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Meet the winners of the 2023 Startup Innovation Challenge

Article-Meet the winners of the 2023 Startup Innovation Challenge

Vitafoods © Steve Burden Photography Vitafoods Europe 2023 Startup Innovation Challenge Winners
We speak to the startups that won first prize at the inaugural Vitafoods Europe Startup Innovation Challenge earlier this month thanks to their game-changing ingredients, technologies, and services.

At Vitafoods Europe in Geneva, five innovative companies were selected by the panel of judges for their standout solutions that are helping the nutraceutical industry to develop healthier, more sustainable, and more technological products.

Sweet Victory Gum: Most Innovative Finished Nutraceutical Product

Sweet Victory Gum, an Israeli startup that produces plant-based functional confectionery that blocks the sugar receptors on the tongue, was crowned Most Innovative Finished Nutraceutical Product.

The company’s functional chewing gum, which comes in flavours including mint and watermelon, starts to work within two to three minutes, according to co-founder and COO Shimrit Lev, who said that after chewing it, any sugar consumed “will taste like sand”.

Asked what made their product stand out, Gitit Lahav, co-founder and CEO, said: “It’s very rare to see a food supplement that works immediately. Normally… you need to take the food supplement for months and months until you see any effects, and in our case, it’s in two minutes – and it’s totally like magic.

EktaH: Most Innovative Nutraceutical Ingredient

EktaH, which won the prize for Most Innovative Nutraceutical Ingredient, is a French startup focused on finding solutions to obesity and overweight.

Its winning ingredient is a modified linoleic acid that acts as a human fat taste receptor’s agonist, which can naturally induce anorectic peptides, resulting in early satiety and weight loss.

Asked what it meant to win the prize, company president Xavier Boidevezi said: “It’s always a great recognition for all the work that the team has accomplished until now. Vitafoods is a very well-known institution and so to get the prize is definitely a great honour for us.

Nimble Science: Most Innovative Service or Technology Supporting the Nutraceutical Industry

Canadian startup Nimble Science, which was named Most Innovative Service or Technology Supporting the Nutraceutical Industry, says it is working to bring the “true gut microbiome” to the forefront of the nutraceutical space.

So far, datasets targeting the gut microbiome have focused on the faecal microbiome; Nimble has developed a capsule-based precision sampling technology to perform liquid biopsies directly from the small intestine, allowing investigators to examine a product’s interaction there in real time.

CEO Sabina Bruehlmann said: “I think everybody knows that the gut microbiome truly is something that is deep within us and that we’ve been using the faecal microbiome as a proxy for too long, and so it really resonates with people… Everyone understands that we need it – and now it’s here.

HEALTHY-LONGER: Most Innovative Digital Solution Supporting the Nutraceutical Industry

HEALTHY-LONGER, a Swiss startup, won the prize for Most Innovative Digital Solution Supporting the Nutraceutical Industry. It uses AI to analyse mental health symptoms, combined with neuro-biomarkers from dried urine samples, to provide personalised neuro-nutrient recommendations to repair neuro-metabolic pathways in the brain and nervous system.

Asked about how the technology works, co-founder and director Roland Pfeuti said: “The first part of our work is we assess the deficiencies of a person in dried urine, and that’s part of our innovation – to assess 25 biomarkers in dried urine and to connect them to the symptoms that a person feels. We see strong correlations there, and so only with that work can we establish the needed intervention.

Asked what it meant to have won the award, founder and CEO Joanna Ledunger said: “I believe that it means the industry recognises the potential of our technology and the potential of our co-operation – that we are in the right place.

Terraseed: Jury’s special prize for Most Innovative Sustainable Solution

Terraseed, which creates sustainable and ethical supplements for vegans that are packaged in fully biodegradable and industrially compostable pill bottles, received the jury’s special prize for Most Innovative Sustainable Solution.

Maria Cebrian, co-founder and CEO of the US-based startup, said it was “super exciting” to have won the award, adding that sustainability was part of the company’s DNA.

This is recognising all the efforts that we’ve put here as a small company, trying to innovate, trying to do things differently,” she said, adding: “Being recognised for all that huge effort that we do on a daily basis to… make an impact – I think that is just the most amazing thing.

The judges’ view: Startups with the potential ‘to really disrupt our industry’

The judges said choosing the winners had been “exciting but difficult at times”, highlighting the high quality – and quantity – of entries received.

Aline Santa Izabel, entrepreneur and biosciences specialist at DigitalWell Ventures, said there had been a “very high level of entries”, while Sandra Einerhand, founder of Einerhand Science and Innovation, described the winning startups as having the potential “to really disrupt our industry”.

Giancarlo Addario, principal at Five Seasons Ventures, said entries were at a “very high level technologically – but also in terms of business models”.

Einerhand also sounded an optimistic note on the outlook for startups in Europe, saying there was “more and more” investment and encouragement facilitating such companies to bring their ideas to market.

Competitions like the Vitafoods Europe Startup Innovation Challenge “really help in bringing the startups into contact with investors and partners in bringing their ideas to life”, she added.