Press Releases



Western Kentucky University and University of Kentucky teams win Alltech Innovation Competition 2017 with ideas for music selection algorithms and activated carbon from stillage

The Western Kentucky University undergraduate team, including students Taylor Wathen, Blake Knott and Zachary Wathen, and their advisors Dawn Langkamp Bolton and Whitney Oliver Peake, captured the undergraduate first place prize with their venture Tech Gnar.

Winning teams took home $10,000 apiece, the same amount with which Dr. Pearse Lyons founded Alltech

[LEXINGTON, Ky.] — As seven universities demonstrated at the Alltech Innovation Competition 2017, university-level innovation is firing on all cylinders in Kentucky. A range of disruptive technologies were showcased, from eco-friendly and Kentucky-centric ventures to those featuring virtual reality and music.

Western Kentucky University’s undergraduate team and the University of Kentucky’s graduate team took home the top prizes of $10,000 apiece, the same amount with which Dr. Pearse Lyons founded Alltech, now a more than $2 billion company.

“Kentucky was a winner today,” said Dr. Karl Dawson, vice president and chief scientific officer at Alltech. “We really saw what the capabilities of our young people are.”

The Western Kentucky University undergraduate team, including students Taylor Wathen, Blake Knott and Zachary Wathen, and their advisors Dawn Langkamp Bolton and Whitney Oliver Peake, captured the undergraduate first place prize with their venture Tech Gnar. The program and database uses hundreds of complex measurements to suggest songs to users that are tailor-made to their musical interests. They are planning to launch their website and an app at the end of the year.

“This competition is great, because it shows that anyone can be an entrepreneur,” Taylor Wathen said, noting that neither she nor her team members are business majors. “We created this venture for the love of music.”

The University of Kentucky graduate team, including students Fletcher Young and Zach Yonts, and their advisors Mariam Gorjian and Warren O. Nash III, captured the graduate first place prize with their venture Stillage Solutions.

The University of Kentucky graduate team, including students Fletcher Young and Zach Yonts, and their advisors Mariam Gorjian and Warren O. Nash III, captured the graduate first place prize with their venture Stillage Solutions. By using leftover stillage from the brewing and distilling process to produce activated carbon, the team hopes to develop a low-cost, high-quality and more environmentally friendly activated carbon product than what is currently developed using coal, coconut shells and wood. This product could be used in everything from water and gas filtration systems to fuel cells and supercapacitator-driven devices, such as cell phones. With Kentucky’s booming brewing and distilling sector, they felt well-placed to enter this market.

“This is what it’s all about — disrupting the industry,” said Young. “With our venture, we can start small, because all of the products we need to begin can be found locally, and then we can expand.”

For the first time, Alltech also awarded the Disruptor Award — a reflection of this year’s theme at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference, “Disrupt the Disruptors” — to the team with the most innovative venture. This year’s Disruptor Award of $2,000 was awarded to Bellarmine University’s undergraduate team for their EcoCups idea, a biodegradable version of the popular K-Cups used for coffee. The team members included Ariana Sherrard, Michaela Julian and Michael Ann Humphreys, and their advisor was Dr. Michael Mattei.

The Bellarmine University undergraduate team, including students Ariana Sherrard, Michaela Julian and Michael Ann Humphreys, and their advisor Dr. Michael Mattei, captured the Disruptor Award for their venture EcoCups.

The winning teams’ competition included Bellarmine University, Eastern Kentucky University, Morehead State University, the University of Louisville and the University of Pikeville, with concepts ranging from seasonal, family farm models to virtual laboratories.

“All of the unique ventures presented today reflect the high quality of education, teaching and entrepreneurial talent in Kentucky,” said Suniti Mujumdar, manager of educational engagement at Alltech. “These creative students have the spark to ignite meaningful change to economically benefit the Commonwealth.

“The Alltech Innovation Competition’s goal is to connect students with business professionals for inspiration as they pursue their passions toward building extraordinary careers,” she continued. “We are honored to be involved with fostering the next generation of entrepreneurship in Kentucky.”

The Alltech Innovation Competition started in 2013 in Kentucky and Ireland, and challenges undergraduate and graduate university teams to develop forward-thinking business plans on innovative ideas that will improve local economies and have the potential to change the world.

Alltech also holds sister competitions in Ireland, India and Brazil, reflecting Alltech’s commitment to lifelong education and the inspiration of innovation and entrepreneurship across the globe.

Alltech’s education and entrepreneurship commitment doesn’t stop at the undergraduate and graduate levels, but will continue at the company’s flagship international conference, now in its 33rd year, in Lexington, Kentucky. Registration for ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference, to be held May 21–24, is now open. For more information, visit one.alltech.com. Join the conversation on Twitter with #ONE17.