Interview with Mariano Oto, CEO of Nucaps
Discover the inspiring story of Mariano Oto, the CEO of Nucaps, the startup that emerged as the winner of Scale the Impact, the acceleration program powered by Danone and Social Nest Foundation.
Mariano Oto is the current CEO of the Navarrese startup, Nucaps, and in this interview he reveals his vision of impact entrepreneurship and how crucial it is to merge technology with innovation to improve people's health and implement a sustainable business model in the long term.
You are currently the CEO of Nucaps. Please briefly explain what Nucaps is and what you believe it brings to the world.
At Nucaps, we are a young company, founded in 2017, dedicated to biotechnology and the microencapsulation of functional ingredients. Our unique technology allows us to enhance nutrition and reduce costs in active ingredients and probiotics, positively impacting human health. We are the only company in the world that performs industrial-scale microencapsulation and offers innovative technology for the industrial development of nanocapsules and biocapsules, intended for bioactives and probiotics.
How did the idea of creating Nucaps come about, and what was the process of founding such an innovative startup like?
Nucaps has its roots in a research project that began over 10 years ago, led by the University of Navarra, a food technology center, and a pharmaceutical company. We were searching for a clean labeling solution with a natural composition and affordable cost that could deliver beneficial microorganisms for health orally. At that time, these microorganisms, aside from being prohibitively expensive, degraded easily, had poor stability, unpleasant odor, and didn't have a real impact on people's health. Protein microencapsulation proved to be the ideal solution, being natural, cost-effective, and versatile. Thus, Nucaps was born to bring this technology to the market and address the challenges across various industries.
What has it meant for you and your startup to be part of Danone and Social Nest Foundation's program, Scale the Impact?
Being part of Danone and Social Nest Foundation's program, Scale the Impact, has been pivotal for Nucaps. From the outset, our purpose was to improve health through nutrition and promote sustainability. This program helped us establish impact indicators, validating our mission's effect on health and sustainability. Thanks to the expertise in impact matters from Social Nest Foundation, we've been able to translate our mission of wanting to change the world and improve people's health through nutrition into reality. The program provides all the necessary tools to embed the mission within the company and also connect with other entrepreneurs who share a similar desire to change the world.
How do you think different personal experiences may have influenced you throughout your professional career and decision-making?
My professional and personal evolution has been unique and intriguing. Although my career in the world of entrepreneurship began 25 years ago, it was in 2017 and 2018 when my perspective changed dramatically due to a series of personal events, including the arrival of a child with a disability and the battle against a rather aggressive cancer. At this turning point, I decided to create my first association to raise awareness for people with disabilities, called Síndrome Up, and as a result of this initiative, I was invited to lead social policies for the Government of Navarre. After this phase, I decided to embark on entrepreneurship and establish a social innovation consultancy, Síndrome Up, Consultoría Innovación Social, where I received this wonderful project that is Nucaps. At that moment, I decided to lead its implementation.
Do you believe the world needs more projects that improve people's lives?
Absolutely. I believe that every company should have a purpose and consider its impact on society. Companies, rather than just governments, are essential agents of change in society, and they can genuinely enhance people's lives at both local and global levels by integrating their purpose into daily operations. It's vital for every entrepreneur starting a project to focus on understanding their impact and how their project can change the world, in what way, and decide how to measure it.
For those looking to start a project, how do you at Nucaps find the balance between pursuing your mission and also generating economic sustainability?
At Nucaps, we believe that impact is always profitable. Improving your immediate environment, such as customers, employees, and the community, always benefits the company. Sometimes we view impact as something generic and distant, but impact begins with your own close community. In reality, integrating social impact into the company's regular processes and within measurement standards doesn't have to increase costs. This contrasts with what is known as misunderstood corporate social responsibility, which was often seen as an additional expense. Impact and economic sustainability are not mutually exclusive.
If the Nucaps team were an animal, what animal do you think would describe you best and why?
I think we would be like a young horse: powerful, agile, and full of vitality. Our team is predominantly young and highly motivated. We also value female talent and promote work-life balance. This combination makes us strong and energetic, like a young horse.
What would be the most significant piece of advice you could give to your "you" from 5-10 years ago?
I would tell myself to be resilient and capable of facing change and uncertainty. Years ago, after confronting personal challenges, I wrote a blog titled "In the end, nothing is that big a deal" ("Al final nada es para tanto"). In reality, that would be somewhat of a summary: "Don't worry, because in the end, nothing is that big a deal." Perseverance and a positive attitude are essential to overcome any obstacles, both in life and in business.
Favorite Hobbies: Spending time with family and playing Squash.
Favorite Place: Any place by the sea.
Favorite Book: Any mystery novel.
Favorite Movie: The Godfather, the entire saga.
Desired Superpower: Flying, for the sensation of freedom.