Coaches advise students in online speed dates

Published on
May 19, 2021

On 22 April, students and coaches participating in the ReThink Protein Challenge got together again. In online speed dates, students were free to discuss their ideas, opportunities and obstacles with coaches like Henk Wymenga (Wageningen Ambassadors) and Huiberdien Sweeris (Foodvalley NL). What did they take from these speed dates?

Experience in Africa

‘I have many treasured memories from my student days in Wageningen. Now I can give something back.’ Henk Wymenga got involved in the ReThink Protein Challenge through the Wageningen Ambassadors, a group of prominent Wageningen University & Research (WUR) alumni who build bridges between WUR and society. Wymenga studied Food Science and went on to work for Cargill and Heineken in Europe, the United States and Africa.

One of the teams I spoke to during the speed dates is developing breakfast foods for Indian millennials. It’s aimed to be healthy, quick to prepare, and at a minimal cost. Another team wants to sell insect-based products in the slums of a major city in Kenya. A brilliant idea, because locust plagues are very common and this could be a way to turn that availability into food. But selling products in Kenyan slums is no easy task. How do you get the products there, and how do you get consumers to buy them? I lived in Africa for 10 years, so I have a lot of experience in that area. Both positive and negative. It’s great to share that experience with students.

Henk Wymenga.jpg

It struck me that many teams are very strong when it comes to the content of their product. They know the recipe, the consumer benefits, they have given a lot of thought to the design. They are very advanced, intelligent students! What’s missing is an understanding of things like distribution and entering markets. At their universities, students are being taught how to develop a product, which is great. But for this ReThink Protein Challenge, they need to think about markets, about business plans. By providing a helicopter view and by showing them the steps required to write a business case, I will help them where I can. That’s where there is room for them to learn from the Challenge.’  

Rolling out the red carpet

Wageningen is also familiar territory for Huiberdien Sweeris, who studied International Land and Water Management there. She now works for Foodvalley NL, an organisation that works towards a sustainable food system that is healthy for people and planet. The connection with the ReThink Protein Challenge is clear.

‘Wow, such a network, so much energy, so much motivation. That was my feeling after the speed dates. The first online sessions, a few months ago, were more like a Q&A: as coaches, we asked questions, they answered. This time, there was a real dialogue. And some great ideas were presented. I spoke to a team that wants to process insects and sell them in slums in Kenya where access to good food is limited. An Albanian team aims to collect walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds, which are by-products, from local farmers. They turn those into butters, something like peanut butter. And they are looking for ways to utilize their waste streams (e.g. nut shells) to make biochar which can be used to regenerate degraded soil. So it’s very sustainable, but can they scale up? Teams soon run into many complexities.

At Foodvalley NL, we value young talents. We need their bright minds to help make the transition to a sustainable food system. We really want to roll out the red carpet for them and stimulate them to continue their career in this field of work. So during this Student Challenge, I try to do the same. I can offer our network, knowledge about entrepreneurship and access to the market. I might not know much about edible insects myself, but maybe I know someone who does. In general, I don’t want to steer students into a certain direction, I want to help them ask themselves the right questions.

I haven’t been a coach in one of the Student Challenges before, but I’m enjoying it a lot. It has exceeded my expectations! And if students want to continue working on their concept after the Challenge, I will gladly do my part to support them.’

Would you like to learn more about the ideas of the students who participate in the ReThink Protein Challenge’2? Read about them all.

On 3 June the12 best teams will be selected to the Grand Finale of the Challenge. During this event Gerda Feunekes (The Netherlands Nutrition Centre) and Marleen Onwezen (Wageningen Economic Research) will discuss the consumer perspective on protein transition. They will reflect on factors that influence consumer readiness to buy alternative products, discuss strategies to motivate people to change their diets and explain why we want to eat vegan but fail to eat less meat.

Register for the event.