In April 2014 I went to Innsbruck, Austria, to interview Mark Stüttler, an entrepreneur and founder, besides his brother Manuel Stüttler, of the Mushroom Research Center Austria (MRCA). The MRCA is a respected institution between the fungicultors worldwide, and also one of the most dynamic and innovative mycelium spawn producers of Europe through the trademark Tyroler Glückspilze.
When did you start to grow mushrooms?
Our mushroom adventure started in 1996 with a spore print of a Mexican magic mushroom (Psilocybe cubensis) that we got from Paul Stamets. Since then me and my brother Manuel have been researching and collecting knowledge all around the world, while building at the same time a huge collection of fungal cultures. My brother Manuel studied biotechnology and has worked in many laboratories, experience which I consider a key point that helped us to develop our business.
Could you explain me a bit about your business, please?
In 1997 we started our first online shop, Mycolabs Vienna, where we distributed material for grow magic mushrooms at home. Those were very fructiferous years, and then the space became little, then in 2007 we had to move out. We moved to Innsbruck, this beautiful city between the Alps of Tirol. That same year we founded the MRCA, and under its flag we kept selling our products through the Internet, including a wide selection of scientific material, as microscopes and advanced culture media.
More recently in 2012, we decided to create a new business, the Mushroom Production Center GmbH, through which we try to supply the Austrian farmers and from which we would like to coordinate the production and the marketing of fresh edible mushrooms in this region, under the trademark Tyroler Glückspilze. On the new webpage we also offer a wide range of products for home growers, from ‘all-made’ or ‘ready-to-grow’ kits to supplies for big-scale production.
Actually we own more than 800m2 for the production and inoculation of mushroom substrates and our team consists of 10 people, without include grade students that can develop here their internships and projects.
How many species do you supply?
In our fridges and in the liquid nitrogen tanks from the MRCA we conserve more than 490 species and strains, 15 of which are offered commercially after have been selected and studied because its nutritional or therapeutic properties. Moreover, we are proud to own a long list of species, subspecies and strains of magic mushrooms (Psilocybe ssp.).
Available species at Tyroler Glückspilze
- Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
- Siitake (Lentinula edodes)
- Judas Ear (Auricularia auricula-judae)
- Pom pom blanc (Hericium erinaceus)
- Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
- Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)
- King oyster (Pleurotus eryngii)
- Pioppino (Agrocybe aegerita)
- Brasil’s champignon (Agaricus blazei)
- Elm oyster (Hypsizygus ulmarius)
Other non-edible mushrooms
- Oil-tree mushroom (Omphalotus olearius)
- Mexican magic mushrooms (Psilocybe cubensis ssp.)
- Caramel cap (Psilocybe azurescens)
- Psilocybe cyanescens
- Omphalotus nidiformis
Which plans do you have for the future?
Actually our intention is to achieve a huge capital investment through crowd-funding and other sources. We want to collect more than 3 million euro to build mushroom greenhouses on Austrian and Hungarian soil. With a strong physical infrastructure we should be able to supply the European markets with a 100% ecological mushroom. We are also thinking about special grow chambers, with biosecurity control systems, in order to grow medicinal mushrooms in an unpolluted and very controlled environment. The pharmaceutical industry requires a high standard on this sense; the mushrooms should be pure, without toxic traces or cross-contamination with other microorganisms.
Mushrooms for the pharma industry?
Yes, since the very beginning our network of mushroom growers provides us dried mushrooms for the elaboration of capsules or even for the extraction of valuable enzymes. Therefore, we have established cooperation partnerships with the Austrian pharmaceutical industry and even with the faculties of microbiology, pharmacology and botany of the Leopold-Franzens University of Innsbruck and the University of Vienna. On the other hand, we joined efforts with the Austrian Drug Screening Institute and the Center of Excellence in Medicine and IT of Austria, between others. This organizations are already studying the medicinal capacities of our mushrooms while they help us to develop new cultivation and extraction methods, what also impulses the creation of new products.
What impulses you to do such a huge investment?
The mushroom market grows exponentially; indeed more than a 95% of the mushrooms consumed in Austria and Germany are imported. Supply this demand with mushrooms produced localy is a priority and a big business opportunity. Regarding the medicinal mushrooms, their properties are not known or poorly understood by the consumers, there is a huge path to walk on this field, we should do an effort explaining the benefits of these natural products. Anyhow, it is not hard to find many food complements made with mushrooms in the European market, all them imported from China and sold for a very cheap price. Having this kind of competition, our best playing card is to sell a 100% organic product, assuring high quality EU standards.
Seems that you are on fire right now, what else do you have in mind?
Many things! We also work along with artists that are using mycelium as a new creative material, on this field we have a collection of mushroom products made out to decorate indoor spaces. We also produce mushroom products for domestic animals, sounds crazy? Could be, but your dog or cat has the right to eat mushrooms, it is also good for their health. The scientific studies show that the inclusion of mushrooms in the diet of our pets or farm animals stimulates their immune-system, in an industrial farm that could be translated in a huge reduction in the antibiotic consumption. As you can imagine, following the food chain, that’s also improving our own health. We also sell mycorrhizas for plants, which improve the health and yield of any given agricultural operation.
Any recommendation for new mushroom growers?
The keys of our success are the patience and the independence. Me and my brother Manuel started growing magic mushrooms by curiosity, using a pressure cooker at home to prepare our mushroom substrates, just one bag at once, but 15 years later we have capacity to produce more than thousand substrate bags per day. At the beginning we did many errors, but after a while we succeed and we have learned to produce a good quality spawn and to relate ourselves with the fungal organism, in a very close manner. We have changed and diversified our methods and species through all these years and we will continue doing it. We see our business as an organism that grows step by step willing to fructify on many spots.