In the summer of 2018, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences (SBCS) PhD graduates Zach, Fosca, Ari and Alistair launched a nutrition-tech start-up called Shoreditch-son in Okinawa, Japan. We spoke to Zach, CEO, to learn more about the start-up.
Shoreditch-son team (left to right) Zach, Alistair, Fosca, Ari
What is the mission and aim of Shoreditch-son?
Our mission is to make it easier to consume performance-enhancing nutrients. The current aim is to further develop our prototypes for a powder-less personalised supplement called ‘Seeds’. We have a method for converting nutritional supplement powders into small 10-gram pods that easily dissolve in water. This technology (Seed-Tech) can easily be incorporated into existing supplement powder production pipelines at low costs. Currently, we have working prototypes for various whey protein powders, but are expanding to other supplement powders. We joined the OIST accelerator programme to further develop our prototypes and by March 2019 we will start licensing Seed-Tech to the global nutritional supplement market.
How did the idea for Shoreditch-son develop?
In 2013 Fosca, Ari and I started our PhDs, which is where we first met. We also met Alistair, a third year PhD student at the time. We had a degree of crossover with respect to research and lab space. We finished our PhDs at different times but remained in close contact and decided to take a chance and launch a start-up company together this summer.
In terms of the idea of the start-up itself, we all took sports nutritional supplements, but were skeptical of the claims and fed up with all the powders. We wanted to flip the paradigm, and try to move the industry away from the powders that dominate the current market. Aside from being messy, powder formulations are mainly theory based and not personalized for a given sport. This was our opportunity to put our training as experimentalist to good use. Thus, our solution was to formulate easy-to-use powder-less supplements for specific athletic populations, while taking experimental approaches for testing efficacy.
But we still needed funding. At the time (last October), I had just started working as a Postdoc in Okinawa and heard about startup funds being available on the island. I pitched the startup idea for acceptance into the OIST accelerator programme, which was an audience made of members from OIST, local news outlets, and the Okinawa Prefectural Government. The idea received positive feedback, likely because nutrition is highly regarded in the Okinawan culture. We were selected to be the first start-up company in this OIST accelerator programme based on the pitch and the feasibility of our project proposal. The entire team is now settling in to Okinawa and focused on further developing our first market-ready Seed-Tech product. As a reminder of where we all met, the name of the startup was inspired by the creative and energetic neighborhood nearby Queen Mary, Shoreditch.
What are your future plans for the start-up?
Since our initial funding is limited to 15 million yen, we are currently a research and development (R&D) company that only licenses technology. That is, we develop/invent a product, patent this intellectual property, and then license out the technology to manufacturing companies. As we raise more capital, we aim to transition into an R&D company that can manufacture and wholesale its own products, while still licensing technology.
How did your time at QMUL prepare you for this business venture?
My PhD training gave me vital skills in problem solving, task management, teamwork, and how to use criticism to improve my work. These are all essential in being successful in setting up and maintaining a business. My training at QM also made me a better storyteller. In science, there are always several ways to tell a story with your data. What are the most important parts for a particular story? Who is the audience? Storytelling is key when selling a product to the your market and it is a skill I learnt exclusively from my time at QM.
Communication skills gained during my PhD training have prepared me the most for this business venture. During training, you learn how explain your project in simple terms and be patient if the person you are speaking to doesn’t understand you the first time. If you cannot explain your project and/or its importance, it is fairly useless to other scientists and society. This skill was even further crafted when teaching undergraduates, an amazing opportunity for PhDs at QM. Taking complex ideas and making them accessible to non-experts is an invaluable skill for me now as a businessman, especially when attracting investors or teaching customers about our technologies.
Learn more about Shoreditch-son and the team here.
Interested in PhD opportunities at Queen Mary? View our current list of PhD projects here.
We also have funded PhD studentships available here.