Greencovery: Start-up to recover useful products from waste streams

Published on
January 31, 2020

In this series on the website Wageningen Campus, we speak to start-ups, companies, and inhabitants of the campus about their activities and why they choose to work on Wageningen Campus. One-and-half-years ago (May 2018), Carlos Cabrera, founder of Greencovery, started his business in separating valuable products from waste streams in the food industry. “We provide the technology with which our customers can valorise their waste streams. These solutions are specifically designed and can help them to convert a part of their waste into interesting, sustainable products. With Greencovery I experience a lot of support from the ecosystem on Wageningen Campus.”

What is the core business of Greencovery?

Greencovery is a combination of the words green and recovery. We help our customers recover value from their streams, which originate during their production process. Our focus is to recover organic acids and amino acids out of these streams and make flavours, fragrances and food supplements out of them.

Our customers are mostly big food-production companies. We quantify together the opportunity of valorising their streams and apply our technology to do it. By doing this, they have less waste, more valuable compounds and they get extra revenues. One customer referred to us as green discovery, because we discover new ingredients for him. This is basically the essence of our work.

After research of our market we decided at the beginning to focus on big companies because they have more pain; they have a lot of waste often in one location. Sometimes they cannot expand because of their waste generation. So, they have a big urgency to adjust their production process.

How did you start the company?

I studied Chemical Engineering in Costa Rica, came to Wageningen for an MSc in Biotechnology, I worked in the chemical industry in Rotterdam, went for a PhD in Bioprocess Engineering in Delft, and eventually, I returned to Wageningen as a Postdoc at the Biobased Chemistry and Technology (BCT) group. Here, I was lucky to have a supervisor who stimulated me to do part-time research and start a company in part-time. Now I’m still helping in education in this group. I discovered that I like teaching and I can help other students to contact StartLife to start their own company.

StartLife helped me out; writing a business model, researching which market to start, finding out who my customers are and what their main issues are and how we can be valuable to them.

How many, and what kind of, people work for you?

Now, we are four persons at Greencovery; two founders and two employees. I started the company by myself but was advised by StartLife to look for a partner with marketing and business-related skills. So now I ‘m the technical director and my partner is the commercial director.

At this moment we have two big customers and are talking to others. We hope to expand this year with two more employees and two interns.

During my Masters and as a Postdoc I was introduced to the WUR ecosystem with the Incubator, StartLife and StartHub. I got a lot of support from them. They helped me to open relevant doors. I was able to get in contact with companies via the network of WUR. That helped me a lot. I believe in this type of ecosystem. In Delft, they have something similar; Biotech campus, but with a slightly different focus. Wageningen Campus is food-related and has a matching network. Companies like Friesland Campina and Unilever are already here, which helps a lot. Here, there are many options to be introduced into the food network.

Do you use facilities on campus?

Greencovery is using lab facilities and instruments here at Wageningen Campus. We are running pilot projects with Food & Biobased Research and explorative projects with BCT. We also have a set-up in Delft, where we rent lab space.

Are there still things that you miss on campus?

I think is it’s a shortcoming that we, as start-ups, have no possibility to rent lab space on Wageningen Campus. To rent an office is no problem. When you have a collaboration with the university or one of the research institutes, you can carry out research in their labs. But there is no option to rent a lab or to build your own lab. I noticed this is a problem for other start-ups too. Maybe we should come together to brainstorm on this subject and make a joint request to build a special start-up lab.

How do you see the future of the company?

This year Greencovery hopes to get five times more customers than the last year. Now we go to search for new customers. Within three or four years we hope that customers come to us for solutions to apply to their waste streams and to implement our solutions in other countries.

How do you see the future on campus?

At this moment we have planned to stay on Wageningen Campus. We like the ecosystem. So far it works for us. We can collaborate with the university and the research institutes to explore more technologies to recover valuable products from waste streams. Hopefully, in the future, we have our own lab space at Wageningen campus.