. Normally, the oil would be pressed out of the rapeseed, leaving behind a residual product known as ‘press cake,’ where the proteins’ properties are often lost due to the processing history,” she explains.

Illustration: NOLA Protein Ingredients.

In NOLA Protein Ingredients, the researchers want to go in a different direction.

“Instead of working with a highly processed byproduct, we extract both oil and protein simultaneously from the seed itself, ensuring both ingredients to be in a natural and functional state,” adds Julie Frost Dahl.

Adds significant value

Students from the Department of Food Science regularly participate in entrepreneurship programs and competitions organised by EIT Food.

Professor Milena Corredig often informs her students if she comes across a project that aligns with their specific profile or interests.

“I invest my time in entrepreneurship education, because I think that research-entrepreneurship needs to be fostered, so it can lead to outstanding innovations, a new way to do research, create impact in society,” the researcher explains. 

She also recognises how much students grow through the experiences and challenges they encounter.

“I work with young talents from bachelor students all the way to AU employees, University research has a special place in providing solutions in this changing world, and we need these young curious minds,” Professor Milena Corredig says.

The research continues

In addition to winning the prestigious EIT Food Innovator Fellowship Programme, the students behind NOLA Protein Ingredients have also received a research grant from Spin-outs Denmark. This grant allows Simone Bleibach Alpiger to continue the research that underpins the company as a postdoc at AU FOOD.

“It’s a one-year grant that you can apply for if you have a research idea with commercial potential. This means that we get the opportunity to further develop the process underlying NOLA Protein Ingredients, and at the same time participate in a business and mentoring program.” says Simone Bleibach Alpiger.

These young entrepreneurs have also become part of Aarhus University’s startup hub, The Kitchen, where they can receive advice and support for their spin-out venture.

Additional Information   We strive to ensure that all our articles live up to the Danish universities' principles for good research communication (scroll down to find the English version on the website). Because of this the article will be supplemented with the following information:
Project title NOLA Protein Ingredients
Programme is financed by EIT Food
Conflict of interest None
External commenting EIT Food per contract, requires to be provided with a draft document
Collaborators EIT Food

Professor Milena Corredig, AU FOOD
22 71 91 32


About EIT Food

The Innovator Fellowship Programme is a project under the support of EIT Food. EIT Food is the world’s largest and most dynamic food innovation community. We accelerate innovation to build a future-fit food system that produces healthy and sustainable food for all.

Supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union, we invest in projects, organisations and individuals that share our goals for a healthy and sustainable food system. We unlock innovation potential in businesses and universities and create and scale agrifood startups to bring new technologies and products to market. We equip entrepreneurs and professionals with the skills needed to transform the food system and put consumers at the heart of our work, helping build trust by reconnecting them to the origins of their food. 

We are one of nine innovation communities established by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), an independent EU body set up in 2008 to drive innovation and entrepreneurship across Europe.  

Find out more at www.eitfood.eu or follow us via social media: X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram.