The underrepresentation of women in rural areas not only affects the development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem but also hinders many women from fully realizing their potential. In response to this issue and to enhance the position of women in the agri-food industry, the Empowering Women in Agrifood (EWA) program was launched.
The EWA program is organized by Lean Startup Croatia in collaboration with EIT Food. It is a support program designed for early-career female entrepreneurs aimed at developing sustainable businesses. The program’s goal is to achieve gender equality and encourage women to take on leadership roles in the agri-food industry. In the 6-month entrepreneurial incubation program in Croatia, 10 entrepreneurs participate, including Manuela Panić, the founder of the startup NADES design. This is her story.
The mission of NADES design
We all love choosing products labeled as natural because we are increasingly aware that a healthy lifestyle is imperative. However, we are not always aware that plant extracts are not always produced ecologically but by using harmful petroleum-based solvents. Solvents are used daily in numerous industrial processes, and it is estimated that they account for almost 60% of all industrial emissions and 30% of all volatile organic compound emissions worldwide (Bubalo, C.; Anastas, P.). The global goal is to find green alternatives to currently used solvents and reduce CO2 emissions by 2030.
This is also the goal of NADES Design. Their mission is to change the industrial use of solvents. Their ultimate goal is to develop and produce new green bio-solvents for use in extraction, biocatalysis, and natural sciences, contributing to the reduction of CO2 emissions. For this reason, over the last 10 years, the team has been developing 100% green bio-solvents called natural deep eutectic solvents (NADES).
NADES solvents can completely replace toxic solvents and reduce CO2 emissions. These solvents are a mixture of at least two natural metabolites and are liquid and stable at room temperature. One such solvent can be found in your kitchen – honey.
Slika 1. Prirodna eutektička otapala.
By using these new solvents, the team has developed three products, i.e., plant cocktails (extracts) in NADES. These extracts have a longer shelf life compared to those currently available on the market. The solvents can dissolve at least 100 times more bioactive compounds from plants compared to currently available commercial products.
Slika 2. Ekstrakti biljaka u NADES otapalima
The startup’s biggest competitive advantage is the ability to develop tailor-made solutions, i.e., in silico solvent design using COSMOtherm software and mathematical models for plant extract preparation.
Slika 3. In silico dizajn novih NADES otapala.
NADES design team
The team consists of 7 female scientists from the Faculty of Food Technology and Biotechnology, with no prior entrepreneurial experience but with great enthusiasm for their work. They are:
Kristina Radošević (Cytotoxicity Determination and THEDES Preparation)
Assoc. Prof. Marina Cvjetko Bubalo (Production and Development of Biocatalytic Processes)
Prof. Ivana Radojčić Redovniković (Management and Continuous Development of NADES-Based Products)
Mia Radović, M.Sc. in Engineering (Production and Development of Biocatalytic Processes)
Dr. Manuela Panić (Preparation and Characterization, Application of NADES in Extraction, Biocatalysis on a Laboratory and Semi-Industrial Scale)
Anja Damjanović, M.Sc. in Engineering (Preparation of Plant Extracts in NADES)
Martina Bagović, M.Sc. in Engineering (Preparation of Therapeutic Deep Eutectic Solvents – THEDES)
Slika 4. Članovi dizajnerskog tima
The scientists aim to bridge the gap between the academic community and industry and bring sustainable green products to the market. Their journey with these solvents began in 2013 in the academic community, and since then, they have been working on innovations in the field of green chemistry. They believe that now is the time and that the industry is ready to implement green solvents into its products.
So far, they have had numerous industrial, national, and international research collaborations. At this stage for the market, they have 3 new products at TRL5 – plant extracts in NADES solvents with anti-aging, antioxidant, and antimicrobial effects. Their long-term vision is to become a leader in designing and producing these solvents and their application in various industrial niches, from chemical and pharmaceutical to the food industry. Their efforts have been recognized, and they received support from the ACT group for starting their business and product development.
In addition to the EWA program, the team is currently part of another EIT Food program – Jumpstarter. Through the EIT Food network, the team has had the opportunity to present their products to potential clients as a B2B company.
Value of the EWA program and next steps
During the EWA program in Croatia, they gained knowledge, excellent mentors, and many connections with people in the agri-food sector. They emphasize that the most valuable aspect for them was one-on-one mentorship and easier access to feedback through the program’s entrepreneurial network.
Participants highlight that after the program, they feel more prepared to face the entrepreneurial world. Throughout the program, NADES has made progress in product development, and by the end of the project, they already have several new ideas they want to realize or have already started working on.
Moreover, the team expresses great satisfaction with their collaboration with Lean Startup Croatia. The training was well-organized, and everything was on time and according to schedule. The lectures were valuable, and the mentoring sessions were very useful. They are grateful for being part of this program and having the opportunity to hear about entrepreneurs’ experiences and meet people in Croatia who can help them fulfill their dreams.
For more information about the products and the team, visit their website or social media profiles on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Watch how a working day looks like at NADES Design in this video.
About the EIT Food Initiative
EIT Food is the world’s largest and most active community for food innovation. It strongly promotes innovation to build a food system that produces healthy and sustainable food.
Supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union, the EIT Food initiative invests in projects, organizations, and individuals who share their goals for a healthy and sustainable food system. Simultaneously, by enabling innovation potential in businesses and universities, they encourage startups in the agri-food sector to develop new technologies and products. They equip entrepreneurs and experts with the skills needed to transform the food system, putting consumers at the center of their work, and helping build trust in the origin of their food.
EIT Food is one of the nine innovation communities established by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), an independent EU body founded in 2008 to promote innovation and entrepreneurship throughout Europe.