Food is one of the longest-standing industry that is ripe for major disruption and transformation. Increasingly more people in the world are being more conscious about the food they consume, how and where it is produced, and whether it is sustainably sourced. The team at Change Foods are changemakers in the food industry, creating better and more sustainable food using technology.
In this month of Startup Conversations, we caught up with the Founder & CEO of Change Foods, David Bucca. David shared with us how he takes calculated risks, make decisions with imperfect data, and how he looks at failure as a great learning opportunity that is just part and parcel of life.
Starting with some context about you, you spent 13 years in the aerospace industry holding various technical & leadership roles, what made you pivot into the sustainable food industry?
David: It all started when I drew the connection between industrialized animal agriculture and its large part contribution to the major issues we’re contending with globally such as climate change, human health, food security, and the ethical treatment of animals.
After months of deep study and research into this, it hit me, and I became vegan overnight – which was a huge surprise to everyone! This shift also led to an understanding of the increasing consumption for protein – particularly out of Asia and Africa – over the coming 20+ years, and the realization that to supply this with our current food system and its gross inefficiencies, we would need two planets to feed the one. I knew that something had to change!
Enter alternative proteins and new food technologies. I truly believe in the power that technological revolutions can have to help solve problems quickly, so I could clearly see how accelerating the development of these food products to the mass market could have a dramatic impact in the short term whilst being such a noble cause.
Upon this realization aerospace suddenly felt insignificant, and I knew I had to redirect my life’s purpose and career to help solve this problem. It sparked a whole new trajectory for me personally and professionally.
Coming from an aerospace technical background to changing foods using bioengineering is quite a jump, did you face any challenges equipping yourself with the necessary scientific knowledge to start Change Foods? If you did, how did you overcome them?
David: Whilst I am not a biotechnologist or microbiologist, I am a technical person by nature with good scientific acumen, and a definite can-do attitude. I am also wildly curious and fascinated to learn new things so it was only natural for me to pick up as much as I could about food science before diving into starting a company in this space.
This learning led me to many research papers and relevant literature, and ultimately to find our now co-founder and CTO Associate Professor Junior Te’o, and other esteemed technical advisors to further learn all about the core science involved.
How would you describe your product to the readers that may not be familiar with your space?
David: Change Foods creates cheese and dairy products that deliver the authentic taste, nutrition, melt, and texture that dairy consumers expect and that current alternatives struggle to achieve. We do this using cutting-edge fermentation biotechnology – taking micro-organisms such as yeast and instructing them to create identical compounds, as found in traditional animal-derived dairy when fermented.
These particular compounds are very unique and critical in making dairy what it is, which cannot be adequately substituted from other plant-based ingredients alone. Dairy, therefore, is the perfect candidate for this type of precision fermentation technology.
The most innovative ideas often come with the most risks, how do you draw a line between acceptable risks versus unacceptable risks within a company?
David: This often depends on how experienced and familiar you are with the area that the risk resides in. If it is foreign, I often like to deeply flush out risky ideas by firstly doing homework and thorough research – see if it has been done before, or if not, how close has someone come? Where did they fail? What did they achieve? What were their pain points?
Upon doing my own background assessment I will also have collaborative discussions with experts who are best placed to assess that risk than I am. Then after garnering as much information as I can I like to marry that with how I feel about it all. If this all checks out, then I make an informed and conscious decision, and then support it wholeheartedly but with my eyes wide open.
I also like the notion that any start-up should only have one miracle they are trying to achieve, not multiple. If you have lots of miracles that need to happen something is askew, and your risk analysis requires revisiting.
Effective decision-making is key for a leader, as a founder in an early stage start-up how do you make decisions with imperfect data?
David: This is where experience, your personal attributes, and your analytics skills can make a big difference. Often, first-timers can make mistakes and costly errors, and if you can draw on lessons learned from past experiences, this can go a long way into making sound decisions. A lower risk approach to minimise poor decision-making however is to surround yourself with a strong advisory team and network. This will go a long way as you can bounce things off people, seek from the greater wisdom of the group, and then make more informed choices and astute courses of action.
High risks may result in high rewards but also large failures, how do you look at failure and as a company, what have been the largest obstacles you had to overcome and how did you overcome them?
David: Failures are just another great learning opportunity. Failure is part of life, its inevitable at multiple levels – the key is taking time to reflect on failure, learn what failed and how in as much fidelity as possible, then take action to prevent that failure again and share those learnings with others.
The largest obstacles we’ve faced so far as a company has probably been raising money pre-prototype for a riskier deep-tech start-up, in a country (Australia) with no established investor or commercial ecosystem for this type of food tech – and all during COVID-19! We overcame this by carefully acknowledging these risks and mitigating them mainly through strategic company decision-making. For instance, we made an early choice to set up our headquarters in the U.S., realizing that there will be future challenges when scaling food-grade fermentation at industrial capacities in Australia with increased regulatory risk in getting to market quickly. Furthermore, we would require our products to be commercialized in a much larger market that can ultimately help substantiate the large amounts of investment capital that will require us to raise over the coming years.
Having pitched and raised funds through AngelCentral’s platform, how was the experience like?
David: AngelCentral is a fantastic community of active investors, and we were delighted to be involved with pitching here and having a successful outcome that helped us in our last round. I loved the way it was professionally run – the pitch event was structured and well-executed. Everyone involved is also super friendly and happy to help, making it a great support network for start-ups to be connected with.
A piece of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
David: To live your passion.
1) Find what it is that makes you tick
2) Do your homework and be true about your strengths and weaknesses
3) Create the best plan you can
4) Pursue it with relentless determination!
I would also like to challenge you to think bigger than yourself – something that is good for you, good for the world, and its future. Having a noble goal and clear purpose as a north star will help you weather the storms that will inevitably arise in your start-up’s journey.
About Change Foods
CHANGE is a U.S.-Australian startup producing animal products that we love the most – without the environmental, ethical, and health issues associated with farming animals. We do this by using cutting edge biotechnology and precision fermentation to create bio-identical compounds and then formulating these into animal-free products that are indistinguishable from the real thing. Today, we’re changing dairy and creating delicious cheese that melts and stretches. All without lactose, hormones, and antibiotics – this is dairy, done differently