It’s quite likely that one of the lasting legacies of the current epoch in venture capital will be the massive volume of companies that were launched, or even just started as ideas, during the Covid-19 pandemic. Going through the foundational stories of the 107 companies in our portfolio at Vitosha, it is inspiring and very impressive to see how many high-flying startups were created by people who were on completely different paths in life when the world suddenly came to a halt in March 2020.
Such too is the story of Emiliya and Ilona, who co-founded TerraLife, one of our latest investments. In their previous lives, Emiliya was a promising young banker, who left corporate finance to run a major NGO in Bulgaria, whereas Ilona earned two degrees in fashion and plant science, and worked as a biologist at a major chemical concern.
In 2020, using the Covid intermezzo, Ilona started realizing her long-held dream to incentivize urban farming and organic composting. She set up a small NGO that dedicated itself to help city dwellers in Sofia realize the importance and potential of composting and urban gardening and farming. The large NGO that Emiliya administered at the time decided to support the project, and the two innovators understood that they had a joint passion for the mission and cause.
Emiliya, being the ever more business-minded of the two, realized that beyond a non-profit opportunity, there is a real business one, given the growing interest in regenerative agriculture. Ever since watching the Netflix documentary “Kiss the Ground”, she became an avid believer in the future of regenerative farming and organic fertilizers, and decided to join forces with Ilona to build a for-profit business to help landowners and farmers produce their own solid and liquid (concentrated) fertilizers, based on exclusively organic ingredients, and with various microorganism cultures.
After successful participation in the EIT Food acceleration program administered by InvestEU, the project started taking shape as TerraLife. Emiliya and Ilona expanded the team with two microbiologists and one structural engineer, found a site in Samokov, a small town about an hour from Sofia, to create the first test facility, and have signed up close to 20 mid-size farms all across Bulgaria to test the product and technology
The idea behind TerraLife is not to build a central fertilizer plant that will only output organic compost, but to provide the tools for landowners and gardeners to create their own composting stations, based on organic principles, ingredients and technologies, and producing specific organic fertilizers custom to the needs of their specific farm or garden. The current testing going on at the Samokov test site has already yielded over 12 tons of test material, which the company calls TerraSoil, and the team is conducting tests of the end-product with selected test farms.
As Emiliya explains, the technological process for producing TerraSoil is only the first step. Once the output and demand for TerraSoil is validated, the company will continue with developing extraction add-ons to the equipment, so that farmers and gardeners can create liquid condensed fertilizers from the compost, matching the market-standard products, but with a much higher degree of customization to the specific need of the local soil and produce. This final product will be called TerraLiquid.
“Compost as such is not a marketable and scalable product, but fertilizer is”, says Emiliya. “With the extraction modules that our engineering colleague is developing now at Samokov, we will be able to empower landowners to produce TerraLiquid, a scalable product, cutting their dependance on mass-produced, lower-quality organic fertilizers, and even the chemical fertilizers, which preclude them from transitioning to regenerative agriculture”.
Here at Vitosha, we’re grateful to add TerraLife to a growing list of companies in the regenerative agriculture space that we have supported, like Agrovar and Agriniser, and are excited about yet another project that graduated the Future Verticals accelerator program that we were partners of, that made it to our portfolio. Working towards the future where all Bulgarian and European land is farmed and gardened sustainably and responsibly is coming closer with each small step we make, and TerraLife is an exciting new addition to that bright perspective.