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Entrepreneurs want to increase muscle mass and reduce overweight with a patent from Aarhus University

A previously abandoned patent from Aarhus University got new life in the hands of two visionary food enthusiasts, and together they started a company that is now based in Agro Food Park, north of Aarhus. IsoFirms dreams of fighting obesity with a food ingredient extracted from the stevia plant - and the entrepreneurial program EIT Food Seedbed at Aarhus University has supported them in their market entry.

Photo: Randi Søndergaard is the CEO of the startup company IsoFirms. (Photo Anne Madsen McLeman, Food & Bio Cluster Denmark)

In June every year, Aarhus University welcomes eight new early stage start-up companies to the entrepreneurial program EIT Food Seedbed Incubator - and this has been the case during the past three years.

With personalized business coaching, industry connections and market research funding, the program supports startup companies with the potential to change the agri-food sector with their innovative deep tech solutions.

One of those companies is IsoFirms. With a new food ingredient Isosteviol, which is extracted from the stevia plant, they want to fight obesity, prevent muscle loss and improve physical performance.

The company is headed by Randi Søndergaard, who has studied medicine at Aarhus University for three years. Instead of pursuing a medical career, she became interested in business, took a degree in financial management and became a food consultant specializing in plants and with experience in patents. - and today is a promising entrepreneur based in Agro Food Park in Skejby.

Brought a previously abandoned patent to life

A few years ago, Randi and her business partner Gunnar Kvistgaard came across a patent on the effect of Steviol glucoside on muscles and endurance, which had been abandoned to be commercialized by Aarhus University.

- The researchers had found that Isosteviol, extracted from Stevia, increases the transport of sugar in the form of glucose into the muscle cells with a greater muscle growth as a result. They had studied how Steviol glycoside - and therefore Isosteviol - works on cyclists, during very intense training - and the effect was great. However, Gunnar and I thought that it would also have an effect during moderate exercise. If that was the case, it could be a revolution for the overweight and for the elderly who suffer from muscle loss, among others.

Randi and Gunnar therefore continued to work on the patent licensed from Aarhus University. In 2020, together with an investor group, they founded IsoFirms and, using experiments on pigs, succeeded in confirming that Isosteviol also works by moderate movement - and it became IsoFirms' first own patent with no involvement from Aarhus University

Got a boost in marketing

Since then, IsoFirms has applied for the approval of Isosteviol as a food ingredient in the EU - a lengthy process that is expected to finish this spring.

In the meantime, Randi has done her best to prepare IsoFirms for the market, and therefore joined the entrepreneurial program EIT Food Seedbed at Aarhus University.

- I had complete control of the product, but at Seedbed I got a coach who helped me see the blind spots, and I was put in touch with market-leading companies that provided valuable feedback and did not mince words, Randi says:

- It made me realize that there were aspects that I had neglected, while I had been focused on all the technicalities around the product, namely marketing and communication. I immediately set about fixing it in collaboration with an agency.

Among other things, this has resulted in the introduction of new communication materials, including videos and a website, which have greatly supported the contact with potential partners - and thus brought IsoFirms even closer to the market:

- We are in the process of finding partners who would like to be first-movers by using Isosteviol as an ingredient in their products, and it has been much easier to convey our messages with the tools we have got in Seedbed, Randi concludes.

Entrepreneurial program open for applications

When Randi Søndergaard came to the EIT Food Seedbed, IsoFirms was further in the startup process than is usually the case in the Seedbed program.

- In our program, we are able to tailor-make services to the needs of the startup, and we were therefore able to guide Randi with issues related to market access, says Stella Spanou who is acting Hub Manager for the EIT Food Seedbed activities at Aarhus University:

- As an entrepreneur, you have to wear many hats, and we can make this easier through coaching, industry connection, funding for the market discovery journey and webinars on many different hot topics for startup.

From 2022, the responsibility for the EIT Seedbed Hub will be shared between the Department of Food Science and the entrepreneurial hub The Kitchen at Aarhus University, as part of their common initiatives in research-based entrepreneurship within the food space.

- We believe that by connecting entrepreneurs and researchpreneurs with the corporate sector as well as the StartUp community in EIT FOOD, we create the most nourishing environment for innovation and collaboration to grow, says Jonas Brandt, Head of Business Development at the AU Kitchen.


Additional information

Visit the website of IsoFirms here (new website expected in March, but on the same address)

If you would like further information about the EIT Food Seedbed Hub at Aarhus University – and how you can participate, please visit the Seedbed Aarhus website

Whether you are an aspiring entrepreneur looking to validate your market opportunity, a startup looking to pilot or scale your food system solution through corporate partners, EIT Food offers programmes for all stages of your entrepreneurship journey. Please visit the official website of the Seedbed Incubator program here

About EIT Food: The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) is an independent body under the auspices of the EU with the purpose of boosting innovation and entrepreneurship in Europe. EIT is an umbrella body for a range of consortia working with innovation and entrepreneurship in various areas, such as climate, raw materials and food.

Contact

Randi Søndergaard, CEO, IsoFirms, rs@IsoFirms.com, phone: +45 2255 0357

If you would like further information about the entrepreneurial program EIT Food Seedbed at Aarhus University, and how you can participate with your startup, please contact:

EIT Food Seedbed Hub, Department of Food Science, Aarhus University:

Stella Spanou, ss@food.au.dk , phone: +45 9350 8393

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