StartLife has a big network of startups. All these startups have powerful, inspiring founders who would like to share their tips & tricks with beginning entrepreneurs. To give these founders a stage, we’ve started the series StartLife Founder Stories in which they give others tips regarding how to begin a startup. In this second part an interview with Ruud Albers, founder of Nutrileads. The startup focuses on ingrediënts for health improving food and has recently settled in the new breeding place, Plus Ultra, on the campus of Wageningen University & Research.
Patents at the kitchen table
To tell the truth, Ruud Albers was doing just fine at Unilever. He had studied medical biology in Utrecht after which he got promoted and started working as immunologist at Unilever R&D. ‘Goal was to develop foods which support the effect of the immune system and have a positive effect on the health because of that. At first I did it alone but it grew into an expertise group throughout the years of which a part was in Vlaardingen and a part in Asia’. But when Unilever chose for a strategic change of course in 2011, where the focus was more on home and personal care and less on food, Albers chose for this passion: food & health. He went into discussion with Unilever about the technologies that were developed and the patents that were filed. Unilever might not have been planning on doing anything with it, but Albers wanted to continue with it.
Eventually he was able to take over a few of the patents. That formed the beginning of Nutrileads. ‘At that moment it means that you’ve left such a big multinational. And all context which you have because of that. That you can sit at home at the kitchen table with a moment like: Ok? And now? I have patents. I have a few kilo materials. I have the knowledge. But I’m not going to get any further here at home. How am I going to do this?’
Passion & stubbornness
‘I’m fairly stubborn. Some would even say extremely stubborn. Aside from that, I am convinced that food can have a huge positive effect on our health and I feel a strong drive to do something with that. And when I’m convinced that something is worth it, then I will continue for a long time. I think that’s also been the base for Nutrileads.’ Albers first step was making and expanding his network. That’s how he ended up at Startlife. ‘What Startlife has meant for me is the uncovering of a relevant network in the Netherlands. I was especially in an international network at Unilever, and I clearly needed a Dutch network for this. I needed to know where I could go. What the financing options would be for this kind of initiatives. What are the networks. Where can I station the company in the long-term. To tell the truth, from one thing came another.’
After a successful venture challenge, Albers is finally able to put together a strong team and they succeed in finding four investors who want to invest in Nutrileads together. ‘In October 2015 we managed to fulfill all the finances and since then it’s always gone quite hard. For example, we were able to intensify the cooperation with NIZO and with the University of Wageningen. And we have started working towards a first proof of concept. This study has just been finished successfully in such a way that the clinical phase is done and we are now waiting for the results of that. And that’s how we started out as an out of hand move from one man to a startup in which four people are now directly involved and around that a rind of people who we work closely with.’
Cherish the objection
After leading a startup for five years, Albers has quite some tips for beginning entrepreneurs. ‘Get away from that kitchen table as soon as possible and talk to people. Test your ideas. Test them on critical people who don’t only give the polite answer, but also the unpleasant answers. Cherish those people. Organize your own objection with that. And also, just do it and make sure you enjoy the ride. Especially enjoy the ride. I sometimes have to say it to myself as well but it’s a fantastic adventure when you manage to put down a startup. And then you’ll see what becomes of it. It always turns out different than you expected. Or like I heard recently: above all, stay stubborn in following your dream, but also be flexible when it comes to altering your plans.’