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• Insect-tech scale-up Nasekomo has been awarded a grant worth €2.5M under Bulgaria’s National Recovery and Resilience plan, funded by the EU.
• The grant is going to be disbursed through the Bulgarian Ministry of Innovation and Growth, with Nasekomo getting the biggest share, along with 11 other Bulgarian companies.
• Nasekomo will use the grant for the first phase of the plan to create an international network of bio-conversion factories
Worth more than €16M, the grants are given to innovative companies that have secured the “Seal of Excellence” label from the European Innovation Council (EIC). What exactly does the “Seal of Excellence” mean for Nasekomo, and how did the company acquire it?
Introduced during Horizon 2020, the quality label was designed to recognize exceptional innovation and impact among project proposals that qualified but were not funded due to budgetary constraints. In essence, it acknowledges projects that are deemed exceptionally innovative and impactful but didn’t secure Horizon Europe funding.
Aside from Nasekomo, the following companies were also awarded grants under the program: Ocenime.bg, Imagga, Cupffee, Danlex, I Rise Mechanics, Transmetrics, Failmap Technologies, Lean Digital Solutions, Agency Strategma, Simple Security, and Kontrax.
How the projects were selected
Nasekomo entered the fray by submitting its project proposal to the European Innovation Council (EIC) in 2021. Competing against more than 470 other proposals from across the European Union, Nasekomo’s proposal stood out, and after a rigorous multiple-phase assessment process, the company was awarded the Seal of Excellence in 2022.
“A couple of months later, the first national support procedure for Seal of Excellence projects was launched in Bulgaria within the European Recovery and Resilience Plan, allowing Nasekomo to implement the research and development phase of the project with a €2.5 million grant funding. The certificate serves as a powerful endorsement, urging national funding programs to back projects that contribute significantly to the European economy,” the company told The Recursive in a statement.
Image recognition company Imagga is also among the companies that got funding under the Recovery and Resilience Plan. According to Imagga’s CEO Georgi Kadrev, the company had been in the procedure since March 2020, when it applied for EIC funding with a project for fully and semi-automated visual content moderation.
“In practice, this means to build technology that can automatically detect inappropriate image and video content in social media and other user-generated content platforms. Our grant funding application got evaluated very highly but EIC didn’t have the budget to directly fund it, so we got awarded the so-called Seal of Excellence. This gave us the opportunity to receive national funding as part of the National Resiliency and Recovery Plan that finally got approved in 2022,” Kadrev tells The Recursive.
Sasha Bezuhanova, who is a jury member for the committee at EIC that is giving out the grants, but also an angel investor in one of the startups that have received the funding – edible coffee cup startup Cupffee, further explained the selection process in a lengthy Facebook post in response to various claims by outlining the diligent two-stage evaluation process.
“Each of these applicant projects is assessed by four independent remote assessors (among 1,500 professionals authorized by the EIC after assessment of relevant expertise) who, as a rule, do not know each other and have no communication with each other. Their assessments are combined in a general report with a maximum integral assessment of up to 15 points. Companies with a score of more than 13 points are awarded the ‘Seal of Excellence’. Companies are ranked and for the next stage, a double number of the budget provided for the respective session is qualified.” Bezuhanova wrote.
As she further explains, in the second stage, companies that pass the initial evaluation are invited to participate in interviews with a jury composed of high-profile experts selected by the EIC. This jury includes partners from investment funds, angel investors, and scientists specializing in innovative economies from various European countries.
The jury members are carefully organized into teams to prevent conflicts of interest, given their involvement with innovative companies. They conduct interviews with the finalists and make funding decisions. If any jury member has an investment interest in a finalist company or personal knowledge of the team, a special procedure ensures impartiality, she explains, adding that she didn’t participate in either the interview or the evaluation of Cupffee.
“To give you an idea of the magnitude of the competition – within the EIC session in October 2020, 4,200 companies submitted applications, 1,291 received the “Seal of Excellence”, 134 were invited to the subsequent and final stage of evaluation – an interview. From Bulgaria – these are two companies: Cupffee and I Rise Mechanics 357,” Bezuhanova says in the social media post.
What’s next for the companies and how will these grants affect their development
In July this year, Nasekomo opened its Insect Center of Excellence (NICE) and marked the first full production cycle at the facility – from insect genetic improvement to end-product manufacturing, resulting in the delivery of the initial batch of protein meal for pet food.
Now, the latest grant will enable Nasekomo to embark on the first phase of its plan for creating an international network of bioconversion factories, strategically located near agricultural or industrial sites of future partners who are committed to sustainable utilization of secondary raw materials.
The grant will support the first phase of the building of a Multiplication center to allow the operation of the network of bio-conversion factories bringing to life the first scalable industrial solution. The Center will be equipped with robotization and digital technologies to provide everything needed for a scalable solution – turn-key bioconversion technology, Hermetia Illucens larvae supply, remote maintenance, decision support data and service, and access to the global protein marketplace, the company tells The Recursive.
The grant contract with Nasekomo spans two years, facilitating the realization of their project. By 2030, the company aims to operate 100 bioconversion factories in its network, each capable of processing up to 100,000 tons of biowaste into valuable insect protein, oil, and organic soil fertilizer.
According to Nasekomo, this effort is expected to save 560,000 tons of wild fish from being processed into fishmeal annually, reduce EU dependency on imports, and significantly cut carbon emissions.
For Kadrev and Imagga, the fresh funds are all about improving their product.
“The funding will be utilized to improve the precision of the technology, to expand the scope of types of content to be detected automatically, and to make it suitable for high-throughput scenarios such as live-streaming moderation,” Kadrev tells The Recursive.