Cristobal Fonseca, CEO of Microendo, is driven by a lifelong passion for science and the environment. His journey as an ag-tech entrepreneur began with a mission close to his heart. Fueled by his determination to save his father’s Agave plantation from a relentless disease, Cristobal embarked on a path of scientific discovery. Through years of meticulous research and experimentation, he not only found a cure but unearthed a solution that would ultimately give birth to Microendo, a company dedicated to harnessing the power of natural microbiota for sustainable agriculture.
Discover the journey of a scientist turned CEO, and the milestones that Microendo has achieved in its pursuit of healthier crops, a greener planet, and a more sustainable future.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
tribu (T): Cristobal, can you share a bit about your background and journey that led you to found Microendo?
Cristobal (C): Since I was a child, I have been passionate about science and the environment. I have always liked to understand the reason for things. One day, my dad found a disease in his Agave plantation that he could not eradicate. This disease is the so-called “cancer of the Agave” that is basically caused by certain pathogenic microorganisms including Pectobacterium caratovora. I was determined to find a cure for his crops, and my studies in biotechnology would serve me well.
I spent several years in the laboratory isolating different microorganisms from Agave plants in order to understand the disease and find a cure. I finally came to design a formulation that not only led me to that cure, but also improved the plants’ health and allowed me to fulfill my dream of helping my dad.
The key to achieving this was finding a way to balance the Microbiota of the plant. I understood that what caused the disease was the imbalance of the Microbiota in the plant due to different biotic and abiotic factors. By that point I had fallen in love with the Microbiota and understood the importance of maintaining a strong and balanced Microbiota. This was the starting point of Microendo and its current technology.
(T): Microendo focuses on producing bio-inoculants for plants. Could you elaborate on the specific problem your company aims to address in the agricultural industry?
(C): Microendo’s purpose is to recover and protect the environment. Environmental damage caused by pesticides and chemical fertilizers represent a danger to the health of crops and humans. We use the Microbiota of the plant for the development of the products.
(T): Could you provide an overview of the innovative solution that Microendo offers to compensate for the natural microbiota of plants? How does it work and what benefits does it bring to farmers and the ecosystem?
(C): The Microbiota are the communities of microorganisms that live inside and outside the plant. In this way, we offer an organic and crop-specific product that provides better results than a common biofertilizer, gives health to the plants and at the same time recovers the original Microbiota of the crops.
Some of the benefits include that they are:
- Stimulating: They facilitate the absorption of nutrients from the soil to the plant as micro and macro nutrients, they contribute to the production of phytohormones that increase plant growth.
- Anti-stress: Improve the tolerance of the plant to stress conditions.
- Protective: They protect the plant against diseases and pests.
(T): Can you tell us about the range of products that Microendo currently offers?
(C): Our main products are specific biofertilizers that are made specifically for one type of crop, including: BerriesMicrobiota, AvocadoMicrobiota, CornMicrobiota, AgaveMicrobiota, and we are in the process of making more crop-specific biofertilizers.
We also have climate change solutions. These are biostimulants that protects against higher and lower temperaturas: ColdProtect and HeatProtect.
And we also have biostimulants, biofungicides, bioinsecticides and bioenhancers.
(T): Microendo’s approach is based on harnessing natural microbiota. Could you provide a high-level explanation of how this process functions to enhance plant protection and fertilization?
(C): After years of research we found a unique solution to restore the natural Microbiota and improve the crop. Our process consists of 3 steps:
- We take and analyze samples from the plant to understand its Microbiota.
- We use a unique and patented method to select the key microorganisms. This will allow us to harvest the power of thousands of years of microorganisms interrelations and allow us to create a specific biofertilizer.
- We restore the plant’s Microbiota to its own balance, boosting the immune system and increasing yield. And we make the field application for the reduction of agrochemicals.
(T): Which crops is Microendo primarily targeting? Are there plans to expand into other crop categories in the future?
(C): We mostly target in Berries, Avocado, Corn, Agave but we are in the process of making more crop specific biofertilizers.
(T): The adoption of biological products in agriculture is on the rise. What factors do you believe are driving this trend, and how does Microendo contribute to this shift towards more sustainable practices?
(C): We try to find friendly solutions for the environment because the planet is being damaged from pesticides and chemical fertilizers, not to mention these also pose dangers to the health of our crops.
We were looking for sustainable alternatives and ended up developing our products.
Our products are 100% organic, they generate more yield, and they create healthy crops. We reduce the need for pesticides by 30% helping farmers save money with an organic solution and avoid exposing farm workers to possible chemical poisoning. And this also means that we do not expose our own workers to toxic chemicals.
(T): In a competitive landscape, what sets Microendo apart from other players in the field of plant protection and fertilization using biological solutions?
(C): We don’t use generic micro-organism. We tailor a solution for each plant using their Microbiota, by selecting the best elements through out a plant’s life cycle. This allows us to have an optimal solution for each plant and growth stage.
Additionally, we offer a product, unique biofertilizer by using the Microbiota of the plant, that can help farmers at every stage of their crop’s journey.
(T): Looking ahead, what are Microendo’s strategic plans for the future? Are there any exciting developments or expansions on the horizon that you’d like to share?
(C): We are expanding throughout the Americas. We are opening a factory in Colombia to address the LatAm market and we are expanding to other states of Mexico as well. We are also going to enter the US market next year, and build our own factory to manufacture and distribute in the States.
(T): Transitioning from a scientific background to the role of CEO and Founder is a significant step. What were the challenges and rewards you encountered along the way?
(C): The transition was exciting and at the same time hard because as a scientist, I like to be researching and working with equipment in a laboratory. But as CEO, I have to go beyond the laboratory and understand what a company entails, which is not only the research part. That requires hiring a multidisciplinary team to cover everything a solid startup needs: sales, administration, marketing, accounting, quality, regulation and other important areas of the company.
(T): As a biotech and technical founder, what advice or recommendations do you have for other individuals with similar backgrounds who are looking to launch their own innovative startups?
(C): Perseverance is the key to success and they have to be patient, surround themselves with the right people and be able to take their idea or prototype out of the lab.
(T): Lastly, could you share a success story or milestone that Microendo has achieved?
(C): Our first round of investment was an important milestone that led us to catapult ourselves and understand the startup environment, then start forming a solid team and see how we were growing day by day with Microendo. It’s rewarding to see happy customers and how our products have led them to improve their crops. Best of all, we see we’re able to help the planet, reduce the carbon footprint and have healthier food, which were our objectives when we started Microendo.
We’re also proud of our international awards: in Nebraska, USA, 2021 as an innovative startup; in San Francisco, California as Global Top100 of Startups that fight climate change, 2021 and 2022; Top 10 innovative agriculture startups by Startups Insights, 2022 and 2023; and first winner of the Startupbuilding award, Jalisco 2020.