The fundraise, led by European life sciences venture capital firm Safoinnova Partners with contribution from baked goods giant Bimbo Group and the agtech startup accelerator ICL Planet, also will help Protera hire computational biology and artificial intelligence experts to strengthen its platform of deep learning algorithms that calculates in seconds millions of amino acid combinations and protein patterns to serve as the foundation for identifying and creating earth-friendly ingredients.
By building out the capabilities of its proprietary madi Natural Intelligence platform, Protera hopes to work with key food and beverage manufacturers and industry players to create at “unprecedented speed” high-value protein products and enzymes that are heathier for people and the planet.
“We started with the vision of bringing newer technologies – specifically artificial intelligence – to improve and accelerate prediction of protein functionalities and different features of proteins” that could be more sustainably produced through fermentation and replace existing ingredients that consumers don’t want and which are taking an outsized toll on the planet, said CEO and co-founder of Protera Leonardo Álvarez.
He explained that by using Protera’s madi Natural Intelligence technology, the company can predict multiple features of proteins – including structure, amino acid sequences, emulsification properties and different activities, such as pH sensibility, thermal stability and more. It can also predict how to produce desirable proteins in microorganisms at scale in a commercially viable way through fermentation – ultimately creating clean-label non-animal ingredients that consumers increasingly want.
The technology also is “really fast and highly accurate,” so it is possible to take an idea from concept to validated in the lab in only three months, Álvarez added.
Protera guard offers enhanced, natural shelf stability
After working with food companies to identify ingredient pain points, Protera leveraged madi to create protera guard – a clean-label, thermostable natural protein that extends shelf life by offering an anti-mold effect without requiring acidic environments and without impacting organoleptic properties.
Álvarez explained that the ingredient is ideal for bakery applications and can replace chemical additives, like calcium carbonate.
“The beauty of the product is that it can replace multiple key ingredients at the same time so you decrease the number of additives on the label, which the consumer is looking for, and it also provides better performance than the chemical additives,” he said.
The current fundraise will help scale production of protera guard with a goal of bringing it to the US and Latin American market in 2023 and Europe in 2025.
Álvarez said the company currently has 14 plants with 200-liter fermenters. “The next milestone is to increase that to 2,000 liters to produce quantities to start working on pilot programs,” he said.
Protera’s second ingredient – protera sense – is not as far along in the development cycle because it requires a more complicated enzymatic reaction that doesn’t exist in nature, but its potential applications are broad.
“The target application is to transform liquid vegetable oil into spreadable or solid digital spreads,” but without harsh conditions, high temperatures or the production of trans fats, Álvarez said.
“The interesting part is that by doing that, by being able to transform low-value vegetables into high-value products, like taking soybean or canola oil, for example, is it’s very cheap and it could compete in applications with cocoa butter,” or palm, the production of which can negatively impact the planet, he said.
‘These two partners massively will fill the gap’ between design and commercialization
In addition the accessing capital, the most recent fundraise also gives Protera access to expertise from Bimbo Group and LCL, Álvarez said.
He explained that Protera has worked with Bimbo Group since 2017 to develop Protera Sense, which has diverse bakery applications, and a closer relationship will help the startup better understand industry needs during the innovation phase before scaling.
LCL brings production and distribution expertise and connections to contract manufacturing organizations, “which is a big part of what we are doing,” Álvarez said, adding “these two partners massively will fill the gap between designing incredible proteins, incredible functions to commercializing consumer facing products.”
While the ink is still wet on this week’s announcement, Álvarez noted Protera already is raising its next fundraise and it is looking for more industry players with which to collaborate on the creation and development of clean-labels, sustainable, protein-based ingredients.
“We are really interested in exploring different applications for the products we are already developing,” and learning what else the industry needs, “because there really are a lot of potential users,” Álvarez said. “So, we are always happy to connect and learn more about other potential applications.”