Hi Insa, thank you for joining us today. Before we get to what you are all about, would you like to briefly introduce yourself and your business?
My name is Insa Mohr. I'm originally from Germany, but my company and team are located in the US. I started a company called Mooji Meats, bringing whole cuts to the plant-based and lab-grown meat industries. We officially launched at the beginning of 2022 but have been working on it since last year.
From Germany to the US, then starting your own business, that's quite a journey. Can you tell us a little about where it all began?
My journey started in early childhood. I'm from a typical traditional German family of post-Second World War farmers. My generation was the first to turn vegetarian—Initially my sister, me, and then my cousins. We realised it was the only logical thing to do regarding ethics and health. It took the older generations some time to understand the concept. I believe they associated vegetarianism with being fussy or not being grateful for what was on our plate. Most of them had grown up in poverty, so this thinking was completely understandable.
Early on in my life, I wished that we as a society could talk about sustainability, ethics, and healthy diets as something positive instead of people almost perceiving it as offensive if someone chooses to be vegetarian.
So from the beginning, you faced challenges with perceptions starting your own family. Did this, along with your passion for sustainability, ethics and a healthy diet, contribute to the decision to set up your own business?
I turned vegetarian for environmental reasons and for animal welfare reasons. However, I never gave up my love for meat and food in general. I worked for a large biopharma company that became the first large company to enter the lab-grown meat market. I saw the opportunities and the challenges to overcome. I knew our co-founder from an engineering school in the US, and I knew that the technology he worked on was what we needed to overcome one of the biggest challenges. I also worked as a management consultant for many years, and I guess I just knew how to validate whether it was a good idea and how to get started.
Starting a business during a global pandemic must have had its challenges?
I was quite surprised by how well everyone adjusted to working online so easily. I think there were, and still are, some challenges. The supply chain, for example, was delayed and is still taking longer than it used to.
That's the case for many businesses and continues to be. Setting up a business during unprecedented times was a great achievement. So, who would you say you are doing this work for, and why should they care?
I would say that we do this for everyone, but if I had to pick a group of people, I'd say it's people that want to live healthier and more sustainably but still love meat. There is nothing wrong with that. We definitely shouldn't point our fingers at them, but instead, provide the solutions to support people by making it easier to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
I once read an interesting article that said people are most offended if their lifestyle is criticised because it's such a private and personal thing. I think that's very true for diets.
What do you find most fulfilling about the work you do?
Everything we do contributes to creating a more sustainable future, and I like nothing more than working on a new project. I think the fact I never have to ask myself, 'what is the purpose of what I'm currently doing?' makes it very fulfilling.
You have clear convictions and goals with your business. Was there ever a time you decided to do something differently, either in your life or work, or take a completely new direction?
Starting a company was a big step. In my perception, I did not start something completely different or took a new direction; it was more like the next logical step to achieve what I want in my life and for personal development. So, I think of it more like, “I've learned how to assess markets, build teams, manage projects, and have built a solid career; now, I should use this for something else". And I believed I was ready.
Having already built a solid career with many transferrable business skills, did this help give you the confidence and perspective to come up with a new idea and build upon that to where you are today?
It's a tough question. My background in the life science industry especially in bioprocessing and bioprinting definitely helped. And I do think I can be a very ideological person and sometimes a bit of an emotional thinker. But at the same time, I can also deal with business numbers and love to dig deeper into the science of what we're doing.
It's probably the result of being in diverse environments. I studied business and information technologies and have lived in six different countries.
In management consulting, for example, projects could require a lot of logical skills, empathy, and people management. I think it really helps to have multiple diverse perspectives and attributes in your work.
You clearly have many attributes and a diverse range of skills, making for a good all-around business developer. Would you say these skills came naturally to you as a person or were they learnt along your journey?
If you ask my parents, they would say it's a trait as I have been this way since childhood. I was brought up in a great environment that enabled me to nurture and develop my skills further. When I was younger, I read a lot about nutrition and livestock farming. So again, it's a combination of different influences.
With Mooji Meats, what were the biggest challenges or even mistakes that you made?
Maybe not a mistake per se, but when we did our first round of fundraising, the markets crashed, and it looked like the whole funding environment would change for a long time. We didn't consider this would happen to that extent. So now we have a contingency plan to fall back on. Some say you only have to have a plan A because having a backup plan shows you're not determined enough, but I think if an initial plan doesn't work, then having plan B can be very helpful.
