Nicolas Hartmann

Co-Founder of vly, Germany

For many of us, all it takes to become vegan overnight is one unavoidable, in-your-face experience with where our food comes from. Nicolas Hartmann, an athlete’s nutritionist and founder of vly, is no exception. After visiting a dairy farm in 2015 and subsequently becoming vegan, he was taken aback by the lack of focus on health in many plant-based products. Equipped with the dedication of a former athlete, an Oxford degree, and business experience from a private equity company, he stepped right into the competitive vegan dairy industry. And not with just any “milk” –⁠ he chose pea. 

“I grew up dreaming about becoming an NBA star. The dream never came true, but my passion for health & optimizing the body never went away. I wanted to combine both worlds and create very nutritious, plant-based dairy alternatives. Without compromising on taste, you know.” 

The latter proved to be the real test of stamina for entrepreneurship. “Seeing our first products running on an industrial line was such an unforgettable moment for me. Prior, we’d spent 1.5 years iterating between lab benchtop and pilot plants with many (many!) setbacks. The number of nights we drove home from a trial, tested the product, and the taste was just horrible is countless. That alone made the final scaling step so gratifying.” 

“We won’t stop improving. We believe food should be updated like software.”

Inspirations, go-to’s and lifehacks: 

  • Pandemic lifehack that helped you survive 2021: Treadmill for standing desk 
  • A person that inspires you: Dirk Nowitzki because he stayed with 1 team 21 years
  • Last series/movie that kept you awake: The Last Dance
  • A book everyone should read: Deep Work by Cal Newport
  • Your latest podcast obsession: Lifespan & the science of ageing
  • App you find most valuable: Insight Timer
  • Favorite food/favorite vegan treat: Playing with my new Rancilio Silvia

vly is based on split pea protein – high in nutrients, low in sugars, and functional – meaning it can be used for everything from frothy coffee to cereal. It’s also more sustainable: 1 litre of vly uses 15x less CO2, 13x less water, and 5x less land compared to cow’s milk. “Nowadays, we’re at v3.0 of our vly Barista and vly Ungesüsst, for example. You can transparently see it on the back of the packaging. We believe it’s like software. It evolves fast and you want to be constantly improving it.” Niklas Katter and Moritz Braunwarth are Nicolas’ co-founders. They launched their first line in January 2020 and won retail soon after. 

In 2021, they secured a 6.1 million EUR investment from FoodTech investors Five Seasons Ventures, alongside previous investors Global Founders Capital and Good Seed Ventures. The investment will be used to scale in DACH and new European markets, including the UK, as well as further product development and bring on key talent. “Our first year in business, we had two amazing employees. Today – 2 years later – we’ve grown to a purpose-led team of over 40 employees. It’s humbling to see such a talented and dedicated group of people pushing the same mission with me.”

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Nicolas is one of the Food Heroes for 2022. See more inspiring and world-changing stories from Food Heroes here.