Campus - 22.03.2023 - 14:32 

Startup run by HSG graduates reclaims proteins from beer brewing process

The process of brewing beer produces 25 kilograms of brewer's grains per 100 litres of beer. A startup run by HSG graduates wants to extract proteins and dietary fibres from this by-product, which consists of barley. By doing so, these valuable nutrients are put back into the food production process.

Young entrepreneur Vincent Vida has a dream: at the beginning of May, his startup Upgrain plans to launch what Vida says is Europe's largest upcycling plant in the food sector. Based at the Locher brewery in Appenzell, this plant will extract proteins and dietary fibres from spent grain – a by-product of the barley used in the brewing process. From this, protein or fibre concentrates as well as a protein-rich flour is produced.

Food manufacturers can use these various powders in muesli, baked goods or pasta, for example. "The higher protein and fibre content makes food healthier", says Vida. "At the same time, we salvage the valuable, locally produced nutrients from the brewer's grains." This is currently still used in untreated form in biogas plants or farmers use it as animal feed. Vida: "Our plant should be able to process all the brewer's grains produced by the Locher Brewery." This means that, at the moment, around 2500 tonnes of protein and fibre powder could be produced per year. 

HSG graduate Vida puts a great deal of passion into working on his business plan. You can feel this when the 29-year-old walks through the brewery: he explains production processes, discusses details about the construction of the upcycling plant with technicians and knows his way around the labyrinth of industrial halls. Upgrain has had an office in the brewery since the beginning of 2022. Vida has been working on developing the upcycling idea since 2018. 

Startup awarded the HSG Prize

Vida holds a Master's degree in General Management from the HSG. "I learned a lot about founding and building up startups", he says. In 2021, Upgrain was awarded the conference award and prize money of CHF 25,000 at the Start Summit founders' conference. The Start Summit is organised by HSG students and is Europe's largest startup conference.

At the moment, Vida is responsible for the business side as well as the technical development at Upgrain. "I'm the CEO, but at the same time I'm also a kind of CTO." He says that he acquired extensive knowledge in mechanical engineering in recent years and developed the upcycling plant together with experts. During the on-site installation, he is helped by external teams and employees of the brewery. “Every day, I stand with them in the brewery's hallways and work on the implementation”. Six employees, including Vida, have now moved into a house in Appenzell, where they work and some of them also live. Most of the employees have an background with HSG – as graduates, doctoral students or current students.

Previously, Vida worked in investment banking in Zurich, among other places. "I wanted to do something that would create sustainability", he says about the switch. "The contrast between Appenzell and Zurich was quite stark to begin with. But now I like it here and I'm impressed by how hard the people of Appenzell work." 

Five other Upgrain employees work in Cologne. They take care of distribution, among other things: the primary market for Upgrain's flour and its protein and fibre powders is the food industry. Individual consumers can already buy muesli and pizza with protein derived from brewer's grains at individual food retailers. For this purpose, Vida founded the startup Grainmade, which produces its products right next to the brewery. 

Barley protein is more sustainable than soya

Vida met Aurèle Meyer, managing director of the Locher brewery, during his studies, when the business leader gave a lecture at HSG. Today, the brewery has a stake in Upgrain. "Upgrain can help breweries to use their by-products sustainably and thus create essential added value", says Karl Locher, chair of the brewery's board of directors.

Vida is convinced of the sustainable and business potential of brewer's grains: "The proteins derived from them are cheaper and more sustainable than those from peas or soya." He adds that, because a by-product is utilised, no additional cultivation areas are necessary for the vegan proteins. According to a study by the "Swiss Resource Efficiency Network" (Reffnet), which is supported by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), proteins from brewer's grains also cause 60 percent less environmental pollution than those from soya. According to the Locher brewery, the barley it uses is grown in Appenzellerland and in other mountain regions of Switzerland, and some of it is also imported. 

Upgrain is also currently in talks with other breweries. "Our technology is scalable and can be used at other locations after some fine-tuning in Appenzell", says Vida. He also expresses his hope for partnerships with breweries throughout the DACH region in the longer term. 

Discover our special topics