Unlocking the potential of animal-free proteins
Start-up is scaling up thanks to Bioenterprise Canada
By Lilian Schaer for Bioenterprise Canada
A passion for turning waste into useful products helped inspire Ontario entrepreneur Fei Luo to launch a precision fermentation start-up while on maternity leave.
“Liven Proteins is an early-stage start-up that produces sustainable, animal-free functional protein ingredients to help plant-based food achieve its full potential,” explains Fei, who holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Toronto. “We transform lost food in the agriculture and food value chain into premium protein ingredients to enable a circular economy.”
Thanks to a friend with a distillery, Fei and her husband started their entrepreneurial journey by trying to use spent grain to create food products. They soon realized, however, that their true strength lay in using precision fermentation to convert food industry by-products into animal-free ingredients for the food manufacturing industry.
Specifically, Liven Proteins works with the pulse industry to transform waste pea starch into gelatin using fermentation.
“About a quarter of the pea is protein that is in high demand, and 50% is starch that is treated as side stream,” she says. “A lot of plant-based companies want to emulate animal products to have the same taste and texture, but a regular plant-based protein can’t achieve this. So, they are interested in using our gelatin in chicken and other meat alternatives, for example.”
Liven Protein’s limitation to date has been scale – and that’s where an introduction to the national Bioenterprise Canada network has been an invaluable help.
Fei met Bioenterprise Advisor Paul Richards while she was looking at scale-up opportunities at the Verschuren Centre, a research and development center in Cape Breton. Richards is also the sector lead for agri-technology at the Nova Scotia-based venture capital firm Innovacorp.
Richard introduced her to other Bioenterprise Canada team members, who she says have provided critical networking and business support, and information about funding opportunities.
Last October, for example, Liven Protein was selected as a participant in the GreenShoots program, which came with a $40,000 grant and business guidance from experienced professionals. And in November, the company was chosen to be one of 17 start-ups for the Big Idea Ventures’ food technology accelerator in New York.
“GreenShoots has helped us move forward and hire someone to help us with development work as well as start our scale-up at Verschuren Centre,” says Fei. “And all of the knowledge shared by Bioenterprise and the experts that they’ve introduced us to has been great to help us generate more leads in the food industry and get a better understanding of what that market is looking for.”
As Canada’s Food & Agri-Tech Engine, Bioenterprise brings more than 15 years of industry experience and a national and international network of research institutions, academia, mentors and experts, funders and investors, government, and industry partners to help small and medium-sized businesses in the agri-food sector nationwide connect, innovate, and grow.
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