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SomaTech aiming to boost nutrition in global food supply through fermentation

The Monaghan firm is aiming for a €750,000 investment, which will drive the creation of its first one-tonne fermenter

Dr Tony Callaghan and Dr Alejandra Omarini In their SomaTech lab in Ballybay, Co Monaghan. Picture: Joe Dunne

Revolutionising nutrition through fermentation is the modus operandi of SomaTech, the Monaghan-based firm looking to raise €750,000.

The company takes so-called side streams, which are food-grade goods created as a by-product of other processes, and uses them to create protein-rich ingredients.

The company has Tony Callaghan and Alejandra Omarini, two biotechnologists, at the helm, and already has global ambitions, although they’re starting with the UK and Irish markets first.

SomaTech is currently looking to raise €750,000 through a funding round, from both private and public sources, to scale up their technology, with the construction of a one-tonne fermentation machine – due to be finished in the next 12 months.

Fact File

Founded by: Tony Callaghan and Alejandra Omarini in January 2023

Staff: 3

Funding target: €750,000

The machine takes by-product ingredients and enhances them using a process known as solid-state fermentation, which makes them more nutritionally dense and easily digestible.

“There are things called anti-nutrients in plants,” Callaghan, the company’s chief executive, explained.

“If you’re a seed in a field, you can’t run away. So, what plants do to protect themselves is produce phytochemicals, which are toxins”.

Fermentation breaks these down, Callaghan said, and enhances the nutrition profile of the base ingredients. “This is why when our ancestors eat seeds, they would soak and ferment them,” he said.

This process turns what used to be “side streams” for food producers into a high-value commodity to incorporate into other food products. Crucially, the company can also apply a so-called clean label.

Clean label products are those which use as few ingredients as possible, and opt to use ingredients consumers would recognise, with the goal of increasing trust and therefore, sales.

“I’d been working in the mushroom industry, where these types of fermentations are done at massive scale, hundreds of tonnes per batch, and Alejandra had been working in academia, developing defined formulations to make fermented ingredients. So we came together and we thought: what can we do here?” Callaghan said, on the creation of the firm.

“What Alejandra is doing in research is really interesting, but it isn’t much good unless you can scale it up,” he added.

And scaling up is their plan, with the one-tonne machine only the start of their strategy. “We want to scale that up to 10 or 100 tonnes,” said Callaghan. “Then we’re into really meaningful volumes”.

He said the “ultimate goal” of the biotech firm was to licence their fermentation model to producers, so that they can “hit a button” and get their fermented ingredients in two or three days.

“This is where this business model is very powerful,” he said. “This is a globally scalable business. The ultimate aim is to make the system really automated so that anybody can use it”.

Enterprise Ireland shares this ambition for the firm, Callaghan said, pointing to their extensive range of support.

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“It’s everything from their financial teams helping us with a business model to their investment teams getting us investor ready, really putting us through the mill,” he said. They were also key in putting the firm in front of the right people, he said, with connections that span a range of companies and industries.

With clients like Quorn foods, BiaSol and Givaudan already buying the company’s initial tranche of fermented foods, it’s clear they’re not the only ones who see the growth potential of solid-state fermentation.

This Making it Work article is produced in partnership with Enterprise Ireland