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Meet the winners of the Vitafoods Europe 2024 Startup Innovation Challenge

Article-Meet the winners of the Vitafoods Europe 2024 Startup Innovation Challenge

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We caught up with the four startups that won first prize at the Vitafoods Europe Startup Innovation Challenge awards thanks to their innovative solutions: Flavolife, Edonia, BiOkuris, and Reso Health.

The Vitafoods Europe Startup Innovation Challenge, which took place in Geneva in May, shone a spotlight on ambitious and innovative health and wellness companies breaking new ground in the nutraceutical industry.

Flavolife’s flavonoids reduce chemo-induced toxicity

Italian startup Flavolife scooped up first prize in the category Most Innovative Finished Product for its medical foods that contain a patented and proprietary mix of flavonoids to help treat toxicity induced by chemo- and radiotherapies in cancer patients.
"We do this from a senolytic perspective, meaning that our technology selectively [targets] senescence cells that are induced by those treatments as a form of accelerated ageing,” said Paolo Correale, life sciences entrepreneur and founder of the startup.

Flavolife’s first product will target breast cancer patients.

Correale said that winning first prize in this category was “a great stepping stone” for the company to prove the innovation behind the product so that, ultimately, it can reach more patients.

"I think [taking part in the Challenge] is a great way to show our commercial partners or our clinical partners running our clinical trials that this can be the future. Moving on as 'food as medicine' in a sense, it can be seen as the next step of the future of nutrition, really being able to improve the health and, potentially in the future, the longevity of patients." 

Edonia: Opening up new applications for spirulina

Scooping up first prize as Most Innovative Nutraceutical Ingredient, Edonia processes microalgae biomass to create what it describes as a sustainable, tasty, and convenient ingredient. Its first product is spirulina in a novel format.

Hugo Valentin, founder of the French startup, told us: “We have developed a unique technology that allows us to transform this biomass into a textured ingredient, so we give microalgae, specifically spirulina, a form that has never been seen before. We achieve a product that has a great fluffy texture, an umami taste, and incredible nutritious benefits. I think it's quite unique and the jury saw that unique value proposition.”

Asked what it meant to have won first prize in this category, Valentin said: “It's great to have this kind of visibility and this recognition [...] especially because the company is quite new. I created it just one year ago, so this is [an] amazing recognition to win this prize. The competition was hard and there were a lot of great innovative startups so I'm very proud. Thank you to the jury for that!”

Reso Health: Using AI to change how people take supplements

Irish startup Reso Health was awarded first prize in the category Most Innovative Service, Technology, or Digital Solution Supporting the Nutraceutical Industry.  

"We are looking to change the way people take supplements in the workplace [with] precision nutrition by applying AI technology to make personalised supplement drinks for individuals on a daily basis,” said its co-founder, Ken O'Shea.

Asked what he thought impressed the panel of judges the most, O'Shea said: "I think they believed us. My background is pharmaceuticals, I developed cancer drugs for 20 years and my business partner was in the same company and was head of engineering. We were believable. We can do this, we designed this from the outset to be scalable. You could do it relatively quickly and easily but it wouldn't be scalable, so we spent a lot of money and time to make it smooth. This will grow fast."

BiOkuris: Upcycling chitin-glucan for gut health

The judges chose BiOkuris as the Most Innovative Sustainable Solution out of all Challenge applicants. BiOkuris produces KiOtransine (chitin-glucan), a dietary prebiotic that offers a novel approach to managing gastrointestinal disorders. The early-stage spin-off develops its ingredients from a by-product of the citric acid and enzyme industries, and it was this upcycled, circular economy approach that impressed the judges.  

Benoit Palms, chief business officer of the Belgium-based startup, said he expected winning the Sustainability award would benefit the company.

"First of all, we are a young company so we need more visibility and I think this will generate a lot of visibility [...] and allow us to increase potential partnerships with commercial companies."

The judges’ view: Impressive innovations

According to Aline Santa Izabel, consultant and ecosystem expert with a focus on the Nordic and Baltic countries and judge at the Vitafoods Europe Startup Innovation Challenge, the quality of entries this year was “very impressive”.

There were lots of different innovations from different areas in all the categories and it was very interesting to see,” she said.

For the finalists who didn’t make the cut, all is not lost. Sandra Einerhand, founder of consultancy Einerhand Science & Innovation and creator of the Startup Innovation Challenge said: “Some of the startups were a bit early stage or not clear enough in their pitches. Maybe they can come back next year when they have more data and a clearer pitch.”

Giancarlo Addario, principal at Paris-based VC Five Seasons Ventures and judge, shared his advice for future applicants: “I see a lot of focus on products and clinical trials and, for sure, that is interesting. But I think that companies need to put more effort into designing the business model and the go-to-market strategy [focusing on] how to actually attract consumers.”