Young Latvian entrepreneurs developing bioeconomy prototypes

Under the "Prototech" program of the Technology Business Center of the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia (LIAA), 30 entrepreneurs and authors of ideas have received support for the development of a prototype. More than a third of the prototypes were developed in the field of bioeconomy, biomedicine and biopharmaceuticals, reports LIAA.

"Companies in these industries solve important challenges related to human health and environmental protection, so these are socially very important prototypes. I am glad that we were able to support such projects to solve important solutions for society," says the head of the Technology Business Center of the Latvian Investment and Development Agency Andrejs Berdnikovs.

The biotechnology start-up "Cellbox Labs" is one of the companies, developing miniature plastic devices that grow human cells and serve as a model system for drug developers. Cellbox Labs was created thanks to the Latvian Investment and Development Agency's science commercialization grants.

"Prototech" exactly met our needs, as we are currently working on the development of a technological prototype," says the co-founder of "Cellbox Labs" Roberts Rimša.

"The main benefit is the achieved automation in microscopy, where previously we used several manual algorithms. Now they are all included in one automated program," says Rimša.

For now, the team does not have the capacity to develop the necessary software themselves, so have teamed up with the Department of Innovative Product Development of Riga Technical University.

Meanwhile, green tech startup "Fluffy" is developing technology to extract keratin from animal by-products such as sheep wool and bird feathers. The obtained keratin is intended to be used in the production of cosmetics.

The company had already developed a fairly good keratin extraction method, but there was no data on the quality of the extracted keratin. So the team sought support and funding to carry out these tests.

Fluffy co-founder Vanda Voikiva noticed information about the "Prototech" program and decided to apply. After completing the program, she concludes that the biggest benefit is the new collaboration with researchers from the Faculty of Biology of the University of Latvia, who also work in the cosmetics field.

"As a result, we applied for and successfully obtained 100,000 euros in funding from the European Space Agency for a project in which we will develop keratin-based products with higher added value," says Voikiva.

The company's next plans are to scale up the manufacturing process for the first time outside of the laboratory and establish a pilot production line. It will be combined with other products developed by Fluffy, ensuring a zero-waste production process.

Another promising project is biotechnology start-up "SkinFuture", which is working on a sun protection cream that will use Latvian natural clay as an ultraviolet ray filter. This type of filter is currently not used by anyone else.

Aiga Salmiņa, co-founder of SkinFuture, received the recommendation to participate in the program from her business mentor, who had previously participated. "The tests I chose are performed only by the University of Latvia, and the tests needed for a prototype are very expensive. Therefore, this program was a great way to develop my business idea while collaborating with the University of Latvia, which has very knowledgeable professionals in my field of research," she said.

The company began with the idea of finding the most effective product composition that would have the best potential effect on human skin cells. This result was positive – now it is clearly known what are the best components for the further integration of the composite material chosen by SkinFuture as part of the product formula.

"The obtained results are a huge stepping stone in the development of a product prototype. Such support is very important for science-based products. Therefore, we are very grateful that there is such a program in which we can develop the idea," said Salmiņa.

She believes that it is important to create innovative products from raw materials available in Latvia, in the case of SkinFuture, from clay minerals. The development of such a product could expand the use of Latvia's natural resources and contribute to the development of a smart specialization strategy, as evidenced by the development of innovative products based on natural resources in the bioeconomy.

The prototyping support program "Prototech" had two calls. In the first, 29 applications were received, and in the second, 77. In total, 30 prototype authors received support of up to 15 thousand euros each.

Funding in the previous program has been exhausted, but the Technology Business Center is currently transforming into the Latvian Investment and Development Agency's Technology Representative Office in Riga. In March of this year, another call is planned for the business incubation program, which also provides support for the development of prototypes.

The prototyping support program "Prototech" is implemented in cooperation with Latvian scientific universities and with the support of the Technology Business Center of the Latvian Investment and Development Agency and the Norwegian Financial Instrument in Latvia.

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