AgroSustain kick off their commercial rollout
AgroSustain – a rapidly growing UNIL spin-off – recently secured CHF 4.8 Million in their Series A funding round, followed by a FIT Tech Growth loan to the tune of CHF 500’000. The team has now kicked off their commercial rollout and have big plans for 2022. We sat down with Co-founder and CEO Dr Olga Dubey to find out more.
Describe your company in just a few words.
AgroSustain is a one-stop-shop solution for natural plant protection. We aim to reduce food waste and support sustainable food production by developing farm to fork solutions, like natural fungicides and coatings.
Why did you choose to set up your business in Switzerland?
I completed my doctorate at the University of Lausanne. When I discovered the natural compound that formed the basis of our products, I was so fortunate to be surrounded by a whole ecosystem of support.
Fellow SFNV member, Agroscope, were early adopters and have provided expertise and practical support from day one. They gave us access to labs and shared their expertise in running efficacy studies. Startup support through the BRIDGE, InnoTREK and Venture KIC programmes and coaching from Innosuisse has also been invaluable and helped us think through the best way to bring our product to market. Now we have our own offices in Renens and we’ve grown to a team of 12 people.
Tell us about your exciting news.
After working closely with partners to complete pilot trials over the last few years, we’ve now kicked off our commercial rollout. We’re already working with some amazing clients but we’re actively looking to connect with more growers, wholesalers and retailers who could benefit from our products. In addition to opportunities in the Swiss market, we are open for collaboration in the EU, LATAM and Africa.
The past few years have been difficult for many businesses. Have you been affected by the pandemic, for better or worse?
In early 2019, we’d just started our series A funding round. At that point we were focused on finding investors in the US and Germany who were interested in working with us to develop our natural fungicide. When the pandemic hit, we honestly thought it was all over.
But some potential clients were very positive about developing our coating solution for crops shelf-life extension. In fact, they were so eager to benefit from our product, they worked alongside us to conduct pilot trials in their premises, allowing us to monitor the crops lost and check how the coating was working, thus helping to come up with the final natural coating that protects over 15 types of fruits and vegetables. This collaboration was very immensely valuable and helped us to accelerate product development.
In reality, COVID helped us shift focus and move forward much faster than we would’ve done if we’d have stayed focused on the fungicide alone. It typically takes 5-7 years to get approvals in this space.
What have you learned along the way?
So much! We’ve learnt how to be agile. When you’re just setting out everything seems mission impossible. But I suppose this is always the case when you’re trying to develop something new. We’ve found that if you really listen to what your market is telling you, things start to fall into place.
One of our biggest learnings was around growing a team. Finding the right team is critical. It’s so important to find someone who shares your vision. As your team grows, you also need to learn to hire the right people who have complementary skills. Then you need to become a good manager and build a positive team culture. I was really fortunate to recruit an excellent management team that has a strong track record and really shares the vision I have for the business.
How would you like to support others in the Swiss food innovation ecosystem?
We’d be really interested in sharing our learnings with start-ups who are just setting up. We were really fortunate to benefit from the extraordinary support from other actors in the ecosystem. Now I’d like to share this knowledge to help others who are going through the same challenges. I’m actually speaking to the SFNV team about how we can use the Valley community to do this, alongside other members – watch this space!
What support could the SFNV community offer to aid collaboration in your sector?
We’re actively looking to grow our network and establish long-term relationships with clients – growers, wholesalers and retailers. We’d also be really interested in connecting with colleagues in larger businesses, like Firmenich and Givaudan to benefit from their experience in corporate strategy.
What’s next for Agrosustain?
This year, we’ll be focusing on our market extension. We’ll also be looking to raise another 5 million to accelerate the rollout. If you’re interested in joining us on this journey, I’d love to hear from you.
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