The term start-up has burst on the political agenda of the Italian government. First with the Minister Corrado Passera, who in the period past at the Ministry for Economic Development was able to approve the decree Development 2.0, now with Premier Enrico Letta, who in the start-ups sees a fundamental tool to solve the tragedy of youth unemployment and who recently promised to “remove barriers and bureaucracy” to set up a business.
In the various sectors of the bioeconomy, there are many start-ups founded in Italy in recent years. One of these is Micro4you, a spin-off of the University of Milan, specialized in the production of micro-organisms for a variety of uses: from the restoration of historical monuments to animal health. In this interview, its CEO, Annalisa Balloi, tells how is a young innovative company and what are the real problems that it faces. Since “for those who – like us – focuses its attention on niche products, the administrative procedures are too complex and expensive”.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
Mrs Balloi, could do you explain first what does Micro4you?
Micro4yoU is a spin-off company of Milano University, active in the biotechnology field. The company mission is to exploit the bacterial metabolic proprieties in order to develop products for favour/simplify human daily life. The concept that bacteria, when properly managed are able to provide a wild range of “services”, is largely accepted among the scientists but not among the majority of people. Micro4yoU aims to reach all people with products based on “good” bacteria or their components, developing innovative microbial-based green technologies for different sectors. Actually we operate in two sectors : i) biorestoring; ii) animal health care. In this last sector we developed a patent for the use of a mix of bacteria, symbions of honeybee, able to protect these insects against viral and bacterial diseases. The patent is a PCT in Europe, USA, Brazil, Mexico, China, Tunisia. The product is not yet in the market because we are still performing the clinical trials.
The issue of preservation of cultural heritage should be a priority in Italy. What’s the action of your microorganisms and how widespread is their use in our country?
Micro4Art-sulphate is a product based on sulphate reducing bacteria, able to remove from sculptures and monuments alterations caused by smog. This product can be used in all the Italian and European cities, were it is common to find, for example, beautiful sculptures with horrible black crusts. This crusts are due to air pollution that our bacteria are able to remove it with respect to the artistic surface, to the restorer and to the environment.
Why do bees need probiotics?
Since more than ten years, in Italy and all over the world, we are facing a large-scale honeybee losses related to several causes such as the attack of parasites, bacteria and viruses. This fact has a deep impact not only for the beekeepers but also for the global agrifood sector. The Micro4you team, by exploiting the probiotic properties of specific bacteria isolated from the intestinal honeybees microbioma, success in the formulation of a microbial product able to stimulate the immune system of these insects and, in the same time, counteract the growth of pathogens. In field test we demonstrated how the product is effective against one of the worst pathologies for honeybee larvae: the American Foulbrood disease. Actually we are testing the product against other pathologies and pesticides.
What are the major regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles that a start-up faces in your field?
In our product development we need to take into account both the evaluation of the efficacy and also that of the safety, due to the fact that ours are microbial-based products. Such a strict selection should warrant the entrance on the market only for high-quality products with an advantage both for the consumers and also for the producers who are forced to increase the quality of their products to remain competitive on the market.
However, considering the high novelty of these products and that fact that they are frequently dedicated to niche-markets, the rules are not always clear and the administrative procedures are too complex and expensive.
What is the urgent measure that the government should implement to foster the development of the bioeconomy in Italy?
Our current government approved many measures for the bioeconomy in the sector of renewable energy and bio-fuel. Maybe more attention and funds can be allocated in these sectors considered “traditional” for the Italian economy such as the manufacturing, agrifood and environmental sector.
The Italian version is published on http://www.affaritaliani.it/green