Meet Michroma’s Ricky Cassini, Co-Founder & CEO, and Juan Pablo Orlov, Chief of Staff. Their company is at the forefront of redefining the natural colorant industry by harnessing the power of fungi and precision fermentation. With a compelling focus on clean labels, environmental sustainability, and cutting-edge technology, Michroma is poised to transform the way we view food ingredients.
Their journey, from securing substantial funding to forging key partnerships and advancing their mission, underscores the importance of resilience and innovation in the ever-evolving landscape of food innovation and sustainable technologies. Join us as we explore Michroma’s inspiring vision and journey towards a healthier and more sustainable food system.
tribu (T): Ricky and Juan Pablo, can you briefly tell us about your background and your roles in Michroma?
Ricky (R): I am the Co-Founder and CEO of Michroma, a foodtech startup developing the next generation of natural ingredients using fungi. I was previously the founder of other startups as well as a Strategy Consultant for multinational companies and served as a Professor of Operations and Logistics at Austral University.
Juan Pablo (JP): As the Chief of Staff to the CEO at Michroma, I support the Executive team in achieving their goals in Sales, Product Development, R&D, People, and Finance. I am also a Singularity University Alumnus and Mentor, in addition to a Visiting Professor at the National University of Rosario’s School of Biochemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
(T): Can you provide us with a brief overview of Michroma?
(JP): Michroma is a foodtech startup revolutionizing the way ingredients are produced by developing fungal-based biofactories to produce natural ingredients in a sustainable, scalable, and cost-effective way. Produced using synbio and precision fermentation, Michroma’s first product is a high-performance natural red colorant well suited for all diets and food applications with supreme pH and thermal stability.
(T): Ricky, what inspired you to venture into the natural colorant industry?
(R): I am inspired to venture into the natural colorant industry because of the growing demand for sustainable and healthy products. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the harmful effects of synthetic chemicals on their health and the environment. As a result, there is a growing demand for natural alternatives, such as natural colorants.
(T): Could you elaborate on the types of products Michroma offers and the unique benefits they bring to consumers and food companies?
(JP): We started by developing a red colorant, which is temperature-resistant and stable across the entire food pH spectrum. These characteristics allow colors to survive processes like pasteurization, cooking, and extrusion. Our product pipeline starts with warm colors, which comprise 90% of the food market, and goes beyond to include other colors and novel flavors that will be sold in combination, allowing for integrated solutions for companies.
(T): Technology plays a crucial role in the production of natural colorants. Could you shed some light on the innovative technologies Michroma employs to create these high-performing natural colorant options?
(JP): We are producing better-performing natural colorants powered by fungi. By combining a unique fungal chassis strain with precision fermentation, we are capable of producing high-value complex molecules.
(T): Your company recently introduced Bio-Den™, an app designed for organizing and analyzing fermentation data. Could you share more about how this app works and its significance in enhancing your scientific processes?
(JP): Bio-Den™ is a crucial app for us at Michroma, facilitating efficient organization, and analysis of our fermentation data. It allows us to track progress, detect outliers, and compare fermentation strategies, enhancing our technological capabilities and expediting R&D. Its full customizability ensures it aligns perfectly with our specific needs, driving our mission to make a significant impact through the fusion of Data Science and Biology.
(T): The food industry is rapidly evolving towards healthier and cleaner products. How does Michroma’s approach to natural colorants contribute to helping food companies achieve cleaner labels and potentially higher profits?
(JP): Michroma’s approach aligns perfectly with the evolving food industry. Our natural colorants contribute to cleaner labels, which are becoming increasingly important to health-conscious consumers. By providing healthier and more sustainable alternatives to artificial colors, we help food companies meet these demands in a cost-effective way.
(T): Securing funding is a pivotal aspect of startup growth. Can you give us an insight into Michroma’s fundraising journey? How much capital have you raised so far, and how have these funds been utilized to drive your mission forward?
(R): Securing funding is indeed pivotal for startup growth. We have been fortunate to have received strong support from investors who believe in our mission to create sustainable, high-performance natural colorants.
We have raised a total of $7.4 million in funding to date. Our seed round of $6.4 million was closed in January 2023, and was led by Supply Change Capital, a food tech VC backed by 301 INC, the venture capital arm of General Mills. Other investors in the seed round include Be8 Ventures, which is backed by global food company Dr. Oetker, and Korean conglomerate CJ CheilJedang.
We have used the funds to invest in research and development, commercialization, and team growth. We are committed to developing the most advanced natural colorants on the market, bringing our products to market as quickly as possible, and expanding our team to support our growth plans.
We are grateful for the support of our investors and team members. We are excited to continue our journey to create a more sustainable food system.
(T): Michroma’s work seems to intersect technology and food innovation. Could you discuss any partnerships or collaborations that have played a role in advancing your mission and products?
(JP): We are currently prototyping our colorants and receiving great feedback. We have Letters of Intention and agreements with multinational food, beverage, and cosmetic companies.
(T): Scaling a startup in the food industry can be complex. What strategies has Michroma employed to navigate the competitive landscape and gain traction in the market?
(JP): In a competitive food industry, we focus on negotiations with ingredients suppliers for global distribution. This strategy allows us to scale effectively and reach a broader market. We believe that focusing on developing ingredients and working with ingredient distributors allows us to create the biggest impact possible in the shortest amount of time.
(T): With the current global emphasis on sustainable practices, how does Michroma ensure that its natural colorant production aligns with environmentally friendly principles?
(JP): Sustainability is a core principle for us. We’re committed to producing natural colorants in a way that doesn’t harm the Earth or its inhabitants. Our fungal-based biofactories and precision fermentation techniques align with our goal of creating ingredients that are healthier for both humans and the planet.
(T): Looking ahead, could you share some of Michroma’s upcoming initiatives or projects? What are your aspirations for the company in the next few years?
(JP): Following prototyping with some of the world’s largest food companies, we are negotiating agreements for Red+ with ingredients suppliers for global distribution and will submit color additive petitions to the FDA and EFSA as we continue our path to scale.
(T): Aspiring entrepreneurs and investors often seek inspiration from successful founders. What advice would you offer to startup founders who are venturing into the realm of food innovation or sustainable technologies?
(R): The best startups are those that solve real problems for their customers. Identify a problem that you are passionate about solving and then develop a solution that is innovative and sustainable. Surround yourself with talented and experienced people who share your vision. Building a successful startup takes time and effort. Don’t give up easily. Everyone makes mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them and move on. Innovation requires taking risks. Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things.
Specifically for founders in the food innovation or sustainable technologies space, I would recommend staying up-to-date on the latest trends and technologies, building relationships with key stakeholders, and being transparent and ethical.
(T): Anything else you’d like to add?
(JP): We are revolutionizing ingredient production for a healthier and more sustainable future. We’re excited about the journey ahead and the positive impact we can make on the food industry.