The winning team, Mindit

The Cranfield Colworth Innovation Challenge took place recently for the fifth year running, culminating in a final round where Cranfield students pitched their sustainability solutions to industry executives and academics.

Over 270 students started the process, forming cross-discipline teams to address real-world challenges to tackle climate change, reduce waste and increase efficiency in the food and drink sector.

34 teams were formed to address the challenges set by Unilever’s Ice Cream Business Group, based at Colworth Science Park, and LIPTON Teas and Infusions (formerly ekaterra). Only nine teams made the shortlist, and over the final five weeks of the challenge they received intensive support and mentoring from Unilever and LIPTON Teas and Infusions, Cranfield’s Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship, and the Centre for Competitive and Creative Design, and academic experts from Cranfield’s Environment & Agrifood and Energy & Sustainability themes.

The competition final saw each team given a tight deadline to pitch their ideas to an expert judging panel made up of Zbigniew Lewicki, Chief R&D and Sustainability Officer, LIPTON Teas and Infusions; Dr Andrew Russell, Product & Process Science Ice Cream Director, Unilever; Joe Nellis, Professor of Global Economy and Deputy Dean of Cranfield School of Management; and Miranda Knaggs, Corporate Development Director, Pioneer Group.

The winning team, Mindit (Thomas Drescher, Shubham Pandey, Anushka Sawarkar, Subhramanian Srinivasan Rangamani, Andrei Boitcev) won the first prize of £5,000 for their innovative idea on reducing the impact of hail on tea estates.

Challenge a great opportunity for students

The students in the winning team were studying in several different areas, coming from the PgCert Design Thinking, Executive MBA, MSc in Environmental Management & Sustainability, MSc Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Engineering, and MSc Logistics and Supply Chain Management courses.

Thomas Drescher said: “We are absolutely over the moon after winning the challenge! The competition was intense with strong runners-up. We put in all our skills and passion to create the comprehensive approach we presented in the pitch. The long working hours united our team while promoting our skills in research, creative thinking and presenting.

“We are overwhelmed by the support we received from key people from both institutions throughout the competition. The challenge was a great opportunity for networking and beyond that to make friends.”

The runners-up, Scoop Sustainers and Cream Team, were awarded £1,000 each.

Dr Stephanie Hussels, Director of the Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship, said: “This innovation challenge brings together everything that Cranfield University is about. It encourages teamwork across many disciplines, develops entrepreneurial skills, and by working with multinational companies, our students can apply their learning hands-on by solving real-world challenges.”

Dr Helen Saini, Head of R&D Sustainable Agriculture at LIPTON Teas and Infusions said: “Hail damage as a result of climate change is an increasing problem in certain regions, impacting large businesses like ours and small farmer livelihoods.  It was great to put this important challenge to an interdisciplinary team of students who were able to think creatively and I was impressed with the level of business acumen, innovation and passion displayed by all teams.”