Case Study

Sustainable Food Solutions Challenge: a Match-Making Story

How the startup Floré, a gut health expert, met the giant biotech DSM, and how they will make people happy ever after

This isn’t a classic story of startup meets corporate. There was no love — or investment — at first sight.

But MassChallenge Switzerland partners Floré and DSM followed their gut feelings and took the time to get to know each other before committing. Now, their newfound long-term strategic partnership is set to revolutionize the probiotics sector and improve the health and wellness of 50 billion people by the year 2050.

The Sustainable Food Solutions Challenge

MassChallenge Switzerland’s Sustainable Food Solutions Challenge identifies later-stage startups or scaleups and matches them with a MassChallenge partner. Startups work directly with key stakeholders at global food corporates, where they get access to co-development opportunities, product validation, customer connections, strategic investments and advisor introductions. 

Breaking the mold of the typical match-making contest, Floré and DSM did not pitch together at MassChallenge Switzerland’s Sustainable Food Solutions Challenge in Spring 2021. DSM had only recently become a partner of MassChallenge Switzerland, so Floré pitched alone.

All the judges—and DSM, also in attendance—responded favorably to the pitch, particularly its sound business model. Yet, Floré was not quite ready to move forward when DSM asked for an initial meeting.

“The Challenge ended in May, and we only got our first visit from DSM in San Diego in September,” says Shannon Huang, International Partnership and IP Director, Floré. “Still, within a few months after this discussion, we had already closed our first round with DSM Venturing (the company’s corporate venture capital arm).”

Synergies and symbiosis

Clarifying synergies is an important step in the startup-corporate partnership process. Typically, the corporate provides building blocks that the startup can implement to create enhanced products or solutions in reduced time.

The partnership between the two organizations is a natural symbiosis. DSM and DSM Venturing are involved in gut health and personal nutrition, and Floré’s unique manufacturing process includes a next-generation sequencing approach completed by a robust dataset with improvement tracking.

“Floré is at the cross point of these two domains,” says Pieter Wolters, Managing Director, DSM Venturing. “It combines a sequencing diagnostic of the person’s gut health with a custom formulation.”

These two Sustainable Food Solutions Challenge participants have agreed upon a partnership, including research collaboration with the possibility for DSM to use Floré’s algorithms to gain insight into novel ingredients; in return, it will allow the startup to source high-quality ingredients for its products, as well as take advantage of its deep knowledge base and extensive business network.

Tailored probiotics for maximum results

Investors are increasingly placing their bets on the disruptive potential of custom probiotics. This is where Floré has an advantage. It is not just another probiotics startup: Floré is taking the guesswork out of the most challenging step for many consumers, choosing the right probiotic.

This is achieved by first analyzing a client’s microbiome to detect any imbalances in gut flora. Its probiotics are then customized to treat a weak or “leaky” gut and increase general health and wellness, in addition to targeting specific illnesses such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“This is a new era for precision medicine. Instead of tailoring drugs to individual genetic profiles, we’ve become preventative by tailoring nutrition and supplements to our unique microbiome – precision nutrition,” says Sunny Jain, CEO and Founder of Floré.

And advance the science they have. After years of research and development, Floré has perfected its patented techniques to develop the world’s largest gut microflora interpretation platforms. The platform can detect over 23,000 organisms, including bacteria, parasites, yeast, viruses, phases, and fungi. 

Based on the results, Floré formulated personalized prebiotics and probiotics with only the highest quality bacterial strains that will provide positive support to create balance in one’s microflora to improve overall health.   

DSM: dark coal to green goals

From a government-owned coal mining and gas company in the Netherlands, DSM evolved to become a public petrol-chemical company in the ’80s. It has since emerged as a biosciences and nutrition company, leading the charge for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The corporate says it is prepared for the current economic, climate, and supply issues, but is also thinking ahead to prepare for near future challenges in nutrition and health. This forward-thinking approach has seen DSM Venturing invest in startups for over two decades.

Each year, investments are made in approximately ten new startups chosen for collaboration, according to Wolters, and the selection process is challenging.

Without MassChallenge, we would have taken more time to finalize an investment and strategic partnership with Floré,” says Wolters. “The Challenge helped us evaluate the best potential partners and connect with them more quickly, easing the entire process and saving us time and energy.”

About MassChallenge

MassChallenge Switzerland is part of MassChallenge’s global network for innovators. MassChallenge equips great startups to grow and transform businesses & economies. Since MassChallenge Switzerland’s launch in 2016, they have accelerated 610 startups that have raised CHF985M in funding and generated 29,000 Jobs.

Learn more about MassChallenge here.