Spira

Own your nutrition

A tasty live culture spirulina drink with protein + micronutrients that doubles daily. We make it easy to grow our beverage everywhere.

Use Case

Jordan is a small farmer that grows a spirulina varietal in Virginia. He started with a tank from Spira and quickly grew a few ponds. His vintage is bottled locally and sold online. Spira is delivered to Laura, an active and anemic 31 year-old who drinks Spira as a workout recovery. The idea of helping her gut with a prebiotic, and getting micronutrients without the carbs or calories is appealing. She loves that by drinking Spira she is absorbing carbon emissions. A portion of the funds raised from these sales give Paul, a farmer in Chad, a loan to start his own spirulina farm. After drinking Spira for awhile, Laura opts to start growing her own and takes some from one of her bottles to start a window tank in her home. She uses fresh spirulina to enhance her own daily eating habits.

Potential

Spira aims to enable anyone to own their nutrition by growing spirulina and other microalgae species locally. Growing spirulina fixes carbon and can bioremediate water. This can provide a source of income and nutrition for small farmers who need it the most. Initially we can combat anemia, which affects 1.62 billion people worldwide and protein deficiency diseases, stopping malnutrition which causes 45% of the deaths in children under 5. Spirulina primarily provides protein and micronutrients but it also is the source of many potential medicinal compounds. Our tanks can also be retrofitted to grow other microalgae species which can provide a variety of other nutritional compounds quickly anywhere in the world.

Business Case

Spirulina doubles daily and can be grown anywhere there's light, air and water with a few simple salts. Spira grows spirulina exponentially in small tanks that are able to be delivered anywhere. We aim to distribute these tanks to farmers to give everyone access to microalgal nutrition. By making a delicious photosynthetic tea, we can push shelf-life beyond conventional means without the use of additives or preservatives. All our drink needs is illumination, not refrigeration, thus saving on transportation and storage. After harvesting, growth is slowed to steady-state. Our bottles are delivered direct-to-consumer so we can scale our farms with local demand. A portion of each proceed goes to support spirulina entrepreneurs in developing communities worldwide.

Objectives:

  1. Solve issues associated with anemia by providing easy, convenient access to a bio-available iron-rich beverage.
  2. Provide small-scale farmers with a specialty crop that gives access to nutrition in their surrounding communities.
  3. Utilize spirulina to pull carbon from the atmosphere and provide a eco-friendly protein replacement countering climate change.

Team Spira

Richmond, Virginia, United States of America

Our Team

  • John Moody Virginia Commonwealth U, United States of America
  • Evan Thoresen Virginia Commonwealth U, United States of America
  • Elliot Roth Virginia Commonwealth U, United States of America
  • Peter Lee VCU, United States of America
  • Logan Deyo Virginia Commonwealth U, United States of America
  • Surjan Singh Virginia Commonwealth U, United States of America

Scratching a Pitch / Published January 14, 2017 by Elliot Roth

Scratching a Pitch

There's nothing better to do at the end of a long, arduous process then get up in front of a bunch of strangers and talk about something you're really passionate about... said nobody ever.

However, pitching is a key skill for any team to have. Spira has been working through the TFF challenge in order to make our team stronger as well as develop better concepts for working with and marketing algae.

At the end of the TFF process we're supposed to put together a 2 minute pitch video as well as a 30 second elevator pitch. This has been the most challenging aspect of the process so far.

The task fell to me to film and edit the video. We picked up a video camera and went to work, recording four different interviews in three locations at two different times with only one angle.

Disaster struck in the editing room when I realized that the audio from all but one interview was rubbish and that our video was supposed to be 2 minutes when I had cut together a 3 minute video. Whoops!

I had never edited video before and after this process, I have a newfound respect for people who make and post videos constantly. It's an arduous process.

I'm headed back into the editing room to polish up the last few clips and then we'll be completely done with the pitch section of TFF!

Make It or Break It / Published January 14, 2017 by Elliot Roth

Make It or Break It

The first thing we did when we started brainstorming concepts for the packaging design was figure out our brand values and characteristics based on the customer personas and interviews we had conducted.

