One man's trash is another man's treasure
by Danae Bersi, Content Creator, New Agriculture for a New Generation

We live in a time when everything seems to be changing. Now, the importance of protecting the environment and utilizing the agri-food sector as a means of prosperity, economic and social, seems more important than ever. That's exactly what Katerina, Theano, Nicolia and Andreas had in mind when they started working on an idea, which evolved into the creation of ProsPer about 2 years ago.


Innovation and circular economy in the foreground

ProsPer uses fish by-products of Greek fish farming, that means fish heads, bones and fins that are discarded during the filleting process, in order to create a series of powders that have high nutritional value and special taste. These powders can be used, among other things, in various types of sauces, soups and salads.

More specifically, the team has created three types of powders, a high-calcium powder, a high-protein powder and one that can be used as a flavor enhancer in new recipes. They are also aiming to start as a B2B business so their goal is to address restaurants and food cooperatives that could use the product both as a flavor and as a nutritional enhancer.

But let's take things from the start. The idea for the ProsPer’s product came after 4 years of research by Katerina Kandiliari, as part of her doctorate at the Agricultural University of Athens. She states that "We saw that the whole research I was doing was combining things like circular economy and the utilization of natural resources, so we decided to turn it into a business idea. After all, the notion of sustainability and the reduction of the environmental footprint was one of the issues that troubled us from the beginning. "

Katerina, Theano and Nicolia were studying together at the Agricultural University of Athens. In fact, Theano Mikrou is currently pursuing her PhD in “Food Technology” and Nicolia Samari in “Ecology and Natural Environment”. They met Andreas Gougousis, the 4th member of the team, Mechanical Engineer and a graduate of the National Technical University, through the Summer School program of the "New Agriculture for a New Generation" program, where he participated while Katerina was a member of the organizing team. “Andreas was a beneficiary of the " New Agriculture for a New Generation" program. We saw that he was very interested in the idea, and so we decided to make the team ", says Katerina.


Trophy-Τροφή Challenge as a springboard

The initiative for the creation of ProsPer started in 2018 through a competition of the Agricultural University of Athens, which gave them the opportunity to be trained in entrepreneurship. So, after having the basic knowledge around business and entrepreneurship, they heard about the Trophy-Τροφή Challenge competition organized by the "New Agriculture for a New Generation" program and they decided to work fast in order to be able to participate in the competition.

One could say that the team saw the Trophy-Τροφή Challenge competition as an opportunity. As Katerina clearly states, "We strongly believed that Trophy-Τροφή Challenge would help us develop our idea. Therefore, our participation was a springboard for us to work intensively on it. "

So, they started a business plan where they figured out that, in order to reduce the initial capital, the company could function as a spin-off of the Agricultural University of Athens. After contacting AUA they saw that this was indeed possible, together with Mrs. Kapsokefalou, professor at the AUA and a member of the ProsPer team, as a mentor. "This enabled us to use the facilities and infrastructure of AUA for continuous research and development but also for the future production of our product," says Katerina.

The team feels that they have won a lot of things by participating in the Trophy-Τροφή Challenge, besides the prizes they managed to receive from their victory in the competition. "From the first moment we presented our idea, we saw that there was a huge interest, coming from a large audience that included both food experts and experts on entrepreneurship" says Katerina. She also continues by saying that “We were able to draw attention to our product and our idea. On the one hand, we were exposed to a large audience in the finals that took place at the Benaki Museum and on the other hand, through the competition, we were able to participate in the Thessaloniki International Fair, expanding our professional reach ".

Very important was the support they received in order to be able to implement their idea, and of course the cash prize, which they used for promotion and networking as well as participation in International competitions, such as the Future Agro Challenge and seminars like the EU&U. Also, as Katerina mentions, "With the money we received, we were able to continue the research on the product but also to finance the necessary procedures for the establishment of our company."

In addition to the cash prize, the winners of the Trophy-Τροφή Challenge were given the opportunity to be fully supported by Endeavor Greece for one year, while also winning a visit to Rutgers University in the United States, one of the world's largest and pioneering agri-food universities.

ProsPer’s team, as one of the winners of the competition, had the full support of Endeavor Greece, which offered both a series of seminars tailored to the needs of the team and networking with executives from the fish farming industry as well as from companies and businessmen. As Katerina says, "In Endeavor Greece, they choose just the right people for you and then they get you in contact. They work as mentors," adding that "The seminars were great and the people who presented them were truly experienced. I feel that we have gained a lot both in terms of communication and leadership. It is extremely important to have people that can read your every need and then provide you with a customized business plan".

As for the team's visit to Rutgers University, although Katerina’s program was full and she did not manage to attend, Theano and Nicolia who were there had an intense experience. The two members of the group that visited the University in February 2020 as another prize from the Trophy-Τροφή Challenge, feel that they had received significant feedback on their idea while at the same time, through this trip they were able to think of new things that could be applied either to the final product or to the production processes. "

According to Katerina, it was as if she was there, "We got in touch with food scientists, professors at Rutgers and we visited various labs. We also had the opportunity to see the Food Innovation Center, a unique experience as there is nothing similar in our country! Inside the University, there is a pioneering food innovation center that provides equipment and staff, working as an incubator for new ideas and new businesses.”

What impressed them the most as they say, is how much the food industry is evolving and how many new ideas there are. "When you are exposed to such an environment, one of the largest universities in the world with tremendous experience and training, you surely earn very important “tools” that you can use in the future," says Katerina. "We met other young people and scientists who have also started their own startups. In America, it is easier to connect science and business in the afri-food sector. Rutgers University is a great example of that.", she adds.

In an ever-changing environment, ideas like ProsPer's can create a fertile ground for growth, that respects the environment by using by-products of an industry to create a new product. A product that ultimately works well for both humans and the environment, outlining the definition of circular economy.

The team is now ready to start a pilot production of their product. Soon it will be available in a network of partners, while at the same time they are in contact with fish farms, both in Greece and abroad, that are really supporting their idea.

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