Now, algae-based cookies and oxygen bar from a Kerala startup

Kochi: Poets often say they want to make the world a better place. A Thrissur-based startup company is making the same claim, though its ways are different from that of a wordsmith. 

This philosophy that drives Zaara Biotech, the biotech startup which is into research in energy and food crises using micro-algae, received due recognition recently when it won appreciation at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28) for its latest innovation – an oxygen bar. It was the only startup among the 22 fellow participants which got the opportunity to give a presentation at the summit in Dubai. 

The company has its origins in a student project initiated by Najeeb Bin Haneef and his friends in 2016 while he was pursuing his biotechnology engineering degree from Sahrdaya College of Engineering and Technology, Thrissur.  

Haneef, who hails from a teachers’ family, continued to pursue the project even after studies. Haneef and his team collaborated with the Indian Council of Agriculture and Research’s Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (ICAR-CIFT), a central government establishment, for advanced research and development of food products. Zaara Biotech was incorporated as a business entity in 2019. It is incubating under the Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM). 

Zaara Biotech now manufactures India’s first algal-seaweed food and other FMCG products — in ICAR-CIFT, Kochi. Its flagship product, the B-lite cookies, come in four different flavours and are exported to eight countries.  

The Spirulina-based B-lite cookies include ingredients such as oats, quinoa, and organic whole millets. The company claims that they are not only filling but also high in nutrients. Spirulina is a type of non-toxic blue-green algae and is said to be a natural source of vegan protein. 

The company has also launched an oxygen bar, branded Obelia, which is based on core-algae and seaweed technology that relies on updated engineering concepts of new-age interest. 

The oxygen bar, which traps carbon dioxide in specialised bioreactors called Obelia, has been designed to cope with indoor and outdoor bio-architecture designs. The company is diversifying its innovations across multiple domains to apply algae technology to different industries, Haneef, the founder and CEO, said. 

Zaara is set for talks with the Dubai administration in the application of Obelia in the emirate, Haneef said, noting that the hot climate in the Gulf with sparse rains makes it ideal for the use of the product. 

The company’s efforts got a fillip in 2020 when it raised a strategic investment of $10 million from UAE-based TCN International Commerce. The next year, it went on to win a similar funding from the US also, though the amount has not been disclosed. The funds helped the company establish its subsidiary units in those countries. Currently, the company is trying to raise Rs 4 crore. Haneef said the amount will be spent on marketing the B-lite brand across the country.  

Having entered entrepreneurship through KSUM’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Centres, the company, earlier this month, installed a decarbonising tank at the nodal agency’s office in Kalamassery. 

On his entrepreneurial plunge, Haneef said the ecosystem in Kerala helped him grow despite having no background in business.  

(Startup Saturday is Onmanorama’s weekend series featuring promising startups from Kerala. Find the previous stories here) 

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