Next, we broke apart and created mood boards outlining examples of brands and images we thought fit Spira the best.

Peter then did an excellent job conducting 100 online user surveys on discovering the proper bottle shape. We narrowed it down to a simple cylinder of clear plastic.

Our brand values of simplicity and transparency had to be echoed on the bottle. We also wanted our mission of using spirulina to reduce malnutrition, absorb carbon, clean water and promote better health on the bottle.

After additional testing and passing around the bottle, we found a few errors and that users disliked having no flavor. We tried lime but that was too acidic to keep the algae alive. Going back to the drawing board we added in "green" flavors, deciding to not name the specific taste which could alienate some people (we started with watermelon). In addition, we simplified the bottle to make it stand out on the shelf.

The final bottle needs a bit more work but it's something we're really proud of. Time to test it out with a ton of people!

Notes / Published January 14, 2017 by Elliot Roth

Notes

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1hmGANZPUYRznjxhosf6wWGMrtqMS99ZoHrX3j1k0xXc/edit?usp=sharing

Our meeting minutes for the conceptualize stage. The team was still gathering interviews.

Interviews + Meeting Online / Published January 14, 2017 by Elliot Roth

Interviews + Meeting Online

This step in the TFF challenge was difficult. With everyone out on break, it was hard to get people together to discuss their interviews and keep everyone to task.

We collected 5 different interviews (and have more pending) and signed up 7 consistent beta testers (which will be interviewed in the future).

The team was having difficulty collecting unbiased information so we're planning on reading Talking to Humans to help craft our questions.

Online meetings are much more challenging to do a group high-five. Somehow we managed it!

Algal Ideas / Published January 14, 2017 by Elliot Roth

Algal Ideas

Since our team started TFF with a topic in mind, we wanted to come up with a few concepts that made algae more likely to be adopted as a food source.

Surge suggested we try a bunch of recipes with spirulina. Julia wanted to look into better drying methods to make a protein powder that didn't taste bad. Logan figured out that there was a bit of friction with ordering something online and so wanted to develop small sample packs. Peter had done research on marketing and was all about developing beautiful and simple packages that were incredibly straightforward and clear with what they offered. Evan was interested in using the influencer community to market algae products. John said that we should focus on the vegan market to have a diehard fan base. I was all-in on developed home DIY kits so anyone could grow spirulina.

Our ideas were all over the place. We couldn't do it all so the team decided to focus on something simple, accessible and delicious: a live culture spirulina beverage.

The beverage solves the problem of the poor taste of spirulina by keeping it alive. It also enables anyone to grow it with just a few simple salts. We can send it in a small sample pack and cook with it to incorporate spirulina in the current diet. Peter's packages and Evan and John's marketing strategy played a crucial role in the role-out of the product and Julia's drying research would help lengthen the shelf-life.

It was an incredibly productive session and I'm excited to see how our idea develops!

Our Mission

Our mission is to solve the physiological needs of humanity using biological design. We use microalgae as a platform to enable anyone to gain access to nutrition.

Our Background

We are using an edible microalgae called spirulina that can be grown with minimal resources in a variety of conditions to increase access to nutrition. Most of us are students at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia and we're hoping that Spira can serve as a solution to malnutrition globally. Spirulina grows so quickly, and with so little resources that it's astounding that this incredible powerhouse isn't everywhere. All of us are algaepreneurs and want to evangelize spirulina production around the world.

Scratching a Pitch / Published January 14, 2017 by Elliot Roth

Scratching a Pitch

There's nothing better to do at the end of a long, arduous process then get up in front of a bunch of strangers and talk about something you're really passionate about... said nobody ever.

However, pitching is a key skill for any team to have. Spira has been working through the TFF challenge in order to make our team stronger as well as develop better concepts for working with and marketing algae.

At the end of the TFF process we're supposed to put together a 2 minute pitch video as well as a 30 second elevator pitch. This has been the most challenging aspect of the process so far.

The task fell to me to film and edit the video. We picked up a video camera and went to work, recording four different interviews in three locations at two different times with only one angle.

Disaster struck in the editing room when I realized that the audio from all but one interview was rubbish and that our video was supposed to be 2 minutes when I had cut together a 3 minute video. Whoops!

