From Brazil to Lisbon and Dubai, global innovator Krilltech is going places

11 Nov 2021

Diego Stone, fourth from left, at Web Summit. Image: KPMG

Diego Stone, CEO of Brazilian agritech start-up Krilltech, discussed innovation, networking and sustainability ahead of his COP26 talk.

Krilltech founder and CEO Diego Stone is a busy man. Since his agritech start-up scooped the top prize at KPMG’s Global Tech Innovator competition at Web Summit last week, Stone’s life has suddenly become a lot more hectic.

Following his stint in Lisbon, Stone addressed climate leaders at COP26 on Tuesday (9 November).

Future Human

Over a Zoom call before then, he told Siliconrepublic.com that he is still getting used to the media attention coming his way. Luckily, Stone seems to be taking it all in his stride. He answered the call from a busy restaurant in Lisbon, where he was dining with fellow Web Summit attendees.

He said he is eager to capitalise on Krilltech’s profile boost; the company’s social media engagement is up 1,300pc since it was crowned the overall winner of the KPMG competition on 2 November.

“My greatest objective,” Stone said of his reasons for entering, “was to be able to showcase our technology, and what we were doing, and maybe, if possible, win the competition.”

Krilltech had already seen off several other Brazilian start-ups in the local leg of the tech innovator competition, where Stone believed its “black sheep” status helped it to stand out. It was the only company discussing agriculture.

Stone’s pitch won him the chance to exhibit at the final at Web Summit alongside 16 other start-ups from around the world, including Belfast’s CattleEye. Stone described the standard as “amazing,” adding that Krilltech’s win in the end was a “real surprise.”

While he may be humble about the win, Stone is incredibly proud of his company and its technology, which he has spent the past seven years developing in consultation with agritech experts.

Partnering with Shell

Krilltech worked with Brazilian agricultural research corporation Embrapa as well as researchers at the University of Brasília. Together, they created arbolin, a naturally derived product that aims to helps farmers obtain more sustainable crops at harvest, with biodegradable organic nanoparticles to increase crop productivity and quality.

After several long years of testing its nanotechnology, Krilltech has grown to where it is today – an agritech start-up on the world stage. Ahead of his appearance at the Brazilian industry day at COP26, Stone told us about the company’s project with Shell. The fossil fuel giant has been making efforts to convince its many, many climate critics that it can play a positive role in the provision of sustainable energy.

It aims to become a net-zero emissions business by 2050 under its sustainability strategy that was laid out by CEO Ben van Beurden in a blog post ahead of COP26. And partnering with small, fast-growing start-ups like Krilltech could be a savvy business move for Shell.

Stone said the collaboration will involve using Krilltech’s nanotechnology to recover degraded forest areas in the Amazon. “We’re working right now with Shell and the National Institute for Research in the Amazon [on] recovering over 5,000 hectares, that is over 10,000 acres of forest,” he explained.

The project will have a social impact also, according to Stone, who said 200 scholarships would be handed out to the region’s high-school students to encourage them to get involved in sustainable agriculture and forestry.

The students will get the opportunity to learn about how future generations can use the forest “as a means of subsistence, for example, by extracting crude [oil], extracting berries, extracting produces that will be able to generate extra income for the low-income populations of the area, while at the same time maintaining and conserving the native forest and the Amazon,” Stone added.

The project, which will last five years, is clearly something he is excited about. “It’s one of those things that makes us really happy and makes us wake up early in the morning and keeps us going.”

Future expansion plans

While he acknowledged that the pace of developing a start-up can be challenging, Stone was particularly emphatic when asked about Krilltech’s future expansion plans. Like most start-up founders’ plans, it involves getting funds to improve Krilltech’s product technology and taking it to new locations.

“Right now, we’re right in the middle of the pre-Series A round. We’re focusing on expanding the technology and our company, not only in Brazil, but also internationally.

“At first, we are intending to establish two international offices,” Stone added. “One in Portugal, to address the European market, and another in Dubai, where we’ll work to address the far east market – Middle East, far east, maybe Eastern Europe and North Africa.”

Negotiations in Dubai are still ongoing, but Krilltech is no stranger to this location. Shortly before he pitched at Web Summit, Stone competed as a semi-finalist in Gitex Future Stars’ Supernova Challenge 2021.

The competition saw start-ups from around the world compete at Dubai’s World Trade Centre for a major investment and a chance to meet with venture capitalist Tim Draper.

After his interview with Siliconrepublic.com, Stone was going back to eating dinner in a Lisbon restaurant alongside some fellow entrepreneurs from the UAE. What do he and other ambitious entrepreneurs get out of events like Web Summit and the Supernova Challenge?

“I think one of the big, big advantages of these programmes is that you can network with amazing people all around the world and get new ideas, give them new ideas. And this is how innovation works. And this is how good innovation works now, so I’m really grateful for that,” he answered.

And then it was back to the table for Stone to fuel up for the future, which, no doubt, will be bright.

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Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com