V-Bio Ventures invests in new start-up Protealis to uplift sustainable plant protein production

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Ghent, Belgium, 8 April 2021 - Today V-Bio Ventures announces its investment in Ghent-based company Protealis, a new spin-off from VIB and ILVO. Inspired by the mission to grow more sustainable plant-based proteins locally, Protealis aims to harvest the full potential of legume crops. With innovative breeding technologies and proprietary seed coatings, Protealis will create new opportunities for European farmers to help overcome Europe’s protein deficit. The initial focus is to develop high-yielding, high-protein soybean varieties. V-Bio Ventures led the EUR 6 million seed financing round joined by Agri Investment Fund (AIF), Participatiemaatschappij Vlaanderen (PMV), Estari Group, Globachem Group, Gemma Frisius Fund and VIB. The capital will support the company’s plans to further develop its proprietary technology, expand its crop portfolio and bring the first soy varieties adapted to local needs to the market by 2022.

Sustainably grown soy in Europe to drive the protein shift

Europe is over 70% dependent on import for its supply of protein-rich crops. However, the millions of tons of soy we annually import from South America to cover for our deficits comes at the expense of rain forests and their unique ecosystems. Moreover, there is a growing consumer demand for sustainable, local and more high-quality plant-based protein for direct use in food applications. To future-proof protein supply and consumption in Europe, a shift towards local plant protein production is urgently needed and endorsed by EU and Flanders’ policies. However, soybean varieties bred up until now do not typically thrive in our local soil and climate.

A new opportunity for farmers

Protealis’ goal is to develop high-protein and high-yielding protein crops that are well adapted to our climate and the needs of local agriculture. Legume crops are an excellent source of protein and can be grown sustainably as they do not require nitrogen fertilization. With their soil-improving characteristics, legumes are an excellent addition for farmers in crop rotation. Soy, with up to 46 grams of protein per 100 grams, is a logical first crop of choice for Protealis. The new company will breed varieties that are very well adapted to northern latitude regions in Europe, ensuring local supply for the fast-growing markets of meat and dairy replacements, as well as for sustainable animal nutrition.

A perfect pairing

Protealis is based on the strategic alliance of research institutes VIB and ILVO and draws on the unique know-how of each of the partners. This includes a market-ready breeding program based on innovative, non-GM breeding technologies from ILVO and seed coating with proprietary yield-enhancing soil bacteria from VIB. These innovations have been developed and refined over the years at the top research labs of Professors Sofie Goormachtig (VIB-UGent), Jan Michiels (VIB-KU Leuven) and Joke Pannecoucque, and Isabel Roldàn-Ruiz at ILVO.

Meet the team behind the scenes

Protealis is led by Benjamin Laga, former Global Head for Plant Biotech Research at BASF, who brings more than 20 years of international seed business and innovation experience. As CEO, he will also join Protealis’ Board of Directors. Benjamin Laga is joined by Jonas Aper, who has been in charge of the soy breeding program at ILVO since its inception in 2013. This entrepreneurial team is passionate about making a positive impact on the planet and environment created by the opportunity to valorize the combined ILVO-VIB work in a company setting.

Backed by broad investor syndicate

Protealis is backed by a solid investor consortium who invested EUR 6 million in a Series A round led by V-Bio Ventures, and with participation of Agri Investment Fund (AIF), Participatiemaatschappij Vlaanderen (PMV), Estari Group, Globachem Group, Gemma Frisius Fund and VIB. The ambition of the investor consortium is to support the market introduction and geographic and product portfolio expansion of the new company. In this way Protealis can maximally live up to its mission statement and bring its high protein crops to European farmers.

Commenting on the announcement, CEO Benjamin Laga says: “My personal aspiration has always been to combine science and technology with entrepreneurship in order to address societal and environmental challenges. And all of that just comes together beautifully in Protealis.”

Willem Broekaert from V-Bio Ventures: “We are proud to bring together a group of experienced investors, supporting Protealis to become a leading player in the plant breeding sector, which historically has not seen much backing from venture capital. We are highly confident that the quality of the team and technology of Protealis will lead to significant value creation for all stakeholders.”

Jérôme Van Biervliet, Managing Director of VIB, says: “Protealis is a perfect example of entrepreneurship in the accelerating biotech ecosystem fostered by VIB. Through our collaborative journey with ILVO, we were able to couple breeding expertise with high-tech research and create an economic opportunity. The intense dedication of many colleagues in the team was vital to make this happen.”

About V-Bio Ventures

V-Bio Ventures (www.v-bio.ventures) is an independent venture capital firm specialized in building and financing young, innovative life science companies. V-Bio Ventures was established in 2015 and works closely with Belgium-based VIB, one of the world’s premier life science institutes. The fund invests throughout Europe in start-up and early-stage companies with high growth potential focusing on technologies that provide transformational improvements in the biotech, pharmaceutical and agricultural sectors.

V-Bio Ventures’ cornerstone investor is the European Investment Fund (EIF). EIF’s contribution is supported by InnovFin Equity, with the financial backing of the European Union under Horizon 2020 Financial Instruments and the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) set up under the Investment Plan for Europe. The purpose of EFSI is to help support financing and implementing productive investments in the European Union and to ensure increased access to financing.

About Protealis

Protealis (www.protealis.com) develops superior varieties and seed treatments of leguminous crops. The company’s product offering contributes to the supply of sustainable locally sourced plant-based proteins in Europe. Protealis was founded in 2021 on the basis of innovations in breeding and seed coating from ILVO and VIB. The company completed a Series A financing round of EUR 6.0 million in 2021 with the support of V-Bio Ventures, Agri Investment Fund (AIF), Participatiemaatschappij Vlaanderen (PMV), Estari Group, Globachem Group, Gemma Frisius Fund and VIB.