Aphea.Bio is developing the next generation of agricultural biologicals.
In the process of feeding humanity, agriculture often puts a strain on natural resources and the environment. To facilitate implementation of more sustainable agricultural practices, Aphea.Bio is developing the next generation of agricultural biologicals. These agro-biologicals are naturally occurring substances (such as microorganisms) that improve the health and yield of crops. Complementing and potentially replacing chemical products with these biological solutions allows to protect plants and boost their growth in a natural way.
Aphea.Bio develops biostimulant products that allow crops such as maize and wheat to take up nutrients more efficiently, and thereby enable reduced fertilizer application. The company also produces biocontrol agents (biopesticides) that help safeguard the farmer’s yield by combatting fungal diseases, insect pests, field overgrowth by weeds, etc. Aphea.Bio’s R&D platform bundles several proprietary technologies and enables them to identify and isolate microorganisms that display the desired qualities. Next, these microorganisms are extensively tested in the lab and in the field, and further developed if proven successful.
I jumped into the unknown and there hasn’t been a single day I regretted it.
The company is a spin-off of Ghent University, the University of Leuven and the VIB. It merged expertise in plant-bacteria interactions (Prof. Sofie Goormachtig, Ghent University) with algorithms that were originally developed to understand the human gut microbiome (Prof. Jeroen Raes, University of Leuven). Isabel Vercauteren, Aphea.Bio’s CEO, was sought out to take the wheel. Together with Steven Vandenabeele, CTO at Aphea.Bio, she forms a strong tandem responsible for the daily management of the company. Given Isabel’s experience in translating scientific discoveries into applications, it was clear to her that this represented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Isabel explains “I jumped into the unknown and there hasn’t been a single day I regretted it. This decision was of course based on great science, as well as a good ecosystem and a unique technology allowing us to differentiate ourselves.” Coming from the corporate world, the main difference for her was the speed and agility with which Aphea.Bio moves forward. “Every day you make great strides in developing your product. In bigger organizations, you sometimes get the impression that decisions require approval from people many levels above you. And when it does finally come back to you, it can already be too late, and you might have missed an opportunity. For us, it is completely the other way around – big decisions and a lot of dynamics.”
Once Qbic decides to invest in a company the team is very committed to guiding and helping the company reach the next step. It is not just a financial commitment.
Isabel compares the required commitment to raising a child; you walk together through your child’s life, while watching it face difficulties and grow up. And Aphea.Bio is growing quickly. The company currently employs over 30 people and is transitioning from a research organization into a development company. To enable that growth, they raised funds from external investors. When Qbic came into the picture, Isabel took notice of the team’s strong commitment towards the company. “Once Qbic decides to invest in a company – and this is not only true for Aphea.Bio, I also saw it with the other portfolio companies – the team is very committed to guiding and helping the company reach the next step. It is not just a financial commitment. I also have the impression that Qbic trusts our team and what we are doing. That is something you of course must earn, but there is no micro-management or looking over the shoulder. They are also very accessible; we can pick up the phone and ask for ad hoc advice. All of that works well with the speed at which Aphea.Bio is evolving.”
According to Isabel, Aphea.Bio’s biggest asset is their team. “Although as CEO I am a jack-of-all-trades, I am only enabling. I brainstorm with the team on how we best approach things, but I am not the one performing the experiments. In the end, it is the team who executes what we have in mind, and I try to accommodate that as best as I can. If not because of our very committed and dynamic team, we would not be in the position that we are today. They are the ones enabling us to reach our goal.”
We want to see our products make a difference and help make people's lives better.
When asked about that goal, Isabel elaborates “We want to see our products make a difference and help make people's lives better. It sounds a bit like a cliché, but it is really what we want to achieve. By bringing our products to the market, we want to contribute to transforming agriculture into something sustainable.”
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