EIT FAN Stories: Wisefood
An interview with Philipp Silbernagel, founder of Wisefood
Nowadays, we see many businesses such as restaurants, hotels and bars using paper, metal and glass straws in the fight against plastic pollution. One of the fastest growing companies in Germany, Wisefood, offers another innovative solution – the edible drinking straw.
How did the idea for Wisefood come about?
I studied Electrical Engineering in Munich and during my studies founded my first company called Plakos. We have been selling online courses, apps, books and ads with around fifteen employees since 2014, without any capital. However, I was looking for a new product, a new project with a more meaningful impact. In 2016, I met some students who used by-products from food production to make cutlery and they found it quite difficult. The smarter product to make was a straw. We started off in 2015 by creating the first prototypes by hand with a simple pasta machine.
Describe the process of turning an idea into a feasible product.
In 2017, we founded the company during a very shifting market. Since the beginning we were focused solely on the straw . First, we made it from apple juice but it was stable for only two minutes and then it dissolved in the drink. Later, we added other ingredients such as apple fibers, stevia and cereals. By building the technology know-how, we worked on making the product not only as stable as possible, but also selling it at an attractive price on the market. We sold the first prototypes through a crowdfunding campaign with 400 supporters. The key was to release the product as soon as possible to get people’s feedback.
What specific challenges do you see in our food system today?
A lot of pollution and waste is generated in plastic packaging in the food system. Currently an interesting trend is the appearance of new startups which add fibers and bio-degradable ingredients to food packaging. We are one of the only edible straws companies with a potential zero waste principle.
How did you get involved with the EIT Food Accelerator Network?
We invested a lot of our own money in the first production which sadly failed and so we had to find support from other companies. We were in need of money to do tests and release the first prototypes. Through online research we discovered the programme and applied at the right time.
What was your personal experience with the programme?
Our co-founder attended all the seminars and did all the pitches in Munich and Paris. At the end we won the EIT Food Finals with our final pitch and gained a lot of media attention. We received very useful advice through the networking experience and continued to keep in touch with people. For example, I am one of the jury members for the EIT FAN programme.
What is a piece of advice you would give to early stage startups?
Honesty and hard work is your best bet. Find people who are willing to pay for your product, adapt to the market and be dynamic during the whole process. At first we focused on the straw but people started asking for other products. You have to be flexible, analyze the customer needs and use their feedback to find the right solution.
How do you see your company develop over time?
We sell online but in a very minimal quality, we are mostly focused on the food service, wholesale and retail market. Recently we did a huge campaign with Aldi and sold our straw at over 4000 Aldi stores. At the moment we are trying to expand our portfolio very fast. We expect to release edible spoons and coffee stirrers before the end of the year. We are also focused on reaching other markets such as the USA and Canada. So far we have sold our product to more than twenty countries in the world and have replaced more than 50 million plastic straws in the last year alone.
Learn more about Wisefood on their official website.