It’s easy to get swept up in the news and activities of the industry’s global titans, but what about the smaller firms that are out there flexing their creative muscles? In this instalment of ‘Start-up of the month’ – which celebrates the lesser-known companies and their innovations – we speak to Javier Viña, CEO at mmmico, a biotech company that seeks to end artificial additives in the food industry.
Could you share mmmico’s primary objectives and mission?
Our main objective is to find alternatives to as many synthetic ingredients as possible to get closer to a more ethical, sustainable and healthy food industry model.
What was the driving force behind the inception of this start-up?
As consumers, we realise the enormous amount of petroleum derivatives and other synthetic products that we consume in our daily lives – from our clothing, personal hygiene products and cosmetics to, of course, our food and drink. We thought that if we wanted to develop ingredients for life, why not be inspired by life? After all, this is how we became the first beings to inhabit our planet, microorganisms.
How does mmmico aim to eradicate artificial additives within the food industry?
Microorganisms have surprising abilities, they can end an oil spill, replace synthetic fertilisers, or produce bioplastics. Another of its abilities is to produce certain natural compounds that can be used as ingredients in the food industry.
We only take advantage of these microorganisms’ innate abilities and enhance them, using these microorganisms as small, hyper-efficient biofactories in the manufacture of natural ingredients.
Could you delve deeper into your latest innovations and their impact on the F&B industry?
We are combining two technologies not found until now: directed evolution and artificial intelligence.
Directed evolution is a technology that replicates the fundamentals of the natural evolution of species but in a controlled laboratory environment. In this way, millions of years of evolution can be replicated in just a few months.
On the other hand, our AI – called Biometheus – is based on bioinformatics and allows us to predict what possible evolutionary paths a certain microorganism can take under certain environmental conditions.
The synergy between these two technologies could have a huge impact on the industry since it would be possible to develop new ingredients in record time and with development costs never seen before.
What pivotal role does microbiology play within the framework of mmmico?
Microbiology is the fundamental axis of mmmico technology, we usually say that most of the work is done by microorganisms and therefore the credit belongs to them. We just give them a little push.
In what ways does fermentation contribute to resolving future supply and population challenges?
Fermentation is one of the first technologies that humanity used, although without knowing it. Now, scientific advances have allowed us not only to know it in an astonishing level of detail but even to control it.
Thanks to this, hundreds of start-ups have emerged around the world seeking a solution to the problem of overpopulation. From microbial protein production, dairy analogues and natural fertilisers. In all these companies there is a driving technology that is fermentation, a tool that will undoubtedly change the world as we know it today.
What standout accomplishments have your company achieved thus far?
Our greatest achievement to date is having been able to access the second edition of the Spain Foodtech acceleration programme, promoted by Eatable Adventures together with ICEX and CNTA. It is a first-level country programme thanks to which we have access to large corporations in the food industry.
In addition to this, we have recently been selected as finalists in the Fi Insights Startup Innovation Challenge 2023, which will be held at the end of November this year in Frankfurt, Germany.
Have you encountered any challenges when scaling up your start-up, and do you have advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Biotechnology-based companies require a significant investment in specialised spaces and equipment. I would encourage new aspiring entrepreneurs to approach university research groups, which are usually open to collaborations in terms of the transfer of space and equipment.
It is also important to have a solid fundraising strategy since when the available resources are not sufficient to support the growth of the startup, a strong investment in assets will have to be made.
What exciting plans are on the horizon for mmmico’s future?
Shortly, we will begin to test our first products in real environments with large companies from different sectors. We are excited about this opportunity as it will allow us to understand the real needs of the industry and adapt our value proposition accordingly.
We currently work on natural colourants that can be used in sauces, sausages or processed meats, but also as a natural additive in poultry and fish farming. In addition, these dyes have significant antioxidant potential, which could open up new markets such as cosmetics or nutraceuticals.
Is there any additional information you’d like to share with our readers?
I would like to invite readers to reflect on the changing times in which we live. In recent decades we have seen how emerging technologies have completely transformed our world: fermentation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, platform models and robotics, among many others.
These technologies generate change, change generates fear. It is natural, it has occurred throughout the history of human beings. But if we look at this history, the vast majority of technologies that were disruptive in the past came to improve our lives. Think about society before the appearance of the steam engine, electricity, modern medicine and the internet.
Let us therefore embrace the disruptive technologies of the present, as they will be the pillars on which the wellbeing of our descendants rests for the next 100 years.
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