This week, in our ‘Startup Spotlight‘ series, which features relatively under-the-radar but interesting European tech startups, we highlight Dublin-based startup Nuritas, which has developed a technology that data-mines natural food sources to find new ingredients with health benefits.
"We’ve analysed more than 280 billion molecules in food and how they interact with the human body. As we grow, that database is going to grow," explained Nuritas founder Dr. Nora Khaldi in an interview with Tech.eu, "Data is a huge part of Nuritas. So far, we have the biggest database of food data in the world, in terms of molecular data and the interaction with the human body, and that’s going to grow."
Launched in 2014, the biotech startup also helps companies in the food industry analyse their byproducts to see if there's potentially any additional value in them, said Khaldi, who has a PhD in Molecular Evolution and Bioinformatics and developed various software throughout her research career.
We caught up with the Nuritas founder at TOA Berlin to chat about how the idea came about, the startup's latest funding round and the Irish tech scene.
Tech.eu: Can you talk briefly about what Nuritas is?
Dr. Nora Khaldi: In a nutshell, Nuritas is about using artificial intelligence to data-mine food at the molecular level and identify life-changing ingredients that can be added to foods to help people prevent diabetes or fight cholesterol, for example.
Nuritas is all about getting these life-changing ingredients on the market. We have over 20 ingredients and what we do is we partner with multi-national companies that take those forward in their sales channels. We don’t sell, we don’t market – we make, we discover, we create the ingredient. Then we license it to these companies that use their own internal channels to sell, but in a better, efficient way.
These companies are happy because they can’t find the ingredients – we find them. And we’re happy, because we don’t need a whole sales channel and marketing campaign for each ingredient.
Where did the idea originally come from to combine biology and technology to launch Nuritas?
My background is in mathematics and computer science, I have a Master’s in that. Then I applied to drug discovery during my PhD and realised very quickly that I was looking at drugs in very weird areas – in plants in the Galapagos Islands or deadly fungi. No one was looking in food, even though food is the perfect place to identify ground-breaking therapeutic molecules.
No one could look at food, because the technology wasn’t available. So I decided to look into food and started to discovery novel ingredients as a scientist, prior to starting Nuritas, and at the same time started talking to several companies around the world. I saw there was a huge need for them to find ingredients that had health benefits to add into their products. They couldn’t do it and they didn’t have the scientific expertise nor the technology to do it. And the usual way of doing it, which is the experimental way, took years and years. So going back a few years ago, I decided to start Nuritas.
How much funding have you raised?
We're closing a large round, probably one of the biggest in Ireland at this point, from international funders. We also got some Irish funding from grants and then there's the revenue from companies that we’re working with. We didn’t want to go for funding early on because we wanted to create the ingredients, prove our technology fully and then go out in a stronger position.
What’s the business model?
It’s royalty-based licensing. For us, it’s basically defining what we’re good at, which is creating these ingredients and helping companies discover things within their byproducts – not selling nor branding them.
Is Nuritas profitable?
We could be profitable if we wanted to do, but we’re choosing to put the money back into research. The model is not fully just to work on companies and their ingredients, it's to take our ingredients forward. Our ingredients still need development and we’re using the finances to do that.
We have quite a bit of revenue from companies and we’re working with international, multi-million dollar companies around the world.
The company is based in Dublin – are there any other offices around the world?
We will open an office in the US, because a lot of the companies we’re working with are US-based.
How big is the team at the moment?
We're just under 10 people – most of them are between science and business. The CEO [Emmet Browne] of Nuritas was a president at Pfizer before joining us.
Having worked in the tech scene for a couple of years, how would you characterise the startup scene? What are some advantages and disadvantages?
The tech scene in Ireland is amazing – there are so many companies starting and it’s a very entrepreneurial country in general. There’s a lot of support in terms of incubators and accelerators and grants, etc. There’s also a lot of mentorship and so forth. Ireland is really a good place, but there seems to be a focus on tech in terms of websites and apps. We’re a little different to that – we marry that with a physical ingredient in the end and that was a little difficult to convey initially.
Apart from that, it’s a great scene to be in. There are a lot of people with a lot of experience who have sold, exited and are happy to help.
What are Nuritas plans for the next 12 months?
Get some of the ingredients to market in terms of maybe not reaching the shelf, but very close to it. Growing the team with the next financial round. At the moment, the focus is just finding the best partner for each ingredients – the best one to work with in terms of people, best market reach and so forth.
Ultimately, the big vision for Nuritas: In the future, in the supermarket, you’d be walking with shopping basket and in there, there would be lots of products – cereal bars for diabetics to manage their diabetes with our ingredients within, or anti-aging cream with our ingredients permitting the anti-aging effect and so forth. We will be in many many products from many lines – both preventing and managing certain conditions. That’s what we’re working towards.
The interview has been edited and condensed.