Dr. Yashaswini stands as a testament to the transformative power of personal experiences in steering professional aspirations. An accomplished scientist and entrepreneur with a PhD in Biotechnology, she holds specializations in Immunotechnology and Oncology. With over 14 years of intensive research experience, Dr. Yashaswini transitioned from an academic career to establishing a pioneering company in the realm of Fungal and Fermentation technology.
The genesis of this transition is deeply personal. When her mother was diagnosed with cancer, she realized the potentially long journey from drug development to market availability. She recognized an immediate need: enhancing patient care and recovery through the consumption of functional food. Propelled by the belief that “Food is our Medicine,” Dr. Yashaswini delved into exploring fungi as the next superfood. Alongside her scientific endeavors, she harbors a passion for hobbies such as mushroom cultivation and fermented food preparation.
In this exclusive interview, we delve deeper into her journey, the inception of her company, Mycovation, and her insights into the biotech industry.
Could you tell us about your company and its presence in the Singapore region?
Mycovation is a fungal biotechnology company that transforms mushroom mycelium into novel ingredients using fermentation technology and AI. We utilize biomass fermentation, enabling fungi to feed on high-carb substrates and grow rapidly. This process efficiently produces large quantities of protein-rich and functional food.
Established in 2020 and incorporated in Singapore, Mycovation is proud to be Asia’s first mycelium biotech startup focusing on food application development. Our operations are based in Innovate 360, a premier food tech innovation hub in Singapore. Since 2021, we have received significant support from Enterprise Singapore and our esteemed investors, Trendlines and Seeds Capital.
How has the year been for your company in terms of overall performance and achievements?
In 2023, Mycovation achieved a significant milestone as we successfully scaled our process from the lab to pilot scale. We can now produce around 150-200kilos/month of our mycelium flour. This advancement enables us to distribute samples to potential food industry clients across Asia for product testing and co-development.
On the commercial front, we forged partnerships with three major Asian food companies to co-develop food products, including health bars, Myco-noodles, and pet food, all enhanced with our mycelium ingredients. We aim to launch the first of these products by the close of 2023.
Mycovation was privileged to rank among the Top 30 startups in the esteemed K-Startup Grand Challenge 2022, an initiative by the South Korean government. Moreover, we’ve broadened our global reach through affiliations with AIC – T-Hub Accelerator in India, SPACE-F in Thailand, and both DayDayUp in China and Shinhan Bridge 2 Korea in South Korea.
Additionally, we garnered recognition as finalists in the Sustainable Food Solution Challenge by Mass Challenge and were chosen to participate in the Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s Big Food Redesign Challenge.
In the current competitive market, what does your business offer that sets it apart from others?
The Myco Ingredient domain remains largely untapped in the food manufacturing ecosystem. Our strategic location offers a distinct advantage, positioning us as pioneers in the Asian market. While European and US markets are further along in mycelium-based applications, their focus is predominantly on specialized strains for mycoprotein production.
Given the rising interest in Mycoproteins across Asia, catering to the unique taste palettes of individual countries presents a challenge. This is especially true considering the diverse cultural and traditional food preferences within the continent. What sets us apart is our ability to offer customization in ingredient design and fermentation processes. Drawing from our extensive repository of strains and substrates, we employ our proprietary AI-Platform, the “MycoSmart Platform”, to ensure a tailored approach.
What measures do you believe employees and organizations can take to build effective teamwork and foster unity within the workplace?
Operating as a start-up with co-founders based in different countries presents its unique challenges, especially in maintaining pace and effectively delegating tasks. It’s crucial for us to be aligned in our thoughts and approach, communicating always with a positive mindset.
On the production and R&D front, the cornerstones of successful teamwork include setting shared objectives, promoting open communication, and delineating clear responsibilities. Team-building exercises are invaluable in this process, allowing members to familiarize themselves with each other and fostering an environment where ideas are freely exchanged and actively received.
At Mycovation, despite our lean team, we prioritize healthy dialogue and a collaborative work culture.
Do you have any advice or tips for startups looking to follow a similar pathway to your company’s success?
To start-up founders, my foremost advice is to assemble the best team possible. Communication is paramount; ensure you maintain open channels, schedule regular meetings to assess your progress, and set clear objectives. It’s equally important to celebrate every small milestone and achievement.
Such recognition motivates and drives the team to push further towards success.
Connect with Dr. Yashaswini Balaraju on LinkedIn.