Sustainable Bioproducts is making animal-free protein using microorganisms discovered in the volcanic hot springs of Yellowstone National Park. Their fermentation process is taking alternative proteins beyond the realm of plant-based products and cultivated meat.
Sustainable Bioproducts CEO and co-founder Thomas Jonas spoke about the breakthrough potential of fermentation at the Good Food Conference this past September! Check it out below, and keep reading for a Q&A with this good food pioneer.
We talked about taking inspiration from national parks, building a team in the protein industry, and getting scientific grants from NASA.
Can you speak to the inspiration for Sustainable Bioproducts?
We started as a research project for NASA in astrobiology. The goal was to gain a better understanding of what life could be like in an environment very different from what we typically experience here on Earth. This took us to the acidic, volcanic springs of Yellowstone National Park where we discovered microbes that have evolved over millennia to adapt to a very challenging environment and optimize the rare resources they could find there. We were inspired by nature’s own resilience and that became the foundation for our technology.
How do you create a complete protein ingredient from an organism in an extreme environment?
From the observation of nature, we developed a novel fermentation process leveraging the unique ability of the microbe to grow in an extreme environment. We then simply harvest the organism which inherently contains 50 percent protein (complete protein with all essential amino acids). There is very minimal processing required, and we can then formulate a range of food products across liquid, solid, sweet and savory formats.
Did you always have an interest in founding your own company?
I had a chance to be in senior management roles in large multinational companies but always recognized that it is somehow easier to bring disruptive, radically new ideas to life when you are a small, agile organization. I am personally driven by the belief that human ingenuity and curiosity will solve our biggest challenges. Those attributes are at the core of our company.
How did you find team members in the protein industry?
We have been fortunate to find talented individuals across biotechnology, engineering, food science, and marketing who excel at what they do, want to make an impact and are not afraid to challenge conventional thinking. We continue to expand our team in Chicago and are constantly looking for passionate, driven people who want to build the future of food with us.
Do you think it is important for agribusiness companies to invest in alternative proteins? If so, why?
All large agribusiness companies understand that novel technologies and approaches will be required to feed the world in the coming years and they are already partnering and investing in the space. We need collaboration at all levels to rapidly meet the urgent challenges brought to us by climate change.
What role did government agencies play in developing the company? How might other entrepreneurs find similar support?
We were awarded prestigious scientific grants from the National Science Foundation, NASA, the EPA, and the USDA. This was tremendously helpful and enabled us to advance the technology to a point where we could attract financial and strategic investors’ support. I strongly recommend to other entrepreneurs that they engage with these various government agencies and their SBIR programs, which are genuinely dedicated to supporting small business innovation.
Check out all the panels from the Good Food Conference 2019 here!