StartLife nurtures an enormous network of startups with inspiring founders. These startups want to share their experience with other entrepreneurs. This story is about Algreen, a company that produces fresh ‘underwater’ vegetables.
Stefano Canziani and Hendrik Staarink met each other by co-incidence at Droevendaal. Hendrik studied in Wageningen and worked as a consultant on waste water quality. Stefano came from Italy and is a biotechnologist who is also specialized in waste water treatment. They discovered they had a common interest in seaweed. According to them, the food production system is missing out an important opportunity; to grow vegetables under the sea.
Seaweed at the attic
At Droevendaal, Hendrik and Stefano had the opportunity to start experimenting. With its home gardens and bungalows, ‘Droef’ as students call it, is a kind of hippie-place in Wageningen. Hendrik and Stefano placed a small pond in the garden to grow some seaweed and microalgae. Their experiments expanded. Next to the garden, Hendrik build an aquarium in his room. And when one of them moved to a bigger place, they even expanded to the attic. Stefano and Hendrik started to realize they had to get serious.
Beach (head) market
In 2014, they met Gitte Schober from StartLife. Gitte arranged an office for Hendrik and Stefano at the lively community of StartHub. She recommended they enter the Climate-KIC acceleration programme. Thanks to the weekly sessions of Climate-KIC, Hendrik and Stefano were able to develop a fully blown business model.
In April 2015, Hendrik and Stefano founded Algreen. Their first beach head market was the ‘juice bar’-segment. The found their first customer by walking around Amsterdam with a sample. To verify the taste of their product, Hendrik and Stefano also visited Rijn-IJssel, a school for professional cooks. A teacher from Rijn-IJssel connected them to Rungis; a high-end wholesaler. The collaboration turned out to be of great value: “Rungis helped us to professionalize our business. For example, the recommended us to develop an all-inclusive package with several seaweeds and algae. Also they helped us with developing an attractive packaging. The collaboration was a real eye-opener for us.”, says Stefano.
In 2016, Algreen received the opportunity to present their product at an haute-cuisine event at the three starred restaurant ‘De Librije’. Their product received a lot of attention when one of the top chefs picked their product for a cooking competition. The dish didn’t won but Hendrik and Stefano got the opportunity to meet the famous Dutch chef Jonnie Boer. The experience made them decide to change their beach head market to specialized cooks and restaurants.
In 2017 Hendrik and Stefano both quit their part-time job as consultants and expanded their business. Now, they produce several seaweeds and microalgae in ponds in the cellar of Radix on Wageningen Campus.
Help from StartLife
Hans de Haan, Business Coach at StartLife, helped Algreen by connecting them to the right people. Also he taught them to focus. Each species of ‘underwater’ vegetable awaken Hendrik’s and Stefano’s interest, but it is better to improve a few first. After all, it takes years before you have a minimum viable product and it takes even more time to guarantee a constant supply. Their advice for other startups is to talk to your customers. They are the only ones who can confirm your assumptions.
At the moment, Algreen is doing well. They are in contact with several wholesalers, like Metro and they provide ‘sea-vegetables’ to luxury restaurants like ‘The Hunting Lodge’ and ‘Het Koetshuis’. Nevertheless, Hendrik and Stefano sometimes find it hard to keep customers happy. They are technologist, not marketeers after all. Hendrik and Stefano are open to meet seaweed-loving salespeople.