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Business students hope new chia seed goes ‘cha-ching’

by Denise Fitzpatrick, communications and marketing last modified Feb 28, 2012 03:21 PM

To you and me, it’s a fuzzy, green sprout that grows on a Chia Pet. To a group of University of Louisville business students, it’s a plant that someday could become Kentucky’s top agricultural product.

A team of four UofL College of Business master of business administration students won first place at a Cincinnati business school competition Feb. 25 for their plan to develop Kentucky Chia, an edible seed that helps prevent two fatal horse diseases, colic and laminitis.

Chia seeds are rich in fiber, antioxidants, protein and Omega-3 fatty acids. Until now, U.S. horse farmers have had difficulty obtaining them because they could be grown only in the warm climates of South America and Australia. However, the UofL team’s genetically unique seed can be grown in North America, assuring a steady and cost-effective supply, they said.

The team plans to outsource production of the patent-pending seed to U.S. farmers and sell the seed wholesale to horse farms and companies that make and sell horse feed and dietary supplements.

UofL team members Zack Pennington, Keith Starling, Joanna Cruz and Scott Serdoz beat out 15 other university teams at the Spirit of Enterprise Graduate Business Plan Competition at the University of Cincinnati. They won $10,000 and an automatic invitation to the 2012 Venture Labs Investment Competition May 2-5 in Austin, Texas.

Last year, another UofL team, TNG Pharmaceuticals, won the Cincinnati contest for developing FlyVax, a patented horn fly vaccine for cattle. They went on to become global Venture Labs champions, winning nearly $800,000 in prize money along the way.

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