Trade missions for technology fairs are very useful for start-ups. This became clear, for example, during the Finnish Slush trade fair, where 4TU.IMPACT held the final of the last Impact Challenge. Several start-ups then traveled to Finland from the four participating technical universities (4TU). Participants expanded their network and got in touch with investors.
Therefore, 4TU now also joins the missions to Viva Technology in Paris and Collision in Toronto, Canada, organized by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO).
Start-up The principles of nature go to the Viva technology. This TU Delft spin-off is working on the production of lactic acid, a building block for the bio-based plastic substitute polylactic acid (PLA). The new Nature’s Principles process method significantly reduces the cost of PLA. In addition, the process consumes half of the CO2 than plastics made from petroleum. The principles of nature were also part of the trip to Slush.
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The market for PLA is growing. Although the fermentation process is more expensive than the fossil fuel-produced variant. In that fermentation process, sugar is converted to lactic acid, the main component of PLA. “But that process requires refined sugar to feed the so-called pure culture,” explains Jan Pieter van Tilburg, co-founder and CEO of Nature’s Principles. ‘All bacteria have the same properties in that regard. Specific microorganisms are added to carry out the fermentation work. “
“These refined sugars are expensive,” Van Tilburg continues. “The sugar often comes from sugar cane or corn, which comes from America or Asia. That means high transportation costs. And the shelf life drops significantly.” We can perform the fermentation process for the entire crop here, reducing costs by 30 percent, “says Van Tilburg.
The principles of nature use ‘undefined mixed cultures’† “It makes us more flexible in the crop we use, such as raw sugar beets. Sugar beets are available in various European countries. This allows us to set up the entire value chain locally here from start to finish. We ensure that the entire production process is sustainable. ”
Nature’s Principles technology converts the carbohydrates in raw sugar beets into lactic acid. The start-up is now setting up a pilot for a few hundred kilos of lactic acid in the Frisian town of Balk. Funding for ShiftInvest, the Thematic Technology Transfer Program – Circular Technology (TTT-CT) and a angel investor Jeroen van Rotterdam makes the pilot possible.
There are many uses for the sustainably produced lactic acid from Nature’s Principles. In addition to the alternative to the plastic packaging material that can be found in the supermarket, there are also other markets. “It can also be used very well for, for example, cleaning products.”
Contrary to his name, Van Tilburg is Brazilian. He owes his surname to his grandparents who emigrated to Brazil. Two years ago, van Tilburg came to the Netherlands to take an MBA course at TIAS in Tilburg.
In Brazil, Van Tilburg worked for Petrobras for four years as a petroleum engineer. He resigned. Partly because the work he did was far from sustainable. Now he is working on a solution to the problem he helped create, he says with an apologetic smile.
After completing his MBA, Van Tilburg made two attempts to start a business. He has previously participated in two start-up acceleration programs HighTechXL in Eindhoven and Holland Start-up in Utrecht. These attempts proved to be unsuccessful. During an event in the incubator Yes! Delft, he met Jules Rombouts, Van Tilburg’s current partner.
The right moment
As a PhD student, Rombouts worked with the technology that converts carbohydrates from sugar beet into lactic acid. He started with Nature’s Principles to bring the technology to market. Rombouts and Van Tilburg started talking about “mixed cultures”. Van Tilburg decided to join the startup. “I will fully commit to sustainability.”
Last November, the company participated in the trade mission from 4TU.Impact Challenge to the Finnish international technology fair Slush. Van Tilburg met seven investors there. He wanted to understand investors better. In this way, he learned what a great time it is to go for new funding. “It is related to the risk that investors see in your innovation. It differs from investor to when they are willing to step in. Some people start with a high risk, but then want a large share in your business. Another enters when the risk is lower and asks for a smaller share. ”
With this knowledge, Van Tilburg and Rombouts further mapped the development path of the technology. The pilot phase is followed by a demo phase to scale up production. “We expect to be profitable by then. But the real thing return on investment comes when we can actually produce tons of lactic acid. “It happens at an actual factory that should be ready in 2026.
Slush was very valuable to Van Tilburg. He made several contacts. “Sometimes you have to go far to meet people close to you.” During Slush, Van Tilburg met one cleantech start-up located in the same city as the Principles of Nature. “Sometimes you need those kinds of events to meet.”
Therefore, the Principle of Nature also goes hand in hand with the mission to Viva Technology. Van Tilburg hopes to make new contacts there. And to learn from others. According to him, it is necessary as a newcomer to talk as much as possible with others who are on the same path of development.
“There are so many blind spots. If you do not keep talking to people all the time and validating what you are doing, you risk being misled without knowing it. If you suddenly discover it, it may be too late. “Sometimes it can kill a company or demotivate the team. So networking and learning are crucial to me.”
Van Tilburg and Rombouts look forward to building important contacts and partnerships that contribute to a sustainable world: “It helps us all develop a better future. One where we can breathe clean air everywhere and enjoy clean water.”
Maurits Burgering Program Director at the Thematic Technology Transfer Program – Circular Technology (TTT-CT), announced in a interview with IO early this year, already that the Principles of Nature would be a promising innovation.