José Ignacio Velasco y Farayde Matta are the founders of Bio2coat, a startup that develops and produces edible food coatings, made entirely from natural sources, which are applied to preserve and extend the shelf life of food. It is a colorless, fragrance-free, flavorless thin coating that can be consumed together with the food product without any impact on its sensory characteristics.
Velasco and Matta met each other in 2011 on a visit Farayde made to José at the Polytechnic University of Catalunya. “We identified synergies between our research lines and a common willingness to collaborate on the development of technologies to reduce food waste. For the initial few years we worked on common projects through remote collaboration (Professor Jose Velasco in Spain, me in Brazil). Then, in 2016 I moved to Spain and we began to investigate more deeply the topic of edible films and coatings for food packaging”, tells Farayde.
In 2017, they received funding from the Marie Curie Grant (EU Horizon 2020), in a TecnioSpring Plus project on this topic. After that, they were on the BTTG Barcelona Technology Transfer Group (IESE Business Scholl) and Santander International Entrepreneurship Center (CISE). In May 2020, they joined the EIT Food community. They were one of the finalist of the 2020 SeedBed Bilbao. The goal of this program is to attract innovative ideas or projects that will enable the advancement and generation of new talent within the agrifood sector.
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What did it mean to be chosen for SeedBed?
We know that EIT Food is Europe’s leading food innovation initiative, working to make the food system more sustainable, healthy, and trustworthy; and with the mission of building an inclusive and innovative community where the consumer is actively involved. Being chosen to be part of this community, not only gave us a great opportunity for growth but also filled us with motivation. It also shows us that we are launching a product that collaborates with the mission of the EIT, which we respect a lot.
How did it impact you?
First of all, we were very positively impacted by the solid education and training programs offered by the SeedBed Programme. Individually and as a team. The coaches, mentors are extremely capable and experienced in their fields and definitely expanded our understanding of what is needed to be a successful Start-Up on top of a winning technology and portfolio.
The SeedBed Programme, in addition to introduce us to the first potential customers, which we are very thankful for, also gave us a much better understanding of the needs and desires of potential customers and final consumers allowing for a more customer-centric approach on the definition and development of our value chain.
Would you recommend other projects to apply to the call? Why?
Definitely. We recommend the Seedbed Pre-Accelerator because the programme can provide all the relevant resources that a Start-Up needs to launch successfully. EIT Seedbed also promotes contact and interaction between startups and specialists in the agrifood market to help us structure it as a company in this sector. In addition, it provides guidance from agrifood experts who know how the business operates and can help find the right customers who share the same values. Finally, this journey can even provide a pilot test, which in our view is the best way to refine products and processes to add value to customers. In addition to all this, the EIT team is very welcoming. It was and is really a pleasure to be able to count on EIT Food.
How important is it to have professional support at such an early stage of the enterprise?
It is extremely important. José Velasco and I came from the academic world. We had had some training, but this professional support was essential to understand our business model, our value proposition and the step by step process needed to go from lab to industrial scale. Being in constant contact with mentors and the EIT community makes us grow every day, understand our weaknesses, correct them and see where we want to go and the steps to get there.
How are your edible food coatings made?
Our films and edible coatings are made with raw materials from the foods themselves.
Raw materials can be extracted from fruits, vegetables, roots and cereals. It is also possible to extract these materials from fresh cut food residues or leftovers.
Why does it improve food quality?
When applied directly to the food surface, our coating creates a semi-permeable barrier that controls respiration rate and reduce mass loss of in food, leading to extended shelf-life. These edible coatings preserve the product for longer periods through reduction of mass transfer (i.e. gas, vapors, lipids, etc.). They do not lead to any residues and they do not cause any negative effect on the environment which makes for a fully sustainable technology. Also, Bio2Coat coating improve the visual aspect, avoid fungi attack and preserves the nutritional value for consumers due to slower deterioration of fruit components.
Our product may be combined with compounds as well as to produce functional edible packaging for food, either processed or not.
How could the total elimination of plastic be achieved in this way?
