Idaho Team Takes Prize at Rice University with Potato Process

Food scientist's invention hints at healthier spuds.

Published on: May 29, 2012

University of Idaho researchers have an idea that might produce healthier processed potato products in the future. The concept impressed Rice University judges in a business plan contest that gave the UI scientists a prize, placing fifth among 1,600 worldwide entries.

UI students Gaylene Anderson and Jacob Pierson competed in the Rice University competiton which is ranked one of the world's richest contests. This year's prizes topped $1.55 million.

The UI team finished among the six finalists from 42 teams invited to Houston, Tex., for two days of grilling by 250 volunteer judges.

Idaho Team Takes Prize at Rice University with Potato Process
Idaho Team Takes Prize at Rice University with Potato Process

The business plan team included Washington State University student Anna Hansen, who was unable to travel to Houston where Anderson and Pierson pitched the idea for "Solanux."

The new business plan is structured by UI food scientist Kerry Huber's invention. Like the team, the School of Food Science is a joint effort of the two universities (UI and WSU).

For lovers of potato snack foods and restructured fries, Huber's patented process offers potato ingredients with high amounts of resistant starch that can help lower a person's glycemic index response, improve insulin levels, and lower fat and cholesterol levels.

For those with type 2 diabetes or allergies to corn and wheat products, resistant starch from potatoes could open a wider range of food choices.

The students claimed $25,000, including fifth place awards sponsored by Ernst & Young, the $20,000 Courageous Women Enterprises Award sponsored by nCourgage (cq) Entrepreneurs Investment Group, and the $1,000 Elevator Pitch First Place Award sponsored by Austin Ventures.

The three students will graduate this season, Hansen with a BA in business, Pierson with a UI law degree and Anderson with an executive master of business administration degree.

"I think by being there we opened some eyes that Idaho has some exciting stuff going on," Anderson says. "When we got there, people from other teams would ask what we were doing. When we said we were working with potato starch, they kind of laughed.

"But we competed in a really fun, competitive way, and people were pushing for us. And, they loved our potato idea. There were a lot of influential people there, and we wanted to showcase Idaho, the potato industry, and the university."