Meet the Founders: Jooules

It is estimated that by 2030, humanity will be consuming 800 million tonnes of protein each year, that figure is set to double by 2050 where current population estimates we’ll be feeding a population of 10 billion. That’s a lot of protein. Coupled with a capped capacity for growing crops, which is the main way in which we produce protein (crops are used to feed animals which then produce protein), there are some big issues ahead.

This is where Jooules comes in. A Kiwi start-up focused on sustainable protein production from hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Meet the founder David McLellan. David the commercial guru has had previous experience with start-ups and driving an initiative towards its ultimate fruition. Peter Kelly, the Chief Technical Officer is the chief technical officer and along with some key people at the University of Canterbury who are experts in the deep tech required for this sort of business, make up the team.

The name ‘Jooules’ was one of many on a 46-page document of notes and ideas for business names. Eventually, they landed on Jooules, arising from a ‘joule’ of energy, and the business is effectively converting energy to protein.

While they started off wanting to get into the dairy side of the alternative protein market through precision fermentation, they pivoted towards the harder option but also a potentially lucrative one with the addressable protein industry being worth trillions of dollars.

“The precision fermentation requires genetic engineering and we didn’t want to do that, we saw the big issues with relying on a carbohydrate feedstock to feed a prevision fermentation system and knew that we needed to do better, so we decided to make it harder on ourselves.”

A big inspiration for the business initially and even more so since pivoting from their original idea is wanting to help tackle the problem of feeding an increasing global population sustainably.

“Most of our food still comes from crops but we only consume around 56% of what we grow, 37% is fed to animals which we then consume and then a small percentage for biofuels. So if we have trouble producing crops, we’ll have trouble producing food full stop. This is why we want to be able to decouple the production of protein from crops.”

Some of the big challenges David has had to overcome is his lack of knowledge in the science space, but knowing the importance of what they were setting out to do, he quickly got up to speed with the guidance of the University of Canterbury. The University of Canterbury were crucial in helping him find his way to some experts and figure out the best next steps to take.

When asked if he could back in time and do things differently at the start of his business journey with Jooules, David said that while the overall process he’d keep the same, he would have put much more effort into finding key people earlier.

“In any business, you have to be deliberate about the skill sets and personality types you bring into a business. This has been one of the things we’ve heavily prioritised. The deep tech we're working with here requires skills you don’t run into on the street, it’s very specialist.”

The team are hoping that Sprout can help get them plugged into essential networks, communities and other linkages that will keep all the moving parts of the business moving forward and facilitate some investment opportunities.

“Don’t underestimate how hard being an entrepreneur is, but also don’t underestimate the freedom it will give you. It’s never a bed of roses and everyone will tell you the great stories and forget the rubbish ones but it’s not like turning up to a nine to five, but ultimately it's freedom, it's rewarding and it’s what we were put here to do, make a difference.”