Beer grain snack idea wins $10,000 prize from city of Austin

A snack food that combines beer and granola has won a City of Austin competition meant to encourage innovative recycling strategies.

The first-ever [Re]Verse Pitch Competition awarded a $10,000 innovation prize to Leander resident Brandon Ward for his idea of turning spent grain, a byproduct of beer brewing, into “Brewnola” granola bars.

His pitch, presented last week to a team of judges, involved creating a company that would pay employees $24 per hour, use ingredients for the granola bars from local sources, utilize compostable packaging, and donate a portion of proceeds to Austin-area homeless shelters.

“I would not have realized the environmental impact of spent grain if not for the competition,” said Ward, 33, a military veteran who is now a second-year business student at the University of Texas. “The competition helped open our eyes to this problem and gave us the opportunity to solve it.”

Ward, who had two teammates who are also MBA students, said he will use the prize money to build a product prototype and conduct market research before launching larger scale production and distribution of the snack bars.

So far, Ward has baked versions of the bars, meant to be salty and savory, to be enjoyed as a snack with beer in place of peanuts or chips, only in his oven. He said he mixes the spent grain with oats and ingredients like salsa or wasabi peas.

As part of the city’s zero waste goals, the competition encouraged entrepreneurs to repurpose materials that are currently leaving local businesses and institutions as waste into the foundation of new businesses. The competition started in November when five local companies told social entrepreneurs about some of the byproduct materials of their businesses that are sent to the landfill.

“I was delighted with the ideas, and the presentation — it was a lot more fun than I expected,” said Ray Brimble, one of the competition judges and a real estate developer. “The three gentlemen who won the competition had done their homework.”

The judges asked questions about the viability of the business, its environmental impact, and marketing.

Other proposals included dog biscuits baked with spent brewery grains and slip-resistant high-heel shoes made of repurposed vinyl.

“The city is really incubating a thought process, a consciousness about creating businesses around ecological issues,” said Brimble. “It’s an incredibly small investment to come up with many great ideas. If this one business launches, and employs five, ten or 20 people, and they pay their taxes, the city will more than recoup its investment.”

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