Cover image starting from left: COO Jarna Hyvönen, CEO Tuure Parviainen and CTO Matti Tähtinen.
The demand for protein is going up as the world population grows and nutritional preferences change, yet the current solutions are straining the planetary boundaries. New sustainable protein sources are needed. For instance, the demand for edible fish is growing steadily, but the global wild catch reserves are already facing severe limitations. Aquaculture production is increasing rapidly, but the challenge is to secure enough feed with low environmental impact.
Volare was founded to fill the need for new sustainable protein sources. Insect proteins are a prominent solution to this challenge, as they can significantly reduce the environmental load of the animal feed industry. In commercial fish feed, they can replace for example soy protein, a source of significant adverse environmental impacts, such as excessive land use, deforestation and green house gas emissions. Insect proteins are also a solution for other industries in need of new sustainable protein sources. In the pet food industry, insect proteins can replace animal proteins that require excessive amounts of water, land and energy to manufacture. To give an idea of the comparison scale, the emissions of Volare protein production per ton are 1/150 of fish meal and only 1/45 000 of soy.
Back in 2018, Volare founders, CEO Tuure Parviainen and CTO Matti Tähtinen, came together for a research project at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. Both had previously done research on black soldier fly farming and were intrigued by the huge potential to impact the food industry positively. VTT has a strong focus on deep research of topics which can move the needle towards a better future for the planet and people. At VTT, the team developed a unique method of producing high-quality proteins and oils from the side streams of the food industry, such as non-edible parts of grains by growing black soldier flies.
After conducting research and development work together it became obvious that Tuure and Matti wanted to take the next step and start a company. In 2020, the team participated in an incubator program, VTT LaunchPad. The team gained valuable sparring in commercialization, support in contacting potential customers and creating a commercial strategy.
Volare was founded in spring 2021 and the team closed a 0,7 MEUR seed round with Maki.vc. VTT also invested technology in the company. The seed financing enabled the company to grow the team to six experts and get the pilot plant up and running. The company’s production process is circularity at its purest as only side streams are used as raw materials, and there are zero new side streams from its processes. The environmental footprints of the company’s products are a fraction of their alternatives.
The pilot plant is only the first step on the company’s production road map. The Volare team is already looking into the building of a commercial scale plant to increase the amount of proteins and lipids it can produce. The goal is to start the construction of a commercial scale production plant in 2023 and to subsequently build several plants in Europe every year. To give an idea about the scale, one commercial establishment can feed 4.75 million salmon per year.
The markets for fish feed and pet foods are vast and hence the new wave of insect production has large potential. Market Watch reported in its report in March 2021 that the global insect market is growing by about 27% annually, and its total value is estimated to be 6 BEUR 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. The Volare team is driven by this great market opportunity and a chance to make a difference.
In spring 2021 Volare was selected to the most competitive cohort of EIT Food Accelerator Network to date. While more than 600 startups applied to the program, only 60 were selected to participate. The team feels that the selection further validates the need for their solutions and that participating in EIT FAN program will grant them access to some very interesting companies and people. It gives Volare an opportunity to learn through coaching sessions with industry experts, domain specialists and top researchers, and high-quality mentoring. The program also introduces Volare to corporations and intermediates discussions on potential partnerships. Some of the Finnish corporate partners of the program include Valio, HKScan and Paulig. The Volare team is looking forward to the collaborations enabled by the program and putting all the learnings into action in the coming months.
Written by Jarna Hyvönen, COO Volare