StartLife nurtures an enormous network of startups with inspiring founders. These startups want to share their tips & tricks with other entrepreneurs. This Founder Story is about Rudi Ariaans and Ferdinand Los founders of Hudson River Biotechnology (HRB). The duo noticed the current need for more profitable crops producing natural ingredients. HRB helps companies to improve yields and lower the costs of high-value compounds.
‘StartLife opened the door for us to the “kitchen” of Wageningen. We were able to meet the right people much faster’, Rudi Ariaans, one of the founders of Hudson River Biotechnology
Solution for the market
Rudi and Ferdinand met in New York in 2011. The company was named after the famous river that flows through the city. Rudi has a background in international business. Back then he worked as a commercial manager at DSM in New York. Ferdinand has a background in science, with a PhD in biology from the University of California at San Diego and consulting experience from the Dutch company ttopstart. Rudi and Ferdinand talked a lot about their experiences and challenges in the ingredient business. The sector is dealing with a paradox. On the one hand, there is a need for more natural food ingredients instead of the synthetic ones. But, those natural ingredients from plants are difficult to produce and thus far more expensive. Novel breeding techniques, driven by recent advances in genetics, have made improving such specialty crops economically viable. For example, Rudi and Ferdinand use modern breeding techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9 to increase plant productivity and thus making natural ingredients cheaper. HRB’s first business case was lutein extracted from marigold flowers.
As a route to fund their first project, Rudi and Ferdinand applied for funding under the EU’s Horizon2020 program. They managed to beat the competition and got their first application immediately approved. This European subsidy opened many doors and provided the opportunity to partner with Wageningen University & Research. HRB still rents lab space on the campus for their genetic research in plants.
Not everything went smoothly from the beginning. Rudi and Ferdinand started their lutein research in 2015. They planned for 6-12 months of research, but a stroke of bad luck turned this into two years and additional spending. At that time Rudi and Ferdinand both had full-time jobs, so they had to work day and night. If they could give a piece of advice to other entrepreneurs it would be: “stay optimistic, be persistent, work on the things you are passionate about, and make sure to have a private financial plan!”.
“HRB focuses on ingredients that are hard to increase through the traditional breeding methods, because of the lack of simple, visual markers” says Ferdinand. “Our focus is on specialty crops and not on mass crops like corn”, adds Rudi, carving out a clear niche for HRB. HRB is driven by customer-demand, as opposed to most university spin-offs, which are technology-driven. “We are creating an innovation factory in specialty crops”, says Rudi.
The value of StartLife
Rudi and Ferdinand are very thankful for the help they received from StartLife and the Regional Development Agency; OostNV. “StartLife opened the door for us to the “kitchen” of Wageningen. We were able to meet the right people much faster’’, says Rudi. “To the outside world, our connection shows that we are StartLife-proof”, both founders agree.
Now, Hudson River Biotechnology is partnering up with international companies in Asia, the Americas and Europe. The next ingredient that will be developed is lavender oil, an important substance for the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. Rudi and Ferdinand, are talking with several investors and they are open to meet other parties as well. Although the company is in a pre-market phase, they are expanding and adding people to their R&D team. Looking ahead, Rudi and Ferdinand expect to develop many more crops.