Social Business College, Lecture 6
October 25, 2011
At Gran Tokyo North Tower Daiwa Sky Hall
Hosted by Daiwa Securities Group and Music Securities,inc.
“Euglena will save the world!”
Mr. Mitsuru IZUMO, euglena Co. Ltd.
Mitsuru IZUMO, a graduate of the University of Tokyo Faculty of Agriculture 2002: Joined the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Ltd. August 2005: Founded euglena Co. Ltd. and assumed the position of CEO. December 2005: Became the first in the world to successfully mass-cultivate the microalgae Euglena in outdoor conditions for use as food. One of the youngest entrepreneurs in Japan, Mr. Izumo has been the Japanese representative for the Asia Pacific Student Entrepreneurship Society of Stanford University (2000), attended the Price-Babson Symposium at Babson College (2004), and is a member of “Committee for Competitiveness Enhancement and International Standardization Investigation Through Intellectual Properties” under the Cabinet Secretariat Intellectual Property Strategy Headquarters (2010). His motto is “Euglena will save the world.”
[ → 日本語でのレポート ]
●Background and Yearning to go Overseas
I grew up in Tama New Town, a part of Tokyo that has been featured in Hayao Miyazaki films. Since elementary school, I had many friends who traveled overseas, and I always wished to go abroad myself.
I got my first passport after entering university and decided to travel to Bangladesh because not many Japanese travel there. At the time, Bangladesh was one of the poorest countries in Asia, with less than 100 tourists annually. Knowing this, I brought a lot of Otsuka Pharmaceutical’s CalorieMate bars as gifts and handed them out whenever someone asked for one.
●No Starving Children
In Bangladesh, I lived in the home of a North South University student who I had been introduced to by an acquaintance. In that neighborhood, I was surrounded by elite students and did not meet any poor people. Afterward I earned an internship at Grameen Bank and became involved in rural activities. Still, I did not see starving people even in the countryside villages.
I had heard that 1 in 7 people worldwide suffer from malnutrition, so I had the impression there would be a lot of children suffering from not having enough food. On the contrary, I did not see anyone starving during my stay in Bangladesh. In fact, in every countryside village I visited, everyone had plenty to eat.
I thought this was odd and, upon my return to Japan, investigated the matter. I learned that there is a difference between the concepts of “malnutrition” and “starvation.” It turns out that 1 in 7 suffers not from starvation – a lack of food – but rather from nutrient insufficiency.
For example, children under the age of 6 who do not have enough beta-carotene, commonly found in carrots, can develop nyctalopia. Children who cannot see well at night can fall and hurt themselves, contracting infections such as tetanus.
In Asia alone, over 250 million children suffer from insufficient beta-carotene. There is enough food, like rice and wheat, but there is a lack of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It is necessary to have a balanced consumption of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruits.
●Euglena: A Source of Plant and Animal Nutrients
Humans need various nutrients, such as proteins and fatty acids produced by animals, as well as vitamins and minerals produced by plants. However, 1 billion people worldwide do not get enough such plant and animal nutrients.
We could make these 1 billion people happy if a “wonder-food” was invented that provided both plant and animal nutrients. This concept was the starting point for our company, and our journey led us to a microalgae called Euglena.
Euglena can be considered a plant, because they contain chlorophyll, which gives them a green color. However, because they also move like animals, they produce animal nutrients.
“Can a person obtain both plant and animal nutrients by eating Euglena?”
Based on this concept, 2 friends and I started a company to cultivate Euglena, an organism rich in plant and animal nutrients. On December 16, 2005, we became the first in the world to successfully cultivate a special, added-value type of Euglena.
●Two Projects Using Euglena Technologies
Our company’s activities are divided along 2 lines.
The first project is the development of supplements and food products made from Euglena. We believe that consuming 1 g of Euglena daily, equivalent to 1 billion Euglena organisms, can improve a person’s health.
- ・Beta carotene equivalent to 7 pickled plums (50 g)
- Vitamin B12 equivalent to 50 g of cow liver
- Folic acid equivalent to 1 sardine
- Zinc equivalent to 50 g of clams
- DHA equivalent to 50 g of broiled eel
While it would be difficult to deliver this much food to the world’s malnourished people, it is much more realistic to deliver these nutrients with just 5 Euglena tablets.
In modern Japan, young people are eating less fish than people in the past, and thus lack nutrients such as DHA. We are also working on developing products such as cookies and sponge cakes containing Euglena to mitigate these nutrient insufficiencies.
The second realm of activity is the development of bio-aviation fuel using the oil content extracted from Euglena.
Today, energy from burning crude oil not only releases large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, it also produces a huge volume of CO2 from burning gas flares during the digging process. While global warming cannot be said to have been caused solely by greenhouse gases like CO2, the fact remains that the concentration of CO2, which has never exceeded 300 ppm in the past 400,000 years, is now up to 400 ppm.
