Home to the greatest biodiversity on the planet, the Amazon region possesses a rich ecosystem regarding plants, animals and microorganisms. About 60% of its territory is located in Brazil, according to Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE) [Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics]. Within this broad territory, in the largest tropical forest on the planet, considerable amount of raw materials are found suitable to develop unique technologies, capable of making the region a gateway to innovative investments.
Startups – technology-based companies that seek solutions for products and services – have progressively won more space in the region, and especially in the territory of Pará state. One of them – Biomimetics Biotechnology – develops an edible skin. Imperceptible to the human eye, and made from fruit peels. This delicate skin is able to extend the life of food stored in shelves. The product was created in 2019 by three partners as a result of an entrepreneurship competition organized by the Federal University of Pará [UFPA], The Inove+. Since then, the product has been improved and is now undergoing the final stages of development to be launched in the market.
Increasing the shelf life of bananas, tomatoes and apples is the company's main focus, explains partner and executive director Jonas Cunha da Silva, a bioprocess engineer: “We've already achieved the extension of about four more days at room temperature. All this thanks to our bioactive components. In addition to fruit peels, we use several natural ingredients from the Brazilian Amazon”. The main customer to test the progress and efficiency of the product is the hortifruti products distributor, who makes the food circulate to the entire chain. “We have about nine people, most of whom are bioprocess engineers working in research, product development and production”.
The growing increase in organic waste, mainly deriving from agribusiness, and the great waste of food on a global scale were the factors that motivated the team of entrepreneurs to act. One of the founders had the idea to make the skin – the organic film – while researching on biomaterials. After sharing his idea with two other friends, who studied the extraction of components from fruit peels, the project was born. The initial intent was to take part in the contest promoted by the Federal University of Pará [UFPA], in which the idea won the first place. The other partners of Biomimética Biotecnologia are the bioprocess engineers André da Luz de Freitas and Patrícia Oliveira Santos, respectively, research and production directors.
“In order to ensure a more sustainable future for our country, we need to invest in products with high added value, such as this skin. I see a lot of potential in what we do, as our team is very engaged and has already developed other innovative products with similar proposals. We have gathered a lot of knowledge on the subject and we are aware of the relevance of this type of product for the country and for the world. I believe a great deal in the potential of our country and I know we are one of the countries responsible for feeding the rest of the world. But to keep up performing such a task, we need to guarantee safe and quality food for everyone”, says Jonas Cunha the bioprocess engineer.
According to Jonas , one advantage of developing this technology within the Amazon is the enormous diversity it encompasses, which allows the product to incorporate natural ingredients with bioactive properties that can protect food in a fully functional and safe way, without the need to synthesize harmful chemicals to the environment.
In addition, we emphasize the opportunity to observe conscientiously the rich diversity of the fruit sector, with foods that exist, exclusively, in states that surround the Amazon region - known abroad as ‘superfruits’. Jonas also explains that many of these fruits are not yet known due to their short shelf life: they spoil even before they reach other states or countries. The organic skin created by Biomimetica can help change this scenario and increase the income of communities that depend on this type of commerce.
Bringing up sustainable ideas is the way out to guarantee a long life for businesses and projects. The startup's executive director emphasizes: “The market is becoming increasingly competitive and, nowadays, it’s not just about making money, but staying consistently profitable, that is, financially alive for the next decades, without harming the environment or causing social instability. A sustainable idea must be based on three pillars: social, financial and environmental. This attitude towards the market and nature will guarantee a less unequal planet for everyone, one that is more environmentally friendly to live in, with fewer disasters and fewer tragedies and economic instabilities”, says Jonas Cunha.
"A sustainable idea must be based on three pillars: social, financial and environmental" - Jonas Cunha, bioprocess engineer.
In his opinion, investments from public and private agents are the solution for sustainable ideas to succeed. Jonas defends that the State should invest in Bioeconomy and, in partnerships with solid companies, providing the necessary support for these projects to fully mirror the market, instead of being simply ‘ideas’.
Technology transforms family farming
Developing a system that could track any product originating from family farming was the determinant motivating factor for the emergence of Amachains, a startup company that today has a traceability management platform with a marketplace. The tracking of products and services is performed by using blockchain and compliance to transform agribusiness and bioeconomy production chains into sustainable business networks. The team started working in January 2018, but it was only in October 2019 that the company was established. Today, it operates in the agribusiness and bioeconomy production chains, but the company has already had experience with the mining chain as well.
“The main solution is a platform that allows tracking products, services and impact indicators linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Amachains proposal has its origins in the harsh reality of family farmers who, despite the various actions taken by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), companies and people on their regard, cannot change their condition of being the weakest part of agribusiness”, evaluates Alexandre Bezerra – the startup's founder and CEO, a production engineer and also an agribusiness technician. “We realized that we could help and decided to tackle this problem with a traceability system that could be given away for free to one of the most important players in agribusiness and the bioeconomy in Brazil. We represent a social project with the purpose of generating justice, prosperity and dignity for all producers”.
By offering an innovative and disruptive platform, the Amachains may project the Amazon region to national prominence concerning modernity and technology, providing cutting-edge technology at affordable prices to all producers in agribusiness and bioeconomy, considering either those ones who work on extractive activities or not, and also for free to the producers who are legally registered as family farmers.
