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Biotech eniferBio picks up €11M for brewing a protein revolution

enifer founders
Picture credits: Enifer

The world faces the seemingly insurmountable challenge of doubling the protein supply by 2050 to answer the demand from a larger and wealthier global population. There is an equal focus on decreasing CO2 emissions from the food value chain. The production of traditional animal- and plant-based proteins cannot be doubled to meet this demand and there is an urgent for novel and innovative sources of protein.

The biotech startup eniferBio founded by five scientists – Anssi Rantasalo, Heikki Keskitalo, Joosu Kuivanen, Simo Ellilä, and Ville Pihlajaniemi in 2020 is a spin-off company from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

Plans to scale up production

In a recent development, the Finnish biotech eniferBio picked up an €11 million Series A funding in a round led by the Dutch global aquaculture investment fund Aqua-Spark along with Tesi, a Finnish Industry Investment that backed female-led edtech Kide Science and Valio. Also, Voima Ventures and Nordic Foodtech VC joined the round.

The main aim of eniferBio is to scale up the production of its PEKILO mycoprotein powder to thousands of tons per year and seek Novel Food approval from the EU and other markets. Currently, it operates a small pilot line producing 5 kilos a day and it is designing a factory that would produce 10 times more. Another key aim is to file for food approval of its protein, which is already approved for use in animal nutrition in the EU.

eniferBio is ready to scale up its operations by building industrial production plants and applying for permission to spread mycoprotein usage into new products and markets.

Currently, the biotech startup has a team of 10 comprising 3 women and 3 nationalities. It aims to grow its team to 20 by the end of this year.

“We are extremely excited to have our new investors Aqua-Spark, Tesi, and Valio join us on our mission to feed the world with sustainable protein. Together they put a huge amount of new sector-specific know-how and networks at our disposal. We’re also glad to see our long-term backers Nordic Foodtech VC and Voima Ventures double down on their bets and show their continued support for our vision,” said CEO and co-founder of eniferBio Simo Ellilä.

“We are very excited to work with eniferBio to scale PEKILO as a positive ingredient in the sustainable aquaculture feed of the future,” said Lissy Smit, CEO of Aqua-Spark. “Greening aquaculture feed by eliminating our reliance on wild ingredients and reducing our footprint is one of our biggest priorities in getting to a more sustainable aquaculture industry. EniferBio’s alternative feed ingredient serves as a replacement for soy in aquafeed.”

“eniferBio is a cutting-edge research company that has developed new ways of utilising the food industry’s side streams in the production of protein. We want to strengthen our cooperation and be involved in developing new ways of producing food to meet the growing global demand for food,” said Tuomas Salusjärvi, Executive Vice President, Growth Businesses and R&D at Valio.

”Production of alternative protein sources has been estimated to have the best positive climate impact in relation to the invested capital. The company is on the forefront of local foodtech startups, and it possesses a verified technology, which the team has managed to commercialise. The company is a fine addition to Tesi’s portfolio regarding sustainable food production,” commented Jan-Patrick Haikkola, Investment Manager at Tesi.

When was the startup founded?

One of the co-founders of eniferBio, Simo is a biotech scientist turned entrepreneur, working to use bioprocessing to make our food chain better, smarter and greener. He witnessed how poorly many agricultural processes utilise their byproducts. While working in the sugarcane industry, he noticed that the side streams from sugar and alcohol production were simply being pumped into the fields to rot. He then bumped into an intriguing piece of industrial history – the PEKILO process. This unique solution used fungi to process byproduct streams from the pulp industry into feed protein. Then, he joined with other scientists and founded eniferBio in a garage in 2020.

The aim was to dust off the art of making PEKILO fungal protein, tweak the process with the latest bioprocess gadgetry and then use it to make sustainable protein to feed the world.

eniferBio is unique from rivals in the sector as it looks at fungi as a biorefining tool. It excels at using them to convert different types of byproduct streams into feed and food-grade protein ingredients. It aims to sell dry ingredients to existing feed and food companies to complement existing proteins like soy or pea proteins.

PEKILO: All you need to know

PEKILO is a fungus that can produce a dried powder rich in protein through a special fermentation process. It has a vast variety of usage cases, such as pet food and aquafeed. The process was originally developed by forestry industry scientists in the 1960s in Finland to produce cost-efficient animal feed protein from side streams of the pulp and paper industry.

Using the same and enhanced proprietary technology and fermentation process, eniferBio can upcycle by-products from diverse agri-, food- and forest industry processes into its PEKILO mycoprotein. It consists of up to 70% protein, 20–30% of good-quality fiber, about 10% of fats and minerals, and has a high concentration of vitamin B. The production process is efficient, uses very little water, does not require large land areas, and does not cause eutrophication like traditional agriculture.

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