Proteus: First Spirulina Startup 1977-81 • 1


Proteus • first US spirulina venture startup • Imperial Valley California, 1977-81
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Proteus is “Old Man of the Sea” • God of sea change – can assume many forms
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Larry Switzer • Proteus founder • spirulina visionary
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First startup farm • Proteus moves from Berkeley to imperial Valley • 1977
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Growing up spirulina culture • from jugs to totes to pools to ponds
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First pond with paddlewheel • Robert Henrikson excited about next step
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Excavating production ponds • preparing for expansion
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DISASTER • Hurricane Doreen Aug 1977 • salvaging in one meter deep flood water
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Second farm • Relocating to a new site in El Centro • 1978
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Spirulina test harvest • Larry checking paste from the vibrating screem
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Robert taste testing a fresh spirulina harvest
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Fresh harvest and spray dried powder • Fresh has very mild taste
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installing pond paddlewheels • Ron Henson works on the foundation and the blades
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Inside the harvest building • Doug wight monitors pumps and harvest screens
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Spirulina raceway production pond with food grade plastic liner • 1979
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Raceway pond with center dividing berm and paddlewheel
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Earthrise© Spirulina launched 1979 • Inspired by NASA photo of Earthrise over Moon
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Robert introducing the “Food of the Future” at natural food trade shows
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Larry promoting spirulina at shows, to friends and everyone
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Early spirulina publicity • San Francisco Examiner • 1979
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Experimenting with spirulina in foods • fettucini and aquamole dips
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Spirulina food banquets • enrolling friends and community
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Earthrise Team in Berkeley 1981 • Alan, John. John, Leslie, Larry, Robert, Candy
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Earthrise© Spirulina advertisement • New Age Journal 1980
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Earthrise® marketing team Boulder Colorado • In 1000 stores across the USA
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Proteus and DIC begin Earthrise Farms 1981 • expands to world’s largest spirulina farm

Larry Switzer, visionary bioneer, founded Proteus Corporation in 1976 to develop spirulina algae as a world food resource. Proteus was funded by private California investors, committed to the spirulina vision. Larry was joined by Robert Henrikson and Dr. Alan Jassby, who helped design the early systems and cultivation programs. In early 1977 Larry and Robert left Berkeley for California’s hot Imperial Valley, ideal for growing spirulina.

For three years our small team sweated in the desert to build a successful farm model. The first growing ponds were underway, but in August 1977, Hurricane Doreen wiped out our farm – in the middle of 10 square mile flood under 4 feet of water. We asked our investors for more funding, relocated to a new site. Ron Henson showed up to help with construction, and eventually became Ops Manager of Earthrise Farms and Sales Manager for Earthrise. We developed larger growing ponds, tested harvesting and drying..

In 1978, we chose Earthrise as our trademark- NASA’s photo of the Earth rising from the moon’s surface. This image represents our awakening to a new Earth Rising. Earthrise sales and marketing were directed by Robert Bellows and Terry Cohen of Boulder, Colorado. Earthrise® began selling in natural food stores in 1979 and gained popularity fast.

We began looking for several million dollars for a commercial farm. We began importing spirulina, and developed a partnership with DIC, a Japanese corporation growing spirulina in Thailand. Together we founded Earthrise Farms, the first US production farm in 1982. By the 1990s, Earthrise became the world’s largest spirulina farm, and is operated today as Earthrise Nutritionals by DIC.