AtlasInvest Entrepreneurship Grant takes sustainable businesses to the next level

January 27, 2023

Start-ups that win an AtlasInvest Entrepreneurship Grant can use the money to set up their own lab or expand their business, for example. For many start-ups, the Grant is the extra push they need to take their business to the next level. “When we started Greencovery, we were using university labs all over the country. Now we have our own lab in Wageningen.”

The University Fund Wageningen is awarding the AtlasInvest Entrepreneurship Grant for the fourth time this year. The Grant is awarded to sustainable start-ups with a commercially promising or socially impactful idea. There are two prizes to be won: the Start-Up Award and the Impact Award. On 10 February, this year’s finalists will pitch their start-up to a panel of experts and businesses in the hope of winning one of the Awards.

Do you want to attend the AtlasInvest Entrepreneurship Grant finals? Registration is still open.

Time for reflection

Urban Funghi won the 2022 Impact Award with a pitch involving mushroom cultivation on organic straw in abandoned buildings, a smart way to put unused space and the unique properties of mushrooms to good use. Alessia Capurso, founder of the start-up, recalls the workshop that each team followed on the day of the finals. “It was about what makes a good pitch. If you want to start a business, you will regularly have to pitch it. You have to learn how to get your message across clearly and simply,” she says. But more importantly, the competition was an opportunity to reflect on how the business was going. “I was basically working non-stop at the time. All of a sudden, I had time to pause and consider in which direction I wanted to develop Urban Funghi.”

In the meantime, Urban Funghi has moved to a new location and Capurso is keeping busy. “I am still looking into a major investment I want to make with the Grant money. We need to purchase suitable sterilisation equipment before we can use new substrates to grow mushrooms,” she continues. Urban Funghi wants to expand its product range to include a growing kit that anyone can use to grow mushrooms at home. The business also wants to expand their range beyond the current three varieties of oyster mushroom. “Since we received the Grant, we’ve started growing shiitakes. We are also testing lion’s mane mushroom and I want to grow at least one other species.”

From four to eight employees

Greencovery has developed and patented a separation technology that allows valuable ingredients to be filtered from waste streams. The start-up entered the first Entrepreneurship Grant competition in 2020 and won the €35,000 Start-Up Award. “We were with the four of us back then. We rented lab space from various universities. We now employ eight people at Greencovery and have our own lab at the Wageningen Business Park,” says Carlos Cabrera, one of the start-up’s founders. Thanks to the Grant, Greencovery was able to move into a laboratory of its own.

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Cabrera remembers well how the discussions during the competition opened up new perspectives. “We talked about venture capital with the jury panel. That taught us a lot about what investors are looking for,” he says. Greencovery recently raised another €500,000 and obtained its second patent. “The next step is to build a multi-purpose facility where we will not only test waste streams, but also produce large quantities of samples of the ingredients our technology makes available. A partner company will find uses for these.”

Fast and accurate diagnoses

Scope Biosciences won the Start-Up Award in 2021. Their pitch was that CRISPR-Cas can be used not only to modify DNA, but also to make diagnoses. “American research had revealed this was possible. So we approached John van der Oost and asked him to join us,” says Niek Savelkoul, founder of the start-up. John van der Oost is a researcher at Wageningen University & Research (WUR) specialised in the innovative CRISPR-Cas technology. “In the field of diagnosis they are always looking for innovations,” he adds. The company that Savelkoul and his partner established to develop that innovation became an official WUR spin-off.

“The Grant gave us the room we needed to prepare our next step,” Savelkoul says. Scope Biosciences has since made many such strides. “From a platform technology with no fixed application, we switched to an agri-food application.” On route to these applications, the start-up gradually discovered where the interest lay in the field of diagnostics. The business now offers diagnostic solutions that growers can use themselves in the field or greenhouse. They can test crops for diseases using a small kit. “We have also been working with GenDx since October to make diagnoses for organ transplants faster and more accurate. Transplantations are an area where our technology, with its speed and precision, can really come into its own.”

The AtlasInvest Entrepreneurship Grant is a collaboration between the company AtlasInvest, University Fund Wageningen and StartHub Wageningen.