© Atta Sebastian Mode
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About ATTA

  • Founders: Mario Grintschler, Andreas Haigl, Christoph Kovacic, Sebastian Mode
  • Founded in: 2021
  • Employees: 0
  • Money raised: Funded by the AplusB scale-up program; funded by our own money
  • Ultimate goal: We want to professionalize mushroom cultivation in Europe to make mushrooms cheaper and thus our diet healthier and more sustainable

Animal agriculture is responsible for 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 80 percent of global land use. Mushrooms are nutrient-rich and could replace at least some meat consumption. Farmers and entrepreneurs who would like to grow mushrooms already exist. But many facilities are inefficient, so some build their own. This prompted the start-up ATTA to pool its knowledge of plant construction and develop a smart plant for mushroom cultivation. The first prototype is already up and running and is so simple that any supermarket could use it to grow mushrooms. Co-founder Sebastian Modl is an enthusiastic mushroom grower himself so he knows what he’s talking about. In this installment of our start-up-of-the-day series, he talks about the idea and its implementation.

Team Atta (from left to right): Sebastian Modl, Andreas Haigl, Mario Grintschler, Christoph Kovacic (c) Atta – Sebastian Modl

Where does the name ATTA come from?

Atta is the Latin name of the leaf cutter ants which have been building perfectly air-conditioned mushroom farms for over 30 million years. They are our great role models. The insects have changed their diet in the course of evolution to a fungus, which they cultivate in their burrow on collected leaves. This diet is very healthy and the Atta ants are now among the largest and strongest ant colonies.

What does a mushroom-growing facility look like?

Our mushroom-growing facility is a modular system and can be placed both in large halls and outdoors. To secure the harvest, we have set up remote monitoring. It is essential that the facility enables decentralized production and eliminates the need for long transportation routes. This also makes it suitable for meeting local demand in large cities. In the medium term, we would like not only to operate the facility ourselves but also to sell it, additionally offering a remote monitoring service. We want to produce on demand and be ready for delivery in just a few weeks.

What is your motivation?

Mushrooms are a wonderful meat alternative. We tested many mushrooms until we found the best variety – the Lion’s Mane mushroom. It has several meat-like properties with much lower CO2 emissions and resource consumption. In Asia, the Lion’s Mane mushroom is considered a delicacy and is often compared to chicken or lobster meat. It is also known as a true brain booster.

Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?

As a start-up, you face new challenges every day that you don’t feel up to. Only in retrospect do you realize you’ve managed to do what you didn’t think you could at the beginning. That’s how you grow with the company. The biggest challenge was certainly getting the first plant up and running. But we never thought of giving up.

What achievements have made you really proud?

When the first plant was finished, we knew that our efforts had paid off. We were very happy and proud. But also the many small and big supports and congratulations we receive from people are always very nice. This shows us that our idea hits the mark and that many people are interested in it.

Video about the behavior of the Atta ants

How difficult was it to get funding?

We started with grants and paid for the prototype system with a loan at our own risk. In the future, we will continue to rely on grants and, for the first time, debt financing. But we want to use as little external financing as possible to stay independent.

Can you imagine a better location for your start-up?

In Graz, we get wonderful support from the Science Park Incubator and the start-up communities. Our production site is Eibiswald, an idyllic village in the countryside where we feel very comfortable. For a start-up, these two locations are ideal. But we will also soon be looking at locations in Germany to explore our options there.

Where would you like to be with your company in five years?

In two weeks we will have our first harvest, which we will sell to restaurants and processing companies. If we are functioning as a producer and have positive cash flow, we will continue to invest in plant construction. In five years, we would like to sell our equipment across Europe to enable as many people as possible to grow mushrooms professionally and cost-effectively – and to make our diet healthier and more sustainable.

What makes your innovation better or different from existing things?

Our modular system has the advantage that customers can start with small plants and expand them in incremental investments. At the same time, our system is very efficient because temperature, humidity, CO2 and light can be controlled and the mushrooms have ideal growing conditions. Through our remote monitoring, the harvest is guaranteed.

Are you hiring?

Starting next year, we would like to hire employees and start building the company.

Want to read more posts about startups? You can find more episodes of this series here.