Your determination to succeed is apparent, but having a backup plan seems sensible, as you never know when changes may occur. Throughout your journey, were there any big epiphanies or 'Aha' moments that were important to your direction or path?
An emotional moment for me was when I first saw the technology, a scalable 3d printer we were using in action, in real life. I've seen the current market standard before, so at the time, I thought, 'That's it!'. That's something big.
A sometimes difficult part in a startup is finding the right team or partnership; how did you get to know your co-founder?
I knew what I wanted to do and the direction I wanted to take, but us meeting was a huge serendipity. So, I moved to the US and planned to network, mingle for a while and figure out exactly what I would do next. I met my co-founder on my first night in Cambridge at a house party; after talking for five minutes, we knew we would be perfect to start a business together. He knew with my business and life science background, that there was something worth pursuing.
I am not the type of person who believes in love at first sight, but I had a good feeling from the beginning, and it proved well.
As with most startup businesses, a lot of hard work, determination and compromises are usually made to make it a success. What were the biggest compromises, or if you prefer to call them sacrifices, that you have made to get where you are today?
There was a lot, and I think it's important to talk about it. Having your own business takes a lot of time and energy. So even though I don't like to admit it, sometimes I make social sacrifices. In my old job, I was known amongst my friends and family for not being very flexible with my time.
As well as time, I also had to give up having a high stable income and a very linear and promising career path. I wouldn't change it, though and would still prefer what I'm doing now. I would certainly do it again, but it's not for everyone. I think it takes a lot of commitment and dedication, and it should be a conscious decision whether you are the type of person willing to give all these things up. Sometimes, particularly in the US, having your own business can be over-glorified.
As you mentioned, starting your own business is a huge commitment and not for everyone, but for those thinking, 'I can do that!' how would you define a suitable person for this job?
I don't think you can define certain traits that determine a person's suitability. If you look at successful founders and people who make a difference in the world, they are just so different in personality, knowledge and wealth.
Is there a specific thing everyone needs to have at least to succeed in this business?
I think that a valuable asset is the ability to think critically and to think independently. If you look at our society and economy, we are so prone to hypes and half-truths, and sometimes mainstream opinions. Try to look a little deeper, and don't necessarily hold true at first glance. So, I think if you're a person that can reflect upon what opinions you want to adopt and which opinions you want to deviate from, that's an important trait.
So, for example, I think we have to assess much deeper and more systematically about what is needed to prevent climate warming. I believe there's much more than just emissions to that.
Having already touched on some greater issues, like you mentioned digging deeper into the prevention of climate warming that you hope to be addressed, how would you envision the future, a new standard or the new normal?
I have two visions in my mind that I hope to come true in the future, concerning animal welfare, food and the environment. First, I think we associate meat with animal cruelty today. I hope that in the future, meat alternatives, both plant-based and from the lab, are so advanced that meat is something we cherish. I hope that one day I am able to sit in a restaurant and to order the meat of a certain animal, knowing that it’s still alive and happy somewhere, without the animal being sent to slaughter.
Second, in the bigger picture, I hope we get closer to a Net Zero view of emissions, our resources, and the world in general. The thinking should be: The world gives us a certain amount of resources every year, and we can't use any more than that. We don't even have the means to think like this right now; none of us really knows what things cost in terms of resources? So, I hope this will become more transparent in the future.
After going through this journey, is there anything you wish to be remembered for by your family and friends when you are no longer here?
I don't believe it's important for me to be remembered a certain way or even at all. I do hope, though, that I made a difference. Of course, I hope I have made a difference with my company and, hopefully, to the people I worked with. I try to be logical and fact-based in my work, but it's also really important for me to be compassionate and show empathy, and I hope that this at least makes a difference, even if it's not specifically associated with me in the future.
What words of wisdom would you give to any budding entrepreneurs starting out?
Again, I would say be critical and think independently; I think that's the number one skill. Also, make something different to drive your innovation.
Finally, if there was one lasting message that you could share with the whole world, what would that one be?
I like to say that if you do well, you have to do good. I think it's really important to pay it forward if you're in the position to do so, and there are so many ways to do this. For example, when a person you don't know reaches out to you on LinkedIn and asks you for advice; give them some of your time and try to give back. I think that would help to make the world a better place.
Thank you, Insa, for your time today. It has been fascinating to understand how your business became a reality, from the concept and meaning behind Mooji Meats through to the launch at the beginning of this year during one of the more difficult times in recent history.
If you would like to find out more about Insa and Mooji Meats, you can find them at https://www.moojimeats.com/
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