Four biotechnology graduate students from San José State University recently discovered a worrying problem: In the research labs where they were interns, the majority of single-use plastics were not being recycled due to contamination.
So these students – Sushmita Sen, ’22 MS Biotechnology; Paul Mack, ’22 MS Biotechnology; Tvisha Josyula, ’22 MS Biotechnology; and Vishaka Shah, ’22 MS Biotechnology – Found a Solution: Environzyme Biosciences, a business idea that won them the top prize of $ 1,500 at the 18th SJSU Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge (SVIC). They also received the People’s Choice Award in the competition, bringing their total winnings to $ 2,000.
The annual event, which was held this year from November 30 to December 30. 1, is presented by the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business. It allowed SJSU graduate and undergraduate students and students from high school and other college institutions to pitch business ideas to entrepreneurs and investors, while also giving them the opportunity to network.
This year, of the 42 finalists from the student team who presented their ideas, eight won awards.
When problems lead to innovation
The four members of the Environmentzyme Biosciences team are also registered with SJSU Stem cell internship program as part of a laboratory apprenticeship, and each of them carries out an internship in different research laboratories, university or company partners.
They learned that in 2018, around 30,000 tonnes of single-use biopharmaceutical plastic ended up in landfills or incinerators, and that number is expected to increase, Sen said during one of Environmentzyme Biosciences’ speeches to the panelists. SVIC judges.
Plastics used in biopharmaceutical and biotechnology laboratories are often contaminated, and it is not easy – nor cheap – to decontaminate these materials for recycling. Additionally, laboratory plastics typically contain polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which when incinerated emits toxic dioxins, posing a major threat to public health and the environment, Josyula added.
Environzyme Biosciences would collect waste PET from biotech companies and “use plastic degradation enzymes to convert PET into its most useful by-product: purified terephthalic acid or PTA,” Shah said.
They would then sell the PTA to industries that could reuse it, such as the auto industry, she added.
Sarika Pruthi, Associate Professor at Lucas College’s School of Global Innovation and Leadership, which coordinates the event each year, is always impressed with the time and talent shown by contest entrants and those who volunteer to make it happen.
“What is perhaps most exciting is the opportunity to engage with students from across campus and beyond,” explained Pruthi. “The energy and imagination of our students – as well as the unwavering commitment and dedication of our judges, professors and lay mentors at SJSU and outside the university – never cease to amaze me. year after year.”
Dan Moshavi, dean of Lucas College and the Graduate School of Business, said that while the college is hosting the event, “it’s really a partnership with the whole university.”
“In my five years here, we’ve had winning teams of students from every college on campus, demonstrating that innovation and creative ideas flow from all of our academic disciplines,” he said.
The Environmentzyme Biosciences team hopes to use its gains to develop “a more comprehensive and viable business plan and seek expert advice from people familiar with the US recycling infrastructure and market trends for PET and carbon. PTA, ”Mack said.
“Entering SVIC with such innovative and intelligent minds has been a rewarding experience and only motivated us to broaden our horizons and make us a stronger team,” Josyula explained on behalf of the entire Environmentzyme team. Biosciences. “We are eternally grateful for this opportunity and hope to propel a community of excellence in recycling and sustainability. “