I had never edited video before and after this process, I have a newfound respect for people who make and post videos constantly. It's an arduous process.

I'm headed back into the editing room to polish up the last few clips and then we'll be completely done with the pitch section of TFF!

Make It or Break It / Published January 14, 2017 by Elliot Roth

Make It or Break It

The first thing we did when we started brainstorming concepts for the packaging design was figure out our brand values and characteristics based on the customer personas and interviews we had conducted.

Next, we broke apart and created mood boards outlining examples of brands and images we thought fit Spira the best.

Peter then did an excellent job conducting 100 online user surveys on discovering the proper bottle shape. We narrowed it down to a simple cylinder of clear plastic.

Our brand values of simplicity and transparency had to be echoed on the bottle. We also wanted our mission of using spirulina to reduce malnutrition, absorb carbon, clean water and promote better health on the bottle.

After additional testing and passing around the bottle, we found a few errors and that users disliked having no flavor. We tried lime but that was too acidic to keep the algae alive. Going back to the drawing board we added in "green" flavors, deciding to not name the specific taste which could alienate some people (we started with watermelon). In addition, we simplified the bottle to make it stand out on the shelf.

The final bottle needs a bit more work but it's something we're really proud of. Time to test it out with a ton of people!

Notes / Published January 14, 2017 by Elliot Roth

Notes

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1hmGANZPUYRznjxhosf6wWGMrtqMS99ZoHrX3j1k0xXc/edit?usp=sharing

Our meeting minutes for the conceptualize stage. The team was still gathering interviews.

Interviews + Meeting Online / Published January 14, 2017 by Elliot Roth

Interviews + Meeting Online

This step in the TFF challenge was difficult. With everyone out on break, it was hard to get people together to discuss their interviews and keep everyone to task.

We collected 5 different interviews (and have more pending) and signed up 7 consistent beta testers (which will be interviewed in the future).

The team was having difficulty collecting unbiased information so we're planning on reading Talking to Humans to help craft our questions.

Online meetings are much more challenging to do a group high-five. Somehow we managed it!

Algal Ideas / Published January 14, 2017 by Elliot Roth

Algal Ideas

Since our team started TFF with a topic in mind, we wanted to come up with a few concepts that made algae more likely to be adopted as a food source.

Surge suggested we try a bunch of recipes with spirulina. Julia wanted to look into better drying methods to make a protein powder that didn't taste bad. Logan figured out that there was a bit of friction with ordering something online and so wanted to develop small sample packs. Peter had done research on marketing and was all about developing beautiful and simple packages that were incredibly straightforward and clear with what they offered. Evan was interested in using the influencer community to market algae products. John said that we should focus on the vegan market to have a diehard fan base. I was all-in on developed home DIY kits so anyone could grow spirulina.

Our ideas were all over the place. We couldn't do it all so the team decided to focus on something simple, accessible and delicious: a live culture spirulina beverage.

The beverage solves the problem of the poor taste of spirulina by keeping it alive. It also enables anyone to grow it with just a few simple salts. We can send it in a small sample pack and cook with it to incorporate spirulina in the current diet. Peter's packages and Evan and John's marketing strategy played a crucial role in the role-out of the product and Julia's drying research would help lengthen the shelf-life.

It was an incredibly productive session and I'm excited to see how our idea develops!

Our Team

  • John Moody Virginia Commonwealth U, United States of America
  • Evan Thoresen Virginia Commonwealth U, United States of America
  • Elliot Roth Virginia Commonwealth U, United States of America
  • Peter Lee VCU, United States of America
  • Logan Deyo Virginia Commonwealth U, United States of America
  • Surjan Singh Virginia Commonwealth U, United States of America

Our Mission

Our mission is to solve the physiological needs of humanity using biological design. We use microalgae as a platform to enable anyone to gain access to nutrition.Read More

Our Background

We are using an edible microalgae called spirulina that can be grown with minimal resources in a variety of conditions to increase access to nutrition. Most of us ...Read More

The information contained here represents student project ideas developed as the result of brainstorming activities during Round 1 of the TFF Challenge. It does not represent any final business plans or commercial products.