As Iowa’s startup ecosystem continues to grow, new ideas and innovations are leading to new products and even new companies. A great example is GW Nutrition, a company formed in 2020 to develop and commercialize technology created by Slater-based startup Gross-Wen Technologies.
Gross-Wen Technologies uses algae to remove pollutants from wastewater, then transforms the resulting biomass into a slow-release fertilizer. Because of Gross-Wen Technologies’ understanding and expertise with algae, the company was asked by Griffith Foods, a leading food company, to help address the challenge of sensory issues of using algae protein as an alternative source of protein for food. In short, algae are a terrific source of protein, but have a strong flavor and odor that can be a barrier to inclusion in food formulations.
The Gross-Wen Technologies team developed the technology that utilizes a proprietary light delivery system to reduce microbial contamination while also moderating the color, flavor, and odor of food ingredients.
“It is an exciting technology that represents a number of opportunities for food companies because it can moderate the sensory challenges of alternative proteins. Our first target is algae, where our technology can reduce the color, flavor, and odor of algae to a light sandy brown color that has a flavor similar to saltine crackers and easily used in a number of food products,” said Norian. “The alternative protein market is projected to reach $190 billion by 2028 according to Global Market Insights, so it is an great time to be introducing a new technology and products into this growing market.”
Technology for protein powder production
GW Nutrition’s branded CleanSense™ technology can be used to manufacture its own line of CleanSense™ protein powders or licensed to manufacturers as an added step in their production process. The technology has been proven to work on multiple algae and plant-based proteins and they are working through production and the regulatory scale-up, she said.
“We are planning to introduce our first product in 2023,” said Norian. “CleanSense™ Spirulina is an alternative protein powder with a sandy color and mild flavor and odor; the product contains more than 50% protein and is easily integrated into food formulations.”
The team chose Spirulina as the first product to commercialize because of its high protein content and environmentally efficient profile, grown without pesticides or herbicides and uses less water than other crops or animal production.
Career in ag and nutrition innovation
Norian joined GW Nutrition in 2021 with experience in both startups and established agricultural leaders.
After graduating from Iowa State, she worked in public accounting, then spent seven years at DuPont Pioneer in accounting and finance roles for the company’s Ag and Nutrition Platform. She spent 10 years at Kemin Industries, serving in global leadership roles for start-up venture business units and as president of Kemin Human Nutrition and Health. She also served as chief operating officer for 4ocean, a purpose-driven business founded to help end the ocean plastic crisis and has consulted with a number of startups and established companies.
“Joining the GW Nutrition team was a great opportunity to make a difference by bringing a new technology to market in this important alternative protein marketplace,” said Norian. “I’m also excited to see that sustainability is a clear priority and focus in Iowa and agriculture as we work on sustainable ways to develop and provide alternative protein options.”
Knowledgeable investors and business support in Iowa
Norian highlighted several benefits of GW Nutrition’s Iowa location, including access to top research facilities and talent, knowledgeable investors and business support that have allowed the company to develop and move ahead quickly. The company’s research lab is based at the Center for Crops Utilization Research (CCUR) at Iowa State and provides access to food processing tools, nutritional testing, and staff expertise.
“Working with Dr. Zhiyou Wen and CCUR has allowed us to move much more quickly and with much less capital investment than would have been possible to move ahead on our own,” she said.
GW Nutrition has also worked with the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Iowa Economic Development Authority to support hiring interns for engineering, product development and marketing, and the company was accepted into the Ag Startup Engine portfolio in March 2022.
“We have wonderful investors in Iowa that understand agriculture and food production and the critical need to develop new technologies to feed the world,” said Norian.
Published August 2022.