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Mean green protein

 'Team Duckweed' features, from left, Alex Stothart, Hana Chaudhury, Gilad Streiner, Santiago Spencer, and Rachel Amirault. These five Queen's students are participating in the Queen's Innovation Connector Summer Initiative, which is helping to kickstart their business. (Supplied Photo)

It’s full of protein and fibre. It’s a leafy green, and a rich source of Vitamin A and B. It’s a hearty plant – you could even say it grows like a weed.

The one remaining question on the mind of Queen’s students Hana Chaudhury (Comm’18), Rachel Amirault (Sc’18), Gilad Streiner (Artsci’17, Sc’17), Alex Stothart (Sc’18), and Santi Spencer (Sc’18) is: would you like to try some duckweed?

“We initially came across duckweed as a commercial opportunity from [an industry trend report] that highlighted alternative, plant-based protein sources,” explains Hana. “After conducting research, we were surprised – and delighted – to find that duckweed as food is a largely untapped market in North America. We saw it as both a great market opportunity, and as a chance to provide a much more sustainable protein alternative with little sacrifice on nutrition and a lower environmental footprint than most plant-based protein alternatives.”

The members of ‘Team Duckweed’ are currently participating in the Queen’s Innovation Centre Summer Initiative (QICSI), a summer-long bootcamp for budding entrepreneurs. They are using the time, and the feedback of QICSI mentors, to validate their market, conduct tests, research their product, and design the system that will eventually help them grow their crop. Hana and the team are grateful for the opportunity they have had through the QICSI program to learn these lessons and develop their business in a safe environment.

A successful expedition to gather duckweed. The next place you see it may be a store shelf near you. (Supplied Photo).

“It’s an unparalleled opportunity for young people interested in entrepreneurship,” says Hana. “We have loved having the feedback from mentors who have worked in this field and have a wealth of knowledge to provide us with, as well as the quality of the speakers and entrepreneurship education the program has provided. We quickly built a strong community with the rest of our cohort, and seeing everyone’s hard work definitely fuels the competitive fire and has pushed us to work harder.”

But, of course, before their business gets off the ground there’s that million dollar question: how does it taste?

“We have tried duckweed in small quantities and, to us, it tasted like nothing,” adds Hana. “Granted, when we taste it in larger quantities we will probably get a better sense of its taste profile. We initially began with the idea of developing a taste neutral nutritional powder that could be added to any meal in small quantities. We are exploring some other options such as incorporating it into a sauce, breads, or another food product, but are still in the process of researching what end-product consumers will gravitate towards most.”

QICSI runs until mid-August, and ‘Team Duckweed’ is one of eight teams participating in this year’s bootcamp. Learn more about QICSI at queensu.ca/innovationcentre

The next superfood? A photo of duckweed harvested by 'Team Duckweed'. (Supplied Photo)