Life as an entrepreneur - Edgar Suarez Garcia
In 2012, Edgar Suarez Garcia came to the Netherlands to get a master’s degree in process engineering. Afterwards, he got a PhD in bioprocess engineering at the University of Wageningen. Having completed both studies, he founded FUMI Ingredients, a start-up that takes microbial biomass and turns it into food.
During his PhD, Edgar was researching microalgae. These algae are interesting for environmental and sustainability reasons, they can consume CO2 and produce several compounds of industrial interest. “They are able to create products like healthy oils or pigments. I looked at our PhD research and asked myself: how can we use these microalgae in other applications?”
Turning algae biomass into food is indeed possible. “I am definitely not the only one doing this; there are many people looking into this subject. An ingredient like spirulina is a great example. People use it in smoothies and other foods. Or the Dutch Weed Burger – they also use algae in their burger. Personally, I am more interested in using specific parts of the algae as highly functional ingredients.”
From scientist to entrepreneur
After finishing his PhD, Edgar started his company alone. “During my PhD, I worked closely with my supervisor, but he was still a full time professor. In the first months, the company was called Alfi. Then, I got some fascinating results in the lab and noticed that there were some interested parties. Then we realized it was time to change our approach. We changed the business’ name to FUMI Ingredients and got my former supervisor on board.” That was two years ago: nowadays, Edgar works together with 4 colleagues.
As a scientist, Edgar was not prepared for his job as entrepreneur. “I knew a lot about doing research in a lab, but I didn’t know anything about starting a company. In the beginning, I got a lot of help from StartLife and their accelerate program. There, I learned everything about creating financial models and approaching the right markets as well as how to present my business model to interested parties.” These were all new topics for Edgar, but the mentorship was exactly what he needed. “They create an ecosystem in which you can talk to the right people and learn from them.”
The biggest challenge in the beginning of FUMI Ingredients was finding investors. “We had to convince people that we had a great product and that there was a market for it. In order to create a great product, I just had to go back into the lab and do the work I was already familiar with, but finding financial support was a whole other thing.”
Through StartLife, Edgar was able to find the support he needed. “They helped us with finding investors, but also showed us how to present our ideas to companies and VC's. Because of the connections at StartLife, we found a couple of interested parties and convinced them our business was worth it.” Later, Edgar also got support from the Rabobank, via a loan.
“At first, I was afraid that starting a business in the Netherlands as an expat would be difficult, but now I know that is not the case. OostNL helped me with things like permits and a work visa without hesitation. And when I applied for subsidies, no one asked after my nationality. They only saw that I came from a university and was trying to develop my business.”
Learning from mistakes
When FUMI Ingredients just started, Edgar was working with a very limited budget. “We did not have much money, only lots of ideas and energy. We needed to buy a new equipment for our research process. I searched for one everywhere I could, but most of the machines I found were very expensive. Then, I found an alternative machine that could also work. I wasn’t totally sure about it, but it was a lot cheaper and so I bought it.”
After two months of frustrating work, Edgar concluded that this machine was unsuitable for their research. “Now I had to wait and save up money for the more expensive machine. I learned that the cheaper option isn’t always the better option. After this, I was more careful about where our funds were going.”
Looking back at the start of the company, Edgar is tremendously happy. “The fact that I got this opportunity is amazing – not just studying here, but also starting my own business. I am very grateful for the opportunities that living and studying in the Netherlands gave me.”
In this blog series, The Life Net and StartLife Wageningen like to show what an attractive region Wageningen is to start and establish as an entrepreneur. It spotlights various internationals or companies that attract internationals. They like to share their inspiring story about how they started and grew with their business. Check StartLife Wageningen for how they help entrepreneurs.