Spira works with a network of farms in the developing world to create replacements for petroleum and animal compounds in the supply chain using algae, but we've never talked much about our story.
HERE'S OUR STORY FULL OF TWISTS-AND-TURNS DIRECTLY FROM OUR FOUNDER, ELLIOT ROTH:
I’ve been curious about biotechnology since I was 14 when I tried to make glowing tadpoles for my friends based on Roger Tsien’s 2008 Nobel Prize for discovering GFP. I emailed 100s of labs to see if I could get access to equipment and mentorship but I never received a response. Luckily my high school biology teacher enabled my creative research, and I planned out the entire experiment but was never able to practice it. The same was true when I entered university. I joined the only synthetic biology laboratory but spent 8 months showing up daily and just washing dishes. Eventually I was so frustrated that I decided that I should just build my own lab.
I got together with a few friends (including Spira COO Surjan Singh) and built a fully-working analytical chemistry and biotech lab with $500,000+ worth of equipment in a garage over the course of 3 years. We collected equipment from donations, dumpster diving and government auction websites. Using that lab I began to explore my thesis of work: how to solve the basic needs of humanity using simple DIY biotechnology. While in school I started 6 failed companies and 2 successful nonprofits, was appointed to the Governor’s Council for Youth Entrepreneurship and won every business prize my school had to offer.
Since I was more focused on starting companies that could change the world, after graduating, I was left with little in the way of job prospects. Richmond, Virginia isn’t known as the biotech capital of the world. I ran out of money and began couchsurfing. My only cost was food and so I wanted to leverage my skills to solve the problem of feeding myself. Being a space geek, I discovered NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration was feeding spirulina to astronauts and decided to start growing some in my garage lab. I survived on a diet of spirulina and whatever I could find for a period of 2.5 months. I realized that in order to make sure spirulina could provide in the same way for humanity, I needed to find a way to make it taste great and grow it everywhere effortlessly.
I received some investment from RebelBio, collaborated with the World Food Programme Innovation Accelerator on our business model, and got a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to interview food product developers. With over 1000 primary interviews, we realized what was lacking from protein ingredients and began to work on genetic techniques to improve flavor. Quickly, we realized that by extracting the pigment from spirulina, you improve the overall flavor. We started extracting the pigment and Spira started collaborating with farms across the globe from Peru to India to produce ingredients for food companies. We’re still a small company but growing rapidly to tackle the problems of displacing animal and petroleum compounds in our diets to create a healthier world.
We're taking this time period to focus on what really matters, and we hope you are too. From all of us to you, we hope you're staying safe and remembering to appreciate the journey, no matter how strange, difficult, wild and wonderful it may be.