Co-Founder, Steve George, and Investor Lead, Rebecca Bradley, share how Terra Bio is shrinking the supply chain and closing the loop on a circular economy with Protina, a 100% vegan protein made from brewers’ spent grain. The byproducts of their ground breaking process provides sugars for fermentation applications. The Terra Bio and Smallfood collaboration, ProFillet, is now a semi finalist with XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion.
Nicole Astra: Welcome to Talking Plant Protein. My guest today is Terra Bio, a new company who is constantly rethinking and shrinking the supply chain. Please welcome their co-founder and CEO, Steve George, and Rebecca Bradley, outreach and investor lead. Let's start with you, Rebecca. Tell me a little bit about the start of the company and your vision of saving the world.
Rebecca Bradley: Of course. So Terra Bio, we started our journey in the food industry in 2019, but before that Steve and the other co-founder Ricardo were working on this idea to create bio-plastics. But we shifted into foods in 2019 because we can make a bigger impact that way, and they had a technology that was ready for the food industry. So the whole idea is that we want to try and close the loop on a circular economy. That means utilizing things that we already have in the system, and that we're not using resources that are limited. And for us, we built a model that uses brewer spent grain.
This is typically treated as a waste product, even though it's a food grade ingredient. And typically the best thing that they do with it at the moment is dumping it as animal feed. So instead we use these food grade grains in our bio fractionation process, a patented process that helps us isolate plant based protein, as well as a sugar byproduct. And that sugar byproduct, we don't waste. We actually cycle it back into our food system to our other co-producers in fermentations that they can use it as a carbohydrate source.
Nicole Astra: And as we know, fermentation right now is being utilized by our industry in endless applications, so from start to finish, you really are shrinking that supply chain. So Steve, can you talk to me a little bit more about that?
Steve George: Absolutely. It starts all starts from the nature of the raw material, the spent grain itself. Recently, I did a search on how much spent grain is out in the world and where it's produced, and I realized that beer making... Beer is made in 209 countries in 19,000 breweries all over the world, and essentially on every continent except Antarctica, though I'm sure there's some brewing going on that as well. So we have this amazing material that has so much potential that's underutilized right now, and then we take it and put it through our process. And the process essentially is made from the ground up to use widely available raw materials, widely available process equipment. So what that means is that the process is rapidly scalable across multiple geographies. There is a very low boundary to scaling this process.
So what all that means is that when we realize our vision in its entirety, there will be a very short supply chain all the way from the raw material to our final consumer. Now, like Rebecca said, there's another aspect to what we're doing as well. We want to integrate into the whole sustainable ecosystem. We don't operate in isolation by any means. So right now what we're doing is we're talking to other companies in several parts of the world as to how our products can feed into their processes. So this ranges all the way from meat replacement companies, who essentially will take our protein and put it into their their future burger patty or whatever it is, all the way to our sugars are in fermentation processes, which, like you said, has so much potential to produce value added products, foods, chemicals, pharmaceuticals. It's quite a large range.
Nicole Astra: And the product we're talking about is Protina, correct?
Steve George: That's right. That is our first product that we're bringing to commercialization. Where we're at right now is we're scaling up the protein production process as we hope to get into commercial manufacturing quite soon.
Nicole Astra: So there are a lot of protein products out there. The plant based market is expanding rapidly. Let me just ask you, Rebecca, what makes Terra bio different?
Rebecca Bradley: Yeah, the industry is huge and we've got a lot of people already occupying the industry, but it's a high demand. So we wanted to make sure that we had a business model that was easily integratable into that existing system. So we have a plug and play business model that can be retrofitted into the breweries that supply our spent grain, or it can be in the food manufacturing facilities that buy Protina. And we even have that co-production model that Steve was mentioning where we can pump the sugars that are already dissolved in the water directly into their fermentation tanks.
So our business model is very plug and play. And then our protein itself is a grain-based protein. So unlike pea and soy, grain-based proteins have that unique texture that improves that mouth feel. It also has a more mild flavor, so it's very chef friendly, if you will. Finally, our sustainable mindset really feeds into each step of our business model, and we want to make more products with our bio fractionation process that also start with that zero waste origin story. So the real Terra difference is we have a market ready model, we have chef friendly products, and it comes with a great sustainability story.
Nicole Astra: In addition to funding, which I know all startups face as a challenge, what were some of the challenges that you faced, Steve? What advice can you give to all of those hopefuls wanting to gain traction in this industry?
Steve George: So when we first came into this industry, we're obviously very naive. So the first thing that we did, we started some work with university, a college, actually. And that was very good because what we did is we reached out to our industry reps. So in Canada there's a program, an industrial assistantship program. So we reached out through them to a college. So we were lucky in that respect. But then what we... So we muddled along for some time, And then we were fortunate enough to get into an incubator. And that actually changed our outlook. It was very challenging, to be absolutely honest, because they told us, "While your technology is okay, it's good. Your business model itself is not." So they really challenged us to grow as a business.
So I think the first thing I would suggest to companies coming into the field is find an established mentor who will then take you into setting up a sustainable business model in and of itself. And in addition to that, funding is always a challenge. finding the right sort of technical expertise, the right sort of contract manufacturing agencies, all these things are challenges. And really the only way we've been able to solve them is by talking to people, talking to people who are experienced in the industry, talking to other startups, talking to incubators who are experienced in taking startups through these initial stages of growth. So that's, I think, our two main challenges.
Nicole Astra: That's great advice. Rebecca, what's next for Terra Bio?
Rebecca Bradley: Well, we're market ready. We're ready to go, we're ready to start scaling up, and we're ready to start getting our samples and our products out there to our vendors. So partnerships and key investors are really what we're after at the moment. We've already started conversations with some manufacturing partners, and we're really starting to lock down some of those key relationships that we need, but we want to go further. So we're keeping that door open because this model can fit into many aspects of the industry. It doesn't just have to be meat alternatives. We've even been exploring bakery options and more beyond that. I think while we do this, though, we want to continue to push ourselves by participating in innovation competitions. In fact, we've even entered X Prize Feed the Next Billion, which is a huge competition, and we've been backed by a Canadian company, District 3, for our registration.
So we're working with another company here in Canada, an algae producer, so that we can co-produce, as we've mentioned. They can use our sugars to grow their algae, and then our Protina product and their algae protein can be combined together, that we then provide to our chef on our team and our nutritionist on our team so that they can create a fish filet analog. Because ultimately we need fish analogs out in the world. There's a global demand for fish analogs as fish supply dwindles, and food is culture, so we want to maintain that culture around the world. Those that are really dependent on fish. So we want to create a model that they can also use locally. All they need is a brewery, they can start production locally, they can feed themselves and feed the economy. And while we're doing that, it's really helping us polish up that business model that Steve is mentioning, making us more and more market ready. And we're just ready to start those conversations with investors while we continue to put that competition money back into our R&D
Nicole Astra: Well, we wish you all the best at X Prize, and we will be looking forward to that announcement soon.
Rebecca Bradley: Thank you.
Nicole Astra: When you win that competition, come on back and tell us how you plan to feed the next billion.
Rebecca Bradley: Of course.
Nicole Astra: Thanks for joining us on Talking Plant Protein.
Rebecca Bradley: Thank you.
Steve George: Thank you very much.