Press release Researchers start company for sustainable and local cultivation of legumes

08/04/2021
soy beans fresh and ripe

Spin-off of VIB and ILVO launched under the name PROTEALIS

Ghent, April 8, 2021 - After decades in plant research, Benjamin Laga and Jonas Aper are taking a bold step in their work on locally grown plant protein. Today, they have baptized their new company Protealis. As a spin-off of the research institutes VIB and ILVO, they can boast a wide range of knowledge and innovative technologies. The mission of the two young entrepreneurs is to make protein-rich crops such as legumes attractive again for European farmers. Their first focus is to develop high-protein, high-yield soybean varieties.


For the spin off, 6.000.000€ seed capital has been raised from private and public financiers.

Protealis partners

The people behind Protealis

Benjamin Laga is the new CEO of Protealis. He worked as a top researcher in plant biotechnology at BASF and gained international experience there in the area of seed business and innovation. Jonas Aper was there from the start of ILVO's soybean breeding program and has been leading it for the last eight years. Today, this program becomes a cornerstone of the new company. "We want to play a meaningful role in making agriculture more sustainable, through suitable varieties of soy." CEO Benjamin Laga: "Combining science and technology with entrepreneurship to address social and environmental challenges is an ultimate dream for me. That is exactly what Protealis is all about. So I did not hesitate when VIB and ILVO approached me to be at the helm of their new project on sustainable and local protein production."

Sustainable soy and a stimulating protein policy

With innovative breeding techniques and seed coatings, Protealis is aiming for a new, high-performing, local soy production. Until now, Europe has not been strong in home-grown protein crops, and has therefore been dependent on the import of soy from South America in particular. The social and ecological questions surrounding these imports are well known'. At the same time, our society increasingly demands vegetable protein sources, preferably local and sustainable. Pulses are an excellent source of protein. They can be cultivated sustainably because they do not require nitrogen fertilization. And they are suitable as a crop rotation with cereal crops.

It is not surprising that European and Flemish policy makers are fully committed to shifting towards local and vegetable protein production. Local soybean cultivation can be an ally of that ambition.
Flemish Minister of Agriculture and Innovation Hilde Crevits: "The collaboration between our Flemish research centers VIB and ILVO is bearing fruit with the start of a new, promising spin-off. It shows that we in Flanders are not only strong in the field of biotechnological research for better medicines, but also for agricultural and food sectors. The expertise that VIB has in biotechnology and that ILVO has in the agricultural sector are combined here to put innovation into practice within the sustainable protein strategy 2030 that we recently proposed."

Profitable beans for a European market

Current soybean varieties are mostly adapted to subtropical areas. They do not yet thrive in our soil and climate. Or they are designed to be high in oil rather than high in protein. Protealis will develop protein-rich crops that are adapted to local conditions and give good yields, making them interesting for the farmer as well. In concrete terms, we are aiming for soybean varieties with up to 46 grams of protein per 100 grams, bred specifically for farmers n Northern and Western European farmers, and suitable for the dual purpose of food and feed. This will promote the local production of vegetable proteins for the fast growing markets of meat and dairy substitutes and for sustainable animal feed.

Riding tandem with VIB and ILVO

Protealis is based on the strategic partnership shared by VIB and ILVO. It draws on the unique know-how of both research institutes. This includes a market-ready breeding program based on innovative, non-GMO breeding technologies from ILVO and seed coating with yield-enhancing soil bacteria from VIB. Both innovations have been developed and refined over the years in the public top research laboratories of Professors Jan Michiels (VIB-KU Leuven), Sofie Goormachtig (VIB-UGent) and Joke Pannecoucque and Isabel Roldàn-Ruiz (ILVO).

Jérôme Van Biervliet, VIB's General Director: "Protealis is a perfect example of entrepreneurship in the biotech ecosystem that we want to stimulate from VIB. By working together with ILVO we can link breeding expertise to high-tech research and thus create an economic opportunity. My thanks go to the colleagues in the team whose intense dedication was essential. "

Joris Relaes,, ILVO's Executive Director : "ILVO has been paving the way for local soy within the entire agri-food chain for 10 years. We are delighted that our highly specialized soybean breeding is now given the opportunity to accelerate significantly and really look for valorization in the market. ILVO participates in Protealis. As a public research center, we have made constructive, clear, fair agreements with the spin off."

Supported by a solid investment consortium

Led by venture capital fund V-Bio Ventures, Protealis was able to raise 6 million euros in capital. Agri Investment Fund (AIF), Participatiemaatschappij Vlaanderen (PMV), Estari Group, Globachem Group, Gemma Frisius Fund and VIB joined this series A financing round. With this seed capital, the company wants to further develop the technology, expand the portfolio of crop varieties and bring the first soybean varieties for local cultivation to the market in 2022. In the fairly short term, the realization of the mission is already beginning.

Willem Broekaert of V-Bio Ventures said, "We are proud that we were able to bring together a group of experienced investors who are supporting Protealis to become a new player in the plant breeding sector, a sector that historically has not received much support from venture capital. We have great confidence in the team and technology behind Protealis."

Media contact info:

For Protealis

VIB’s media contact

ILVO’s media contact

Benjamin Laga, CEO, beschikbaar voor interviews.

Elisabeth Stes

Greet Riebbels

T +32 477 63 74 46

T +32 486 825 902

T +32 486 26 00 14

benjamin.laga@protealis.com

elisabeth.stes@vib.be

greet.riebbels@ilvo.vlaanderen.be

Read more about Protealis on their website: www.protealis.com


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