"Surely, our greatest satisfaction and potential is being able to gather small family farmers in this journey towards the achievement of sustainable development and innovation" - a production engineer and also an agribusiness technician (Personal archive)
Alexandre explains that the solutions being created add great value to all the actors in the productive chains, especially to family farming. In parallel, there are innovations in state-of-the-art technology, such as blockchain. “The way we use the blockchain to create our platform and our business is innovative in Brazil and in the world. Surely, our greatest satisfaction and potential is being able to gather small family farmers in this journey towards the achievement of sustainable development and innovation. Our platform was developed to reach national and international levels”.
The team currently has 10 members – it has increased 100% in number of employees in 2021 and is supposed to increase even more in 2022, according to the CEO. Alexandre states that it becomes increasingly necessary to create startups which solve problems concerning global warming and provide more sustainable development. For him, a company that does not care about the planet, following guidelines of good governance, paying close attention to environment and social issues, is like signing a “death penalty”. Thus, he advocates everyone should work in advance and pay attention to the Amazon.
Project seeks to decrease cost to producers and to buyers
Directto, another startup empowering producers and buyers, aims at cutting out the necessity of middlemen in the commerce of Amazon bioeconomy products. Using a platform, the group, acting in Pará state territory for about one year, manages efficient and clear direct sales, without the necessity of intermediary people, resulting in higher profiting and lower costs to the sellers and to the buyers, also providing a source of reliable and quality suppliers.
Co-founder and CEO of Directto, Rodrigo Gomes de Oliveira, expert entrepreneur in growth hacking, attributes the emergence of the project to a friend of him, who was living in Portugal – since he had no planned career, he thought about exporting products to that country. He decided to sell açai, and for that purpose he contacted local companies. “I saw how the process of intermediary sales happen, how the production bought here is sold abroad. Their mode of operation did not seem efficient to me. I started to study about it and thought about a model of marketplace, I wondered if that would possibly work properly to the exporting scenario of açai and other products. I figured it out that there was an opportunity to add value to both parts”.
Even though there are many productive chains participating in the Amazon bioeconomy, all of them face the same problem, says Rodrigo, because the producer has the expertise ‘in production’, not ‘in selling’ or financial management. This evidence, according to the CEO, impairs the commerce, that is why they are always behind . So, the market tool has a gigantic potential to add value to the region. This model of business is going to work for exporting and for the local market, says the co-founder. Thus, producers will find new suppliers more easily and will get a clearer process of commerce.
"I think our forest brings many challenges, but entrepreneurship is just like that: the companies exist to solve problems” - Rodrigo Gomes de Oliveira, Co-founder and CEO of Directto.
“It is a differential touch to the Amazon, because this regional bioeconomy community of producers is going to economically evolve. This is going to be a very good thing for us to be able to develop not only the productive chains, but also keep the forest standing, which is the concept of the products from the Amazon. So, it has a great social, economic and ecologic impact. It is important to create sustainable ideas, which value the Amazon culture. I think our forest brings many challenges, but entrepreneurship is just like that: the companies exist to solve problems”.
Partnership creates ecosystem to startup acceleration
All these projects are part of Associação Paraense de Inovação e Tecnologia (Açai Valley) [Innovation and Technology Association from Pará], acting since 2019 in Pará, aiming at gathering entrepreneur ideas. The initiative was born from the necessity of discussing innovation and entrepreneurship in the state. Currently, the entity holds about 200 mapped startups, including about 420 members. Last week, O Liberal Group and Açai Valley agreed on a partnership to create the LibVenture, the first ecosystem of startups acceleration in the North connected to a group of communication. The goal is to enhance, encourage and value the environment of innovation in the companies.
"An ecosystem of innovation needs active strong actors, and a lot of collaboration and union among them, so that the startups may emerge, develop themselves and grow up" - Alexandre Bezerra, production engineer and also an agribusiness technician.
The idea, according to Aline Viana, market director of the Liberal Group, is to promote the idea of ‘innovation’ more and more. The partnership with Açai Valley is going to expand this space. “The objective is to bring the innovation ecosystem as much as possible into the group. Nowadays, there are plenty of possibilities here in Pará and a lot of startups still do not get enough visibility. The aim is to bring this concept and to invest in innovation in 2022. The Açai Valley is the main association of startups in the state and we want to strengthen this relationship with them”.
Some of these projects support the association with mentorship to the beginner startups, sharing some experiences and helping to develop new ideas in our region, such as Amachains. “An ecosystem of innovation needs active strong actors, and a lot of collaboration and union among them, so that the startups may emerge, develop themselves and grow up. The Açai Valley is like the “glue” that bonds all these actors. We think Açai Valley was indispensable to reach the results we have today, says Alexandre Bezerra.
On the other hand, Jonas Cunha, from Biomimética, considers Açai Valley as a network of opportunities. “The association has great goals for the future, but currently it has been a place that works as a support net for the entrepreneurs in Pará and that helps in the communication process with various public and private actors. We are always sharing ideas about the market, pitching for investors and other things”, he comments.