Soft drink flavour from micro-organism
Fossil fuels such as petroleum are often still used as the basis for developing new products, with a high C02 footprint and unnecessary chemical waste. This can be done differently, better, more sustainable and in a more natural way, the Groningen-based entrepreneur Linda Dijkshoorn explains: ‘By using bacteria for chemical synthesis. These can produce high-quality molecules in an organic way and on an industrial scale.’
Dijkshoorn set up her own company EV Biotech this summer, together with two co-founders. EV Biotech has developed a new production platform to produce high-quality molecules. The young entrepreneurs use computer models and micro-organisms for this purpose.
The principle of synthesis is deceptively simple. Take soft drinks. Soft drinks usually get their colour and flavour from molecules made through chemical synthesis. Suppose you want to add a grapefruit flavour to the soft drink in a sustainable and natural way.
Linda: ‘What we do then is extract the genes from the nucleus of the grapefruit that are responsible for the production process of the typical grapefruit flavour. We then introduce these into the bacteria that triggers the production. The flavour molecule can then be perfectly purified from the bacteria in order to give the grapefruit flavour to the soft drink. Just as the grapefruit itself does.’
A green, sustainable and organic method which offers great market potential. Bacteria synthesis is at the source of making beer, bread or wine. But it is now also used for making sustainable plastics, specific proteins and pharmaceutically active molecules or for developing sugar substitutes.
Besides the physical lab environment where the bacteria are cultivated, EV Biotech offers a digital laboratory in which all gene combinations of micro-organisms can be tested. The digital platform can predict in advance the best gene combinations as well as which combinations won’t work. This predictive value means less experimental work in the laboratory – resulting in less waste, lower costs and a lower CO2 footprint.
Entrepreneurship was already rooted in Linda Dijkshoorn at an early age. While studying molecular cell biology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, she set up a homework guidance institute which enabled her to fund her Master’s degree. She then went on to do her PhD trajectory in synthetic biology. Here she was able to develop her skills that were the first step towards EV Biotech.
She received support from VentureLab North, the incubator for entrepreneurship in the Northern Netherlands headed by Prof. Aard Groen from the University of Groningen. VentureLab North offers a breeding ground for new knowledge and contacts, and initiates potential collaborations between students, the business sector and the government. ‘The team at VentureLab North can help you with everything in and around a company. I’ve especially benefited from the network. If you have specific questions, they’ll look for specific knowledge for you. VentureLab North forms the basis of where I’m standing as a CEO today,’ says Linda paying tribute to Aard Groen and his team.
The Groningen-based investment funds Carduso Capital, UMCG-Hanzepoort and the RUG Houdstermaatschappij have recently provided EV Biotech with capital so that it can set to work for 2 years. The investment gives EV Biotech the opportunity to prove the effectiveness of its new production platform. A special moment, for the young CEO: ‘The will to invest in an early-stage technology gives me and our team a very proud and warm feeling.’
Knowledge within walking distance
EV Biotech is starting with a 6-strong team of academics, but in time the Groningen-based company will offer every opportunity for research and internships, also for students in higher professional education. As of 1st January 2019, EV Biotech will move in with InnoLab AgriFood, in the heart of Zernike Campus. A place where the Groningen-based biotech company will feel like a focal point, states the entrepreneur: ‘Zernike Campus offers the best state-of-the-art facilities for fundamental and applied research and offers knowledge and human capital within walking distance. The secret of successful entrepreneurship always starts with networking and meeting each other.’
As CEO, Linda herself recently conducted her first networking conversation with an international chemical giant on behalf of EV Biotech. Linda: ‘They are interested in the production lines we are developing. During the pitch, I noticed that they enjoy doing business with a company like EV Biotech. We might not be quite as experienced, but we are seen as young, creative and full of dynamic. And you feel that: the future is ours.’