Агропродовольственная экономика

Inspiring case study: unleashing the potential of a youth-led bioeconomy enterprise


Alpha Protein, a German start-up founded by Gia Tien Ngo, is leading the way in innovative and sustainable protein production. Their journey began with Gia's personal quest to find affordable protein sources while living in a pescatarian household during his master's studies in Boston.

While searching for alternative protein options, Gia stumbled upon the nutritional value of mealworms, with their high protein content of over 55 percent. Intrigued by their potential, he experimented by incorporating dried mealworms into his daily routine and quickly experienced positive results in muscle growth and overall well-being. Encouraged by these findings and by FAO’s publications on insect production, Gia returned to Germany and embarked on further developing his idea.

 “I'm really excited about FAO’s work in guiding and promoting sustainability, especially in the areas of sustainable protein production and future nutrition. I remember my first exposure to mealworms as an innovative food source through FAO publications. I was significantly motivated by the studies to establish my start-up Alpha-Protein. They also inspired me to make the technology we developed available worldwide through a licensing model, enabling the use of sustainability potential of insects around the world. FAO's positive recognition and emphasis on the importance of this endeavor gives me a sense of security to continue working on it”, Gia expressed while reflecting on FAO’s influence on his journey.  

Building a team and innovating

Gia's vision attracted three other young individuals who shared his passion and together they formed a start-up company. With a focus on sustainability, they devised an innovative breeding system known as the high-rack system, where water flows upward. This space-efficient technique enables Alpha Protein to produce 1 000 times more protein per year in just one square meter compared to traditional soy production. Moreover, they utilize waste streams and vegetable leftovers from brewery waste to generate energy, reducing water consumption and promoting environmental sustainability.

Grants and expansion

Alpha Protein's cutting-edge approach caught the attention of the state of Baden-Württemberg, which awarded them two substantial grants worth EUR 150 000 each through their young innovators program. These grants played a crucial role in establishing a demonstration plant and paving the way for further growth. By combining multiple grants, Alpha Protein overcame financial barriers and embarked on building the first industrial-scale and automated insect farm in Germany.

Navigating legal challenges

Despite its accomplishments, Alpha Protein faced significant legal barriers along their journey. The inclusion of insects as feed for animal meat production took several years to be recognized in the law, with the breakthrough occurring in October 2021. Gia Tien emphasizes the perseverance required to overcome these obstacles, underscoring the need for supportive regulatory frameworks to foster innovation.

Growth and impact

What started as a team of four individuals in 2020 has now grown into a company with 27 employees, demonstrating the widespread appeal and potential of its sustainable protein production model. Alpha Protein is not only revolutionizing the industry but also contributing to a more sustainable future by providing an affordable and eco-friendly protein alternative.

Through their pioneering breeding system and utilization of insect protein, Alpha Protein is reshaping the landscape of sustainable protein production. Their journey serves as an inspiration to aspiring bioeconomy entrepreneurs. Their success is a testament to the potential of young innovators in creating a more sustainable future.