Insect proteins can significantly reduce the environmental load of animal feed, pet food and cosmetics industries. A new spinoff startup from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Volare, aims to do just this. Volare uses food production side streams, such as non-edible parts of grains, to produce high-quality proteins and oils in order to replace other animal proteins, soy and palm oil. To start off, the company received EUR 0.7 million in funding from Maki.vc. It is the largest investment to a company in the insect sector in Finland. VTT invests technology into the company.
“Our goal is to radically reduce the environmental load of the food chain. A positive impact can be achieved on an industrial scale. Our production makes use of upcycling, which is circular economy at its purest. The value of the upcycled material grows without any waste,” says Volare co-founder, CTO Matti Tähtinen.
Resource scarcity is challenging companies to find new alternatives in food production, and insect proteins are one solution. It has been reported that the global insect market is growing by about 27% annually, and its total value is estimated to be EUR 6 billion a year by 2027. Farming insects has become an industrial sector, and insect proteins are taking up space from meat-based raw materials, especially in the animal feed and pet food industries.
Insect proteins are an ecological alternative as a raw material. In commercial fish feed, they can replace materials, such as soy protein, a source of significant adverse environmental impacts. In pet food, insect proteins can replace animal proteins that require excessive amounts of water, land and energy to manufacture.
The Volare team has developed a unique method at VTT of producing high-quality proteins and oils from the side streams of the food industry, such as non-edible parts of grains. The method is used to efficiently grow black soldier flies on a commercial scale. The technological solution includes growing the insects and processing them into an industry-compatible end product. The environmental load caused by this production is negligible compared to traditional alternatives.
Commercial-scale plant construction is scheduled to start in 2023
Volare’s solution has attracted interest among commercial fish feed and pet food manufacturers. The company already has a pilot plant up and running and is aiming for rapid growth. The company’s goal is to start the construction of a commercial scale production plant in 2023 and to subsequently build several plants in Europe every year. For example, one commercial establishment can feed 4.75 million salmon per year.
“Fish feed is produced in enormous plants, and matching one customer’s production volume requires significant investments. We are now starting to establish these partnerships,” says Volare co-founder, CEO Tuure Parviainen.
Maki.vc as an equity investor
The groundwork for commercialising Volare technology was done at VTT LaunchPad business incubator where they received support for setting up a team and clarifying their vision. It has been important to have an encouraging atmosphere and positive support for a new type of idea, say the entrepreneurs. Other teams have also provided motivation and peer support.
“I am very proud of the excellent and ambitious attitude of Volare and its founders, Matti Tähtinen and Tuure Parviainen, and their plans to build a company with a sustainable and economically strong foundation. Volare’s technology and the opportunities it offers are an excellent example of how VTT provides a platform to tackle major global challenges and create exponential hope,” says Lotta Partanen, manager of the VTT LaunchPad incubator.
In the beginning of 2021, the company was in investment negotiations that resulted in financing from Maki.vc.
“At Maki.vc, we invest in early-stage deep technology solutions where we see commercial potential. Volare has it in spades: they can turn waste streams into valuable proteins without straining the environment, and their team is an excellent combination of research and customer expertise,” says Paavo Räisänen, Investment Director at Maki.vc.
In addition to the founders, Jarna Hyvönen, who is experienced in leading circular economy business operations, has joined Volare as Chief Operating Officer. The company already employs six people, and the number of staff will be growing to ten this year.