PHILADELPHIA, Penn. — The University of Pennsylvania recently announced that the student team Fermento, with two of its three members being Indian American, won the $10,000 Grand Prize at the 2016 Y-Prize Competition, which includes rights to commercialize their application of Penn-owned biomedical engineering technology.

The prize was awarded on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus at the fourth annual Y-Prize Grand Finale Jan. 25.

The winning proposal would speed up the fermentation process in beer production by up to nine times while maintaining alcohol quality and composition at an industrial scale, leading to substantial cost reductions.

The Fermento team, comprising Alexander David, Shashwata Narain and Siddharth Shah, students in the Wharton School and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, selected microfluidic fabrication technology developed by Dr. David Issadore’s lab as the basis for a technological solution to this problem.

The team proposes using the microfluidics technology to accelerate the rate at which yeast converts sugar to alcohol by 70 percent, accomplished by increasing the surface area of liquid sugars exposed to the yeast.

This process typically takes up to three weeks in a standard batch reactor setting, making it the longest step in the $520 billion global industry’s production process.

This is not the first entrepreneurial venture for team members Shah and Narain. The former is the founder and CEO of two startups, in Dubai and in India, in the financial services and ecommerce industries, respectively; and the latter has worked in product development at a logistics technology startup in India.

They have also entered their winning idea in the Wharton Business Plan Competition. Their advisors include executives at MillerCoors, Anheuser Busch InBev, Biocon India and Heineken.

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