SME of the Month - Kaffe Bueno

Meet Kaffe Bueno - we interviewed Juan Medina, CEO and one of the co-founders of the young start-up and runner-up at last year's SME Awards.

Can you tell us a little about the history of your company, how was it formed?

Kaffe Bueno initially started in London, where the three of us (Kaffe Bueno founders; Juan, Alejandro and Camilo) studied. As we developed Kaffe Bueno’s business plan, we had recollections of our grandmothers putting coffee on wounds and burns, as well as using them as scrubs and masks for skin care purposes back in Columbia. This encouraged us to look deeper into coffee’s composition, and most importantly, if all active compounds responsible for health and skin benefits were still present after coffee was made. It turned out that they are! That’s how it all began...

Which unique input does your company provide towards a bio-based circular economy?

Every year, over 9 billion kilograms of coffee are consumed worldwide. 99% of it is treated as waste. We are offering a unique solution that can make one of the most wasteful beverages in the world the most resourceful one. We not only aim to change the public perception on coffee, but we also make people look at biowaste as a resource that can improve health and wellness of society through innovative ingredients.

You are already collaborating with several well-established organisations, such as BC Hospitality Group, L’Oreal, DTI Research and 3B Research Institute. How important do you consider this sort of partnerships for the growth of your company?

For small companies like ours, and particularly in the bioeconomy, partnerships with corporates are essential to be able to take off and accelerate the transition. For example, we could have simply launched a cosmetic line out of the extracts from recycled coffee grounds and sell it directly to consumers. However, we would have had recycled a significantly less amount of coffee waste, hence, our socio-environmental impact would have been much lower.

Partnerships and collaborations with corporates and knowledge institutions have been and will continue to be key for us. They provide us with credibility, network and also allow us to be agile and respond faster to today’s ever-changing environment, while keeping our costs low.

You are Colombian by nationality, what is the rationale for moving to Europe and starting a new venture in Copenhagen?

Back in London, most of our friends were Scandinavian, and one of the many things we shared was a passion for coffee. We enjoyed a lot of “fikas” with amazing Colombian coffee. We often told them about the not-so-pretty side of coffee, related to farmers’ conditions and they seemed genuinely interested in contributing in some way or another. They told us we should bring our Colombian coffee to Scandinavia and the idea resonated with us. We didn’t want to come to Denmark to just sell coffee, but rather have an impact on the life of Columbian farmers and on the environment in a way it has never been done before. This is when, since the beginning, we decided to build a circular economy around coffee. Unfortunately, in countries like Colombia we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish the same impact due to corruption, limitations in technology, facilities and opportunities. So, we moved to Denmark for this reason, as well as for its globally recognised strong recycling culture, sustainable profile and innovative biotech industry.

Juan Medina at the 2018 Biotech SME Award

Could you expand on the main challenges facing your company in gaining access to financing and/or to the European market?

Initially, when I started raising money for the biorefinery, investors kept saying that we were crazy and that we would not be able to pull it through. At the time in 2017, 99% of the investors I talked to - mostly in Denmark – didn’t even know what a biorefinery or a circular economy was. Fortunately, that same year the Innovationsfonden (Danish Innovation Fund) saw the potential in our project and granted us an investment that allowed us to kickstart our dreamed project.

To date, it is still challenging to access capital investments for this type of projects since it is quite capital intensive. Nonetheless, I’m very positive about 2019. The bioeconomy movement grew considerably throughout the last year making the investment community more aware and willing to invest in such projects.

What has been your biggest achievement in 2018?

2018 was - without doubt - Kaffe Bueno’s best year so far. It is hard to say which was our biggest achievement as we had many. For example, we were named ‘Danish Startup of the Year’ by Dansk Ervherv (Danish Chamber of Commerce). We received a similar acknowledgement from the Rotary Club, and from EuropaBio with the 2018 Most Innovative European Biotech SME Awards. This said, our biggest accomplishments must be related to the company’s progress itself. We recycled 500kg of coffee, completed pilot productions, meaning enough oil perform efficacy tests as well as sampling for prospect clients. We also started our biggest and most ambitious R&D project so far, which you will hear about later this year.

Kaffe Bueno's circular business model

What will be at the top of your agenda in 2019? 

The accelerator program with L’Oreal in Paris, which I’m very excited about. We are also looking to close our seed round in the first semester of the year in order to scale up our process and establish our biorefinery. Last but not least, we will seek to finish the development of three different products we have in the pipeline. I’m confident that with hard work and perseverance 2019 is going to be our biggest year and the one where Kaffe Bueno is going to start establishing itself as one of the most innovative and impactful biotech startups worldwide.

Download the full interview below