Background - 25.03.2022 - 00:00 

Raffael Wohlgensinger: "Sustainability is central and not a side effect".

At the START Summit 2022, Raffael Wohlgensinger was named "HSG Founder of the Year 2022". In the interview, he talks about sustainability, why vegan cheese and Switzerland are not contradictory and about challenges for start-ups in the food sector.

25 March 2022.

Congratulations Raffael for the HSG Founder of the Year award! Your StartUp Formo produces vegan cheese. Does veganism and the topic of sustainability play a big role in your life? How did it come about that you founded a start-up in this area?

I am vegan myself and so is my girlfriend. Sustainability plays a very big role in my life, especially in nutrition and that was also the driving factor in the beginning to go into this industry. The aspect of sustainability is also central to everything we do at the company and not a side effect.

You're originally from Switzerland - the land of cheese. How does that fit?

Precisely because Switzerland is a land of cheese, it fits together so well. At Formo, we are making the future of cheese. With our technology, we can bring together the heart and soul, the history, and the craft that has existed in Switzerland for a long time. Also in Switzerland, the trend towards sustainable consumption is very strong. Often however, there is only access to non-optimal alternative products, which is why our product can fulfill a need.

Has anyone ever tried the cheese and not liked it at all? If so, why?

In the beginning, there were certainly some prototypes that didn't taste good at all. But that doesn't tend to happen anymore. We just had a tasting in LA before the Oscars, and we keep doing them here in Germany, too, which are very well received.

What were the biggest challenges for you in the entire creative process and were there also moments when you were on the verge of giving up?

There really wasn't such a moment when I wanted to give up everything. But there were always some challenges and there always will be. Anyone who does something of their own and identifies with it 100% experiences success incredibly strongly, but the same is true when something doesn't work out for once.

What challenges does it have as a start-up in the food space?

You can see very well what challenges it has in the food sector. First, the technology, the business model, the company and the product had to be built. But at the end of the day, all that matters is taste and price. It's a huge bidding game, so in the end it's not just about the technology, it's also about the operational execution.

You yourself studied at the University of St.Gallen (HSG), received the Founder of the Year award at the START SUMMIT, one of the largest events for HSG students. What is your connection to START?

In the early stages, we participated in the Start-up incubator. Many of my friends are also on the organizing committee at START. I have also been to the conference myself as a student. Compared to back then, START has evolved incredibly and I think it's a very cool conference where a lot of people from the start-up scene come together.

What advice do you have for aspiring founders in the sustainability or food space?

Try to solve really hard problems. Don't invest ten years of your life in a business that has marginal benefit. Look for the big issues and challenges for society and work on them. You will find such issues less proactively and more in your own areas of interest. If someone is interested in fashion, they will quickly realize that fast fashion is an issue. Themes that you have to look for proactively are not big enough.

Interview by Anna Schreiter

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