Growing Proteins for a Vegan Market
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The founders of FUMI Ingredients, Edgar Suarez Garcia and Corjan van den Berg, met at the Bioprocess Engineering group in Wageningen. Colombian Suarez Garcia was a PhD candidate and Dutchman Van den Berg was his supervisor. Suarez Garcia was investigating the biorefinement of algae to produce vegetable proteins. After Suarez Garcia obtained his doctorate, the two decided to continue the development as a company.
People who make their own hamburgers know that they need egg whites to bind the meat and make the burger juicy. In fact, these egg whites contain specific proteins that bind and foam. FUMI can produce these proteins from microorganisms. The start-up wants to supply these proteins to the food industry in order to produce vegan meat substitutes.
During his PhD research, Suarez Garcia found a new technique in which microorganisms or algae produce any protein that he wants. He developed a proof of principle and now wants to scale up the process to factory level. In the past months, FUMI developed a market validation plan. Van den Berg will send several kilos of proteins to potential customers in the food industry this summer to test the proteins. If these customers are interested, FUMI intends to move onwards to demonstration scale.
During the StartLife programme, they learned about investment strategies and the IP strategy, as part of the production process they develop will be patented. They also extended their network of potential investors. They will need these investors, which they will need want to build a factory.
FUMI will have to compete with other companies that already produce plant-based proteins for the food industry. Some competitors extract the proteins from plant materials, others use genetically modified microorganisms to produce the proteins. Suarez Garcia and Van den Berg claim that their technique is the most sustainable and economical way of producing the plant-based egg whites.
‘The potential market is very big’, Van den Berg says. ‘The annually global market in egg-whites as a food ingredient is 30 billion dollar. We want to concentrate on the vegan meat substitute market in The Netherlands. This growing market in vegetable proteins is worth a few million euros a year. That is feasible.’
Suarez Garcia and Van den Berg were researchers at Wageningen University and didn’t intend to start a business during their research. In hindsight, they would have liked to know more about business development and StartLife during Suarez’ PhD. ‘I think all PhD candidates should be able to take a business course in which they learn about value creation and Intellectual Property rights.’
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