French entrepreneur aims to turn an idea he found in Bangkok into a profitable business in Romania
Young entrepreneur Romain Couderc moved to Bucharest after his studies to co-create an IT company here. But as he discovered the many health benefits of spirulina, he decided to promote this superfood in Romania and develop a new business on the local market: Spinoa.
Romain Couderc, 34, is from Marseille. It was 2010 when he first came to Bucharest, Romania, for an internship. A first visit that made him want to come back a few months later, this time to develop an IT business on the local market.
"I arrived in winter under 30 centimeters of snow. I was hosted by a 70-year-old intellectual Romanian lady who spoke perfect French […]. I received a warm welcome from her and other Romanian people I met," Romain recalled in an e-mail interview with Romania-insider.com.
He likes the Romanian people and culture, as well as the landscapes and rural life. He says that the years spent in Romania helped him discover how people can "live a happy and balanced life in rural areas, far from mass-consumerism and excessive industrialization." Plus, living here also taught him "to value quality over quantity."
His interest in the environment and nature grew even bigger during a 7,000-km bicycle trip through Asia. The one-year journey started in Istanbul and ended in Bangkok - the city where he discovered a major company growing spirulina on a hotel's rooftop. "The owner told me that Romania was the European country with the most google searches for 'spirulina' per inhabitant," the French entrepreneur explained.
In the meantime, as he was looking to have a healthier diet, he started taking a closer look at the highly nutritive spirulina. "I figured out NASA was studying it for feeding astronauts during spatial missions, and that it was recommended by the United Nations as the best food for the future."
As all the steps seemed to lead in the same direction, he decided to make a career change and launch Spinoa in Romania, together with a French friend he had met in Bucharest. Spinoa sells raw spirulina crunchies and other products such as chocolate, soap, and honey with the same super ingredient. The spirulina is imported from small farms in France and Burkina Faso, but the company's plan is to also launch a local spirulina farm network.
In addition, Romain is also a founding member of the ClimatoSfera Association - a new voice for climate change in Romania.
In the interview below, Romain Couderc talks about his Romanian experience, the story of Spinoa, and the mission of Climatosfera.
Please tell us a bit about your background.
I am a 34 years-old French citizen from Marseille. I'm interested in solutions addressing the challenges of our generation as ecological resilience, ethics in technology, or a new economic paradigm.
After my studies, I moved to Bucharest to co-create an IT company. Then I left for a one-year bicycle trip on the Asian continent. In 2018, I came back to Romania and co-founded Spinoa to promote raw spirulina. In April, we've launched ClimatoSfera, a new voice for climate change in Romania.
How long have you been living in Romania, and what brought you here?
I have been living for about 10 years in Romania. I came for the first time in 2010 for an internship during my master's degree. It was a great experience, I really liked the Romanian way of life and open-mindedness, so I came back a few months later and started my professional life here.
Please describe your first encounter with Romania
I arrived during the winter under 30 centimeters of snow. I was hosted by a 70-year-old intellectual Romanian lady who spoke perfect French in the Militari neighborhood. I received a warm welcome from her and other Romanian people I met. I remember that I was surprised about the dynamism, enthusiasm of people from the young generation I met.
How has life changed for you in Romania?
I've had the chance to witness how people can live a happy and balanced life in rural areas, far from mass-consumerism and excessive industrialization. I've learned to value quality over quantity which is a valuable lesson for the coming period.
What are the three things you like most about Romania and why? What don't you like in Romania?
I like Romanian Latin and easy-going culture opened towards foreigners. I appreciate Romanians flexibility and rich imagination when it comes to solving problems. It's a good environment to create and innovate; Nod makerspace is a good example of that, and UiPath demonstrated it on another level recently. Romania also has beautiful unspoiled natural landscapes, and I enjoy spending my free time in some rural and mountain areas.
I would like to see more infrastructures encouraging a sustainable lifestyle like bicycle lanes, for example, and better access to public hospitals and education for underprivileged people.
You took a year off to travel through Asia. Please tell us a bit about this experience and what made you go on such a long bicycle trip.
I traveled with a friend from childhood. We started from Istanbul and arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, passing through nine countries. We traveled mainly by bicycle for about 7.000 km, and that was a great means of transport. It allowed us to take time to connect with people, appreciate the nature around us and push us out of our comfort zone while being aware of our footprint.
We also traveled to find out about innovative projects addressing environmental and human rights issues. We were lucky to have this experience before the pandemic when it was relatively easy to travel in the middle east and Asia; today, it wouldn't be possible.
How/when did you discover spirulina and its benefits?
While I was in Bangkok, I met the Energaia company that grew spirulina on the rooftop of Novotel. The owner told me that Romania was the European country with the most google searches for "spirulina" per inhabitants. Keeping in mind that Romania has a culture for phytotherapy and is open to innovative food, I launched Spinoa with Florent, a friend I met in Bucharest 10 years ago. Today we import qualitative and tasty spirulina from a humanitarian farm in Burkina Faso that distributes 50% of its production locally to malnourished people or people with health issues. We have also developed other products like chocolate, soap, and honey with spirulina and made in Romania. Spinoa's objective is to launch a local spirulina farm network to contribute to building a more resilient food system having a positive impact on health, climate, and rural economy.
What was the investment, and how did you cover the costs?
Less than EUR 10,000 in total, from personal investment.
How has 2020 been for Spinoa? Has the pandemic affected your business?
We were affected mainly on the B2B activity, as some restaurants closed, and retailers are reluctant to register new references. Spirulina has an antiviral effect and strengthens the immune system, so the online activity kept growing at first and then stabilized. We've used the lockdown period to develop our range of products and work on future projects, adapting to the post-COVID new context. The pandemic is expected to reinforce interest in healthy, local, and traceable food, as mentioned in a GFK Romania general report, so overall, we're on the good side.
We also took time to invest in R&D, currently testing and comparing the growth depending on some parameters. We have launched a spirulina outdoor farming as a pilot project in the summer of 2020.
What are your targets for this year?
We have been selected into an e-commerce program from EGI Group in Spain, so this year we will focus on improving our online presence and product range, aiming to reach the selling capacity of a medium spirulina farm. That would represent to double our sales compared to 2020. We are working to develop four new products: an energy bar made of fruits and nuts, a healthy hazelnut spread free of sugars, a natural energizing drink, and a mix of seeds as topping for salads - all enriched with spirulina, of course.
Where can people buy or try the Spinoa products?
On our website Spinoa.ro, we deliver everywhere in Romania. Our products are also available through our partners: Zero Waste Shop (Bucharest), Ono Despachetarie (Oradea), Nuts for nuts (Arad), Carturesti, Republica Bio, Raftul Naturi, and other online stores. Also, some restaurants or coffee shops are interested in our spirulina, like Papila that included it in some of their recipes.
You are also a founding member of the ClimatoSfera Association. Please tell us briefly what ClimatoSfera is and what it does.
ClimatoSfera is a new voice for climate change in Romania. Scientific experts warn us that current human activities will lead to an ecological collapse and, in the near future, to famine, climate refugees, and armed conflicts. Our CO2 emissions are responsible, and they are correlated with economic growth, so we know we will soon have to change the way our society is organized if we want to deal with that issue.
There isn't much time to act, but the first step is to understand the problem collectively, so one of our first missions at ClimatoSfera is to raise awareness about climate change in Romania. Also, as funds are now available for projects, we want to encourage people to act by providing support to write projects and means of action to help companies, scholars, associations, and civil society to work together under a credible structure.
Irina Marica, email@example.com
(Photo source: courtesy of Romain Couderc)