In a battle of brains amongst seven Kentucky universities in the 2015 Alltech Innovation Competition, it was Kentucky State University and the University of Pikeville who emerged as victors, respectively capturing the undergraduate and graduate first place designations. Each team won $10,000, the amount with which Dr. Pearse Lyons founded Alltech, now a $1 billion company operating in 128 countries.
The University of Pikeville’s team of two graduate and two undergraduate students won the graduate competition with Rhizofeed, their herbal extraction company based in Pikeville. Using bloodroot harvested in Eastern Kentucky, Rhizofeed extracts whole rhizome for use in poultry feed to improve gut health. Less expensive and more stable than probiotics, according to the student team, rhizome extract has anti-inflammatory properties and has been linked to improving the immune system, regulating digestion and promoting weight gain. Rhizofeed aims to target poultry producers looking for alternatives to probiotics or antibiotics, a market expected to grow as an increasing number of major food companies, such as McDonald’s, demand antibiotic-free production. Grown, extracted and sold from Kentucky, Rhizofeed will further diversify Eastern Kentucky’s regional economy while improving poultry production globally.
Making their inaugural appearance at the annual Alltech Innovation Competition, Kentucky State University captured first place in the undergraduate competition with an aquaponics venture. Old Kentucky Home Aquatics, focuses on in-pond aquaponic raceway systems, inspired by the regional potential for farmed catfish and vegetables as well as a drive to support small-scale farming. The business will construct raceways in established ponds, educate farmers and develop a processing route to build regional agriculture. The raceway systems will provide for easier harvesting, higher stocking densities, better water quality and waste collection while controlling overfeeding. Floating rafts enable the incorporation of aquaponics, such as the growth of Bibb lettuce and spinach, using fish waste as a nutrient source.
The winning teams’ competitors included Bellarmine University, Brescia University, the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University. With seven universities going head-to-head, Dr. Karl Dawson, chief scientific officer at Alltech, noted the challenge this year’s judges had in naming winners, “The quality of the work this year was several magnitudes better than ever before but what made the winning projects so innovative was the simplicity of the ideas and the quality of the presentations.”
“I have been amazed, totally amazed, over the three years we have now run this competition. The event brings out the best,” said Dr. Pearse Lyons, president and founder of Alltech. “Young people find a way to do it, and both winning projects use products from Kentucky—yet not tobacco—to build two viable Kentucky businesses.”
The Alltech Innovation Competition, now in its third year with annual competitions held in both Kentucky and Ireland, holds value to Alltech, not only in terms of the ideas and possible collaborations brought forward but also in terms of talent identification. “Recognizing the innovators and future leaders in the state is very important to us,” said Dawson.
Also central to the Alltech Innovation Competition’s founding mission is its contribution to the state’s economic engine. “To inspire these young people that you can be innovative is the real value of the Alltech Innovation Competition. We have to look for new solutions and inspiring these young people is integral,” said former Kentucky governor Paul Patton, now the interim president of the University of Pikeville.
Alltech will run a sister competition in Dunboyne, Ireland, this Wednesday. The Alltech Innovation Competition reflects Alltech’s commitment to lifelong education and the inspiration of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Another example of this commitment is the company’s flagship international conference, now in its 31st year in Lexington, Kentucky. Registration for the Alltech REBELation conference, to be held May 17-20, is open now. For more information, or to request an invitation, contact a local Alltech representative, visit rebel.alltech.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Join the conversation on Twitter with #REBELation.