Rich in proteins, vitamins, omega 3 and 6, essential amino acids… but their production does not require fertile soil. These characteristics place algae among the top contenders in the “food of the future” category, with the FAO indicating them as a possible remedy for malnutrition. And if many people in the Western world don’t find the idea gastronomically appealing, why not use them as an ingredient in a more inviting food concept? This is the idea inspiring The Algae Factory
, a start-up conceived by Pierluigi Santoro, a specialist in agriculture and environmental issues with a degree in Agrarian Science from Florence, and Stefania Abbona, food lover and certified wine expert graduated in Logistical and Manufacturing Engineering from Turin University.
The Algae Factory develops food concepts with innovative ingredients, such as algae, aimed mainly at vegetarians, vegans and people with lactose and gluten intolerance. Their prototypes are then manufactured and sold by food companies already established in the sector, with their own manufacturing facilities.
From Puglia to San Francisco, via The Netherlands
“The algae idea – explains Pierluigi Santoro – was born roughly a year ago in Puglia, thanks to funds obtained through Bollenti Spiriti financing, a program of the Puglia Regional Government, which made it possible to create a company for producing algae. Then we realized that the real challenge was to integrate them in everyday food products, trying to demonstrate their added value in terms of nutritional values and environmental impact.”
“We decided to compete for the Alimenta2Talent competition offered by the Municipality of Milan and the Padania Technological Park, which will allow us to participate in Expo Milano 2015 – continues Stefania Abbona, who also has a Master in Hospitality Management from New York’s Pace University – At the same time, through the University of Wageningen, in The Netherlands, where I had undertaken a Master in Food Safety and Pierluigi another in Environmental Sciences, we took part in the Ecotrophelia Competition, a European competition for eco-innovative foods.
We won the first phase, competing against other Dutch teams, and thus we won the opportunity of representing The Netherlands in the finals, during the SIAL in Paris. The Wageningen University business incubator sustained us a lot, both in terms of finance and networking. This was how The Algae Factory was born, thanks also to the commitment of Gianluca Carenzo, director of the PTP and StartLife, the Wageningen incubator. Thanks to Linze Rijswijlk, we also received further finding which allowed us to develop the first food concept.”
The first industrial collaborations
Backed by this European task force, the social venture company (as the two founders like to call it) is on its way to San Francisco, where Santoro is currently taking part in a Fulbright Program on “Entrepreneurship and Management”. Here the startup has received favorable judgements from various venture capital companies specialized in the food sector.
On top of this, The Algae Factory has begun an important collaboration with Royaan, an important Dutch snack manufacturer, for which it is developing an Arthrospira (aka Spirulina) and vegetable croquette. “This product, suitable for vegetarians, vegans, people with lactose and gluten intolerance or in search of halal food, will be distributed in the Benelux countries and Germany – Santoro assures us – We have various new products in mind which we are about to develop, with other companies and other types of algae.”
“But creating products is not our only desire – adds Abbona – Another extremely innovative aspect of our company is its BITE for BITE social business model: in collaboration with a group of NGOs, we create algae-based products to be distributed free to children in Developing Countries. This is a difficult but extremely rewarding project, but our conviction is that if everyone does something, we really can improve the global society we live in – even if it’s only a drop in the ocean.”