Our coating can reduce any plastic used as interface material (directly on the fruit or used on tray-packs) on the packaging of fruits, vegetables, and roots. Plastic material used for those applications can be reduced significantly upon use of Bio2Coat technology (coating and film).
Where are you in the project today?
The Start-Up was officially launched on January, 2021.
Our products have been validated extensively at lab scale.
Major fruit and vegetable producers in Spain have been contacted and a partnership has been established for field trials, planned to start in April 2021
Companies that trade with and export fruits from Spain have been contacted as well and are very excited about the opportunity.
Our website will be live on April.
The technical project for the pilot plant is ready. Quotation and business case is on-going.
Location that will house the pilot plant has been defined. We are now negotiating a rental contract with the owner of the space.
We are scouting for potential investors to be able to move to pilot phase validation.
How has the pandemic affected your development?
Bio2Coat was launched during the pandemic situation. The pandemic restricted territorial mobility and this affected our visit to customers, especially those not located in Catalunya. This led to a delay in our pilot tests. Other activities that required mobility, such as the search for physical space for the installation of our pilot plant, were also compromised. We took the opportunity of the extra time to fine tune business case and trial plans (field, pilot), to have mentoring sessions, to further design and launch our website and to have virtual pitch sessions with potential customers (e.g. PepsiCo). On the other hand, all the mobility restrictions and health measures taken (and still in place) also made us reflect on and fine tune our business model and revisit the portfolio of products we are developing to understand how those would fit in a scenario like this (e.g. with the pandemic, consumers reduced the number of visits to markets and supermarkets, which favors the buying and storage of products with longer shelf-life, which happens to be one of the top benefits or our product, Bio2Coat.
Do you see more awareness and interest in initiatives like yours? Is there a real desire to support the environment?
Yes. We contribute to reducing food waste and reducing the use of plastic. And we believed that all initiatives that emerge in this direction will be beneficial to the community and to the environment. Today the reality is that 33% of all food produced globally is lost or wasted every year, being 45% of root crops, fruits and vegetables. The 25% of the food wasted globally could feed 795 million undernourished people in the world. This is a reality that we have, and it is our duty and mission to change this. We believe that today there is a greater consumer awareness regarding food waste, and all the harm that this entails, including the impact on global warming.
In this sense, who are your clients? What are the advantages of working with you?
At this time our customers are producers, exporters, and distributors of fruits (especially berries) and also customers that operate in the fresh cut products.
Our product extends the shelf life of food in a natural way, without changing their organoleptic characteristics. In addition, our formula can be adjusted to produce different solutions: rigid packaging material, biodegradable plastic films, edible coatings with multiple applications: reduction of food waste, reduction of plastic use, reduction of fat in snacks.
The coatings we produce are based on a completely natural formulation, without additives, preservatives, and stabilizers. And without other material based on no renewable sources. They also have embedded antifungal action without addition of fungicides. Our coating is water base, has no taste, flavor, aroma and color, and can be consumed with the fruit.
Where are you in terms of financing? What model have you chosen for your growth?
For the time being we have had financial support from EIT Food (Seedbed and EIT Farms). We are preparing to participate in our first investment round.
Our product is aimed at the B2B market, with our clients being agricultural associations, fruit distributors and fruit exporters, also food processors (in the case of edible films). We do not expect to sell directly to individual farmers initially, unless they are able to apply the coating in their own premises. Although we believe there is commercial viability for a B2C product, we will not pursue it initially.
What objectives and goals do you have for 2021?
Our main objectives for 2021 are:
Engage the right investors and establish partnerships and contracts
Build, commission, and start-up our pilot plant
Produce minimum viable samples of our products and share with selected potential customers for testing
Run application trials at larger scales towards continuous improvement of our offerings to the B2B market
Start the registration and certification of our products in priority markets
And for the more distant future? What does Bio2coat want to be?
Bio2Coat wants to be a driving force and a game changer on the global initiative to reduce plastics coming from non-renewable sources and to eliminate single-use plastics. We also want to leverage the principles of circular economy and disruptive innovation to be at the forefront of the fight against food waste, especially in markets where famine and starvation are still a reality.