One of most important factors in the production of the beer is yeast. However, it’s also the most difficult parameter to control. Large breweries invest in in-house yeast production facilities, but costs are prohibitive to smaller players. Instead they use dry yeast – a handy solution but rather expensive and inefficient. The startup QuickFerm proposes breweries to tackle this frustration by outsourcing their yeast production to their company, benefitting from highly concentrated live yeast due to their fed-batch growth process, gaining up to 20% in total fermentation time. One member of the team is Dr Larisa Maier, from Department of Biology.
The recently graduate scientist took part in a Business Concept class, a free training for students ran by EPFL Innovation Park and supported by the Confederation. The 4-month course was hosted in Fribourg by HEG-FR and Innovation lab. There were 7 business ideas selected at the beginning of the class to be further developed into a startup during the training. Larisa explains: “The project idea came from Lucien Blanchard, chemical bioengineer currently scientific researcher at HEIA-FR, inspired by his master thesis work on developing fed-batch culture of fresh yeast for the brewing industry. Andrea Palumbo, chemist at AMI, was the second person on the team so when I joined it seemed a good fit, as a biologist, to potentially provide some laboratory skills for handling eventual molecular work required in the case the startup hits off.”
A tailor-made support
The team received training from business professionals, accomplished entrepreneurs and startup owners throughout the semester. Larisa continues: “During the class we pivoted a couple of times until we found the best shape for our idea and unique value proposition, we completed a market analysis and client interviews by talking with brewers, we created a financial and business model, received basic accounting notions and coaching.” The class ended with a pitching session in front of a jury composed of representatives of the Innovation Club Fribourg (Eliav Haskal), FriUp (Gregory Grin), Innovation lab Fribourg (Xavier Bertschy) and Innovation Park EPFL (Lan Zuo Gillet). In a nutshell, besides their scientific skills, students developed business management knowledge and practiced their communication abilities.
A promising start for the emerging startup
The team received the best pitch prize for the class in Fribourg and was awarded with a study trip in London together with teams who won the same contest in Lausanne, Sion and Yverdon. They contacted local breweries (in Western Switzerland and around): Dr. Gabs, Freiburger Biermanufaktur, BLZ, Boxer, Nébuleuse, Les Brasseurs, and received positive feedback and interest in their product. To launch their startup they are looking to collaborate with potential investors, with the university or any other institutions for laboratory space and equipment.
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