Our company is working to develop a bio fuel from Euglena to relieve society’s dependence on crude oil.
Since plants release oil when pressed, raw materials for bio fuel can come from rapeseed or sunflower seeds. However, Euglena, which lack surplus structures such as stalks, contain a high concentration of raw materials that can be used for bio fuel and an extremely short harvest cycle, which allows for greater productivity over the same cultivation period. While rice and wheat are limited to a maximum of 3 cycles per year, Euglena can increase by 1 billion times in 1 month, and can be harvested every week for a total of 52 cycles per year.
While there are many types of bio fuels and many companies are engaged in bio-fuel research, we are concentrating on the development of bio-aviation fuel, because we anticipate a need for jet fuel over the next 100 years.
In about 20-30 years, cars and buses that currently run on gasoline will likely be replaced by vehicles that run on electricity and fuel cells. However, aircrafts will never run on fuel cells. This is because electricity has a lower energy density than liquid fuel, and even if every seat in the plane was converted into fuel cells, the plane would not be able to take off. Also, aircrafts would have to regress to slower propeller planes, since electricity is generated by the rotation of a motor. No company would develop an aircraft that not only lengthens the duration of the flight, but also sacrifices passenger space. Our company is focusing time and resources on jet fuel because this is something we see a demand for over the next 100 years.
●Building Cooperative Relationships with Large Companies
While we are confident our technology for cultivating Euglena is the best in the world, but we lack access to other technologies. Therefore, we have joined forces with large companies in various fields for help our cause.
Since 2008 for example, in cooperation with Okinawa Electric Power Co. and Sumitomo Joint Electric Power Co, we have been conducting experimental studies on whether the cultivation of Euglena can be quickened by using the exhaust gas from thermal power plants. Japan releases 1.6 billion tons of CO2 annually, and 30% comes from thermal power plants. By using this CO2 to cultivate Euglena, we are also contributing to reducing the CO2 released into the atmosphere.
Furthermore, we cooperate with JX Nippon Oil and Energy Corp. and Hitachi Plant Technologies in research and development of Euglena as bio fuel. A partnership with ITOCHU Corp. focuses on mass distribution of Euglena supplements.
We are fully committed to a business that improves the beauty and health of the Earth by combining the considerable assets, experience, and know-how of large corporations with our Euglena biotechnology.
●3 Important Points for Starting a Venture Business
In closing, I would like to describe some valuable concepts for operating a venture business.
First, we truly feel that we must be number 1. Think of this in terms of a function y = 1/x. Person 1 has plentiful capital, information, and support. Person 2 can only gather one-half this amount; person 3 only one-third; person 10 only one-tenth, and so on.
Everyone in Japan knows that Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan, but almost nobody knows the second highest mountain in Japan. Similarly, if our Euglena technology was only number 2, we believe we would never have a chance to shine.
Therefore, an important precondition for start-up businesses is to identify a field where they can become number 1.
While being number 1 is important, we were not number 1 with respect to Euglena from the beginning. So how can a business become number 1?
Looking at professional athletes and artists, a U.S. case study compared the number 1 individual to the number 2 or lower individuals in different fields. The study found that the most important factor in becoming number 1 was not talent or networking, but grit, an unwillingness to give up. The study concluded that an individual’s grit could be measured by whether he/she could continue doing something for 10,000 hours.
Our company conducts 10 hours of research per day, and thus reached the 10,000-hour milestone in about 3 years. This was also about the time our Euglena technologies matured and started to be recognized as the leader in the field. Once we became number 1, we started to attract people, information, and financial resources, and we began to feel our business was finally on track.
A statistic often quoted in American business schools is that many businesses go bankrupt after the 8th quarter, or after 2 years. However, if you believe in your business, please do not give up until you have reached that 10,000th hour.
The final thing I would like to say is, “Learn from your mistakes.”
In truth, our concept of saving the world through Euglena is not original. Professors at the University of Tokyo, Faculty of Agriculture have published mountains of research articles on this topic over the past 50 years. Despite this, no one has ever achieved mass cultivation of Euglena. The accepted practice in previous studies was that Euglena must be cultured under aseptic conditions, and thus our predecessors repeatedly made the mistake of destroying the Euglena if other microalgaes got into the culture.
We were able to successfully cultivate Euglena on a large scale by reproducing the natural living environment of Euglena. However, we believe we were able to succeed because we spent time considering past mistakes.
These three points come from Jeffry A. Timmons of Babson College, but they are ideas our company holds to the highest regard. We hope everyone will make use of them to start social businesses.
【Social Business College】
#01 Shining with the world, HASUNA
#02 Making it on Business, Motherhouse
#03 Collective Forestry Business, tobimushi
#04 Pigs As Partners, Eco-Farm
#05 People is the greatest asset, Yagisawa Shoten