Great science and good food makes million dollar business

A New Zealand start-up making apple, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir flour has received a $NZ1.2 million injection from the home of gastronomy, France.

Associate Professor Silas Villas-Boas and doctoral candidate Ninna Granucci, photo by Lee Howell

Greenspot Technologies Ltd creates nutrient-rich alternative flours from fermented fruit and vegetable pulp that would otherwise go to waste. Their range, which is zero-waste, also includes beetroot, orange, carrot and parsnip flours. They are made using a sophisticated fermentation process developed in the research labs of the University of Auckland.

Academics-turned-entrepreneurs Associate Professor Silas Villas-Boas and doctoral candidate Ninna Granucci, both from the University’s School of Biological Sciences, are now heading to France to grow their fermentation business. “France is a world leader in fermentation technology. But this technology is for the whole world because the whole world processes fruits and vegetables.”

They say the seed funding boost will allow the company to expand its team, test various fermentation technologies to inform the design of a dedicated manufacturing plant, and develop new food formulations.  

When you bring technology back to society, you create jobs, you increase income for the country. In our case, you also reduce negative impact on the environment.

Associate Professor Villas-Boas

Long-term plans are to have manufacturing plants in different parts of the world, including New Zealand. “We have good relationships with fruit and vegetable producers and food manufacturers here and New Zealand regulations means products coming out are very high quality.”

The pair’s careers pivoted after involvement with the University’s ‘Velocity Entrepreneurial Challenge’ which helps people test, prepare and grow smart ideas for commercial, social or environmental benefit. This year’s Challenge winners will be announced on 18 October.

“In 2015, we entered ‘Velocity $100K Challenge’ with a business idea based on the results of Ninna’s research. Ninna was looking into the actions of specific micro-organisms in the fermentation process to convert fruit and vegetable pulp into nutritious protein for human consumption.

“We saw how this might be applied to one of the biggest problems facing the modern world – food shortage versus food waste. By 2050 the world is expected to need 70 percent more food than we have now. Of course you can find new foods such as insects or put money into developing meat alternatives. Instead, we thought ‘let’s focus on reducing wastage of good food’. One-third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted every year, and 40 percent of that is fruits and vegetables.”

The scientists placed second in the competition.

“This fascinating activity, and strong feedback from the mentors and judging panel, was the motivation to found the company. We jumped into the challenge.”

By early 2017, the pair opened a small pilot plant in East Tamaki, Auckland, to prove they could increase quantities from the lab and produce a consistent product. “In the business world it is very black and white. It either works or it doesn’t.”

By the end of the year “things were getting serious” and the company required significant investment to scale up.

Greenspot’s experience testifies to the value of applied research, says Associate Professor Villas-Boas. “When you bring technology back to society, you create jobs, you increase income for the country. In our case, you also reduce negative impact on the environment.”

Media contact

Megan Fowlie | Media adviser
Mob +64 021 926 408
Email m.fowlie@auckland.ac.nz