an Interview with Ruud Albers, CEO of NutriLeads
From a functional business plan to functional foods
Supporting the immune system with healthy ingredients
NutriLeads develops health ingredients for foods by identifying and developing crop-derived food ingredients with a clinically proven positive impact on human health. Its lead ingredient contributes to the functioning of our immune system. "From natural products, we identify health-promoting food ingredients. The food industry can incorporate these ingredients into their products," explains Ruud Albers, founder and CEO of NutriLeads. "An example is Becel ProActiv, which actively helps to lower cholesterol levels due to the addition of plant sterols." After identification of an ingredient, the challenge is to upscale its production. In parallel, human clinical trials are conducted to validate if the presumed health effects exist. These health claims must be approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) before the product can enter the market.
A long and risky road
Due to strict regulations and the need for extensive clinical trials, the road from lead to health ingredient is long and risky. Via various milestones, NutriLeads follows the development trajectory together with four investors. NutriLeads managed to get these investors on board, despite a scarcity in venture capital due to the economic crisis around 2013. Also, there were no investors in that period with a particular interest in functional foods. ‘Many investors were interested in the field between nutrition and pharma, but the field of health ingredients or nutraceutiocals fell outside of their comfort zone’, says Albers.
Ruud Albers, CEO of NutriLeads: "The Venture Challenge was a trigger to bring a team together. This enthusiastic team jointly wrote the NutriLeads business plan and set up a good proposition, which gave the company an enormous boost."
Albers: "After a year we got four investors on board, each active in a different part of the field. They complimented each other, jointly covered the entire field and, more importantly, they encouraged each other to invest in NutriLeads." Although dealing with several investors adds a layer of complexity, we benefited from the individual experience of each investor and their instruments in the deal, says Albers. "From the seed phase, we had four investors who jointly financed our Series A. Now we are preparing our Series B."
The team is key
The importance of having a good team was clear to Albers from the start. During his time at Unilever, he worked on the development of functional foods. In one of their projects, they searched for ingredients that supported the functioning of the immune system and increased resistance to respiratory infections. Albers acquired the expertise and first patents from this project and used these to start his own business. "When I established NutriLeads, it was me, myself and I. The Venture Challenge was a trigger to bring a team together. This enthusiastic team jointly wrote the NutriLeads business plan and set up a good proposition, which gave the company an enormous boost."
"The most important lesson I learned during the Venture Challenge is to gather the right people around you who have relevant and complementary experience, but also complementary and divergent personalities to prevent tunnel vision", states Albers. "Another take-home message is to define the direction your company will go and state as clearly and unequivocally as possible how your company will develop and why this is differentiating, appealing and worthwhile for all the investments you will make. In a nutshell, the Venture Challenge literally challenges you to create an optimal start for your company."
Ruud Albers participated in the Venture Challenge Fall 2013.