Interview

Alumnus Edgar Suarez Garcia, founder of Revyve: I feel good in this country

Edgar Suarez Garcia came to the Netherlands from Colombia in 2009 to pursue a master’s degree at the TU Eindhoven. After a first job and a PhD in Wageningen, he started his own company with colleague Corjan van den Berg. They have just secured 8 million euros in funding to build a factory that makes food protein out of waste streams.

When did Suarez Garcia decide that he wanted to stay in the Netherlands and become an entrepreneur here? ‘In 2019, I was completing my PhD research in Wageningen at the Bioprocess Technology chair group. I had finished my research and publications and still had some months left, and wondered: what am I going to do in the coming months? Most research leads to publications that end up on a shelf, but I wanted to create some impact.’

‘During my PhD, I sparred almost weekly with my daily supervisor, Corjan van den Berg, about research ideas I had. In these discussions, we mostly killed each other’s ideas in a relaxed atmosphere. But when, at some point, I suggested starting a company with this particular idea, Corjan did not immediately reject it. We then continued talking about our business, the market, and financial aspects. That’s when the idea of becoming an entrepreneur came up.’

Greenhouse

‘I remember well that I discussed the plan with my supervisor, Professor Rene Wijffels. And he said: Go for it. He still had some room left in a greenhouse where he had conducted his research on algae, which I could rent for a symbolic fee. That was a very important offer. I didn’t have anything yet, and I remember well that I spent the entire summer in a hot greenhouse working on the technology to extract proteins.’

003-GA--20190403-FT3A1887-Foto Guy Ackermans-3500px-A4.jpg

‘So, I defended my thesis in 2019, and a day later, I started working on what later became the company Fumi Ingredients with Corjan. Expectations were low from my side. I would put in three months of time and then determine whether it had a chance. I had no money and support, and I thought, well, I might need to go back to Colombia.’

StartLife

‘But after a few months, StartLife came into the picture. They offered the Accelerate program, in which you learn to become an entrepreneur. We started thinking about the market: who would want to buy our product? We had to think about financing: who would want to lend us money? And we had to think about prices and profits. As a researcher, I was mainly working in the lab, so you don’t think about these things.’

‘While we were doing the Accelerate course, we were still in Rene Wijffels’ greenhouse. I managed to get a few grams of protein from yeast from a local brewery, but we had no funding. Luckily, we won a few innovation prizes, in Paris and from the Rabobank, which provided us with a little money. We then visited food companies to ask whether we could use or borrow equipment from them. But that turned out to be too expensive. So, we decided to buy cheap equipment in China to build a small factory, which enabled me to make a few hundred grams of protein.’

Investors

‘After the StartLife course, we managed to find two big investors. Shift Invest and Innovation Industries together invested 500,000 euros in our startup. With that money, we were able to take the next step, to validate and improve our technology. When we were setting up this production process, we encountered a match made in heaven. We met beer brewer AB InBev which produces enormous quantities of brewer’s yeast that our company could process into useful proteins for the food industry. From that moment, InBev also supported us financially, and we had a supplier and were able to scale up to hundreds of kilos of protein.’

‘We produce sustainable proteins for the food industry from spent microbial biomass. Our proteins can replace animal proteins, milk proteins and egg proteins to produce vegan food such as vegan burgers.’

Revyve

‘When we took a step towards commercial production, we had to change the name of our company from Fumi – a name that already existed – to Revyve. At that time, more investors joined. With our latest funding of 8 million euros, we can start a factory. After the summer, this factory will be ready, and we will go commercial. Then we will have revenues for the first time. Revyve now has a team of fifteen people, something we are really proud of.’

‘We had a lot of help; you cannot make it alone. I see the development of the company as a series of cycles in which we were able to take another step with the help of others. An important success factor is that we started our company five years ago at the beginning of the protein transition when there was a demand for vegetable proteins to replace animal products. We were in the first wave of companies that started making such proteins.’

Residence permit

‘Another important thing is that I received very good help from Oost NV, the development company of Eastern Netherlands. This organisation not only invested in our company but also helped me to get a visa. As a foreigner, I needed a residence permit. Oost NV guaranteed that I was a good person and that my company was good for the Dutch economy. Oost NV also indicated that several investors believed in us.’

‘For the time being, I want to stay in the Netherlands. I am committed to the company I set up with Corjan, I have a relationship with Daphne, and I feel good in this country. But you never know what the future brings.’

‘I still have many research questions I want to solve. My interest in biotech and food science remains. As for the company, I see two possible development options in the coming years. Revyve can continue to grow, which means we will build more factories. Or Revyve will be bought by a bigger food company. I’m okay with both options. The most important thing for me is that the technology is applied so that we can contribute to a more sustainable food system.’

Edgar Suarez in short

  • Raised and obtained a BSc in Colombia
  • 2009-2011 MSc at TU Eindhoven
  • 2011-2015 Process Engineer at Bodec
  • 2015-2019 PhD in Bioprocess Engineering at WUR
  • 2019 Founder of Fumi Ingredients
  • 2022 Fumi changed to Revyve.