Bringing innovative biotechnology products to market takes trust.
That’s what Jason Voogt believes. The industry ingredient veteran was recently named Shiru’s Chief Product Officer. Jason joined Shiru as VP of Product in August 2021 and in a short time developed Shiru’s early product pipeline, an accomplishment made possible from years of experience in successfully converting early-stage technology into tangible products across food, medicine, specialty chemicals, and personal care.
“Making products you can touch, feel and taste with biotechnology is hard,” he says. “You have to bring together people with a lot of different skill sets and have them all follow a single vision. No single person can understand how the whole thing works, but when you all come together and move as a team, you can take steps toward big, disruptive solutions.”
Jason has an impressive track record in doing just that. Many in tech circles know him as the person behind bio-based squalane. This exceptional moisturizer is naturally found in human skin, but the ingredient was harvested for decades from millions of shark livers. While at Amyris, Jason led the team of research, engineering, manufacturing, and supply chain experts that successfully produced the ingredient at commercial scales via fermentation. It was the company’s first commercial product and a signal moment in biotech.
“Launching squalane was one of the most thrilling experiences of my career,” he says. “Making something real that went into products that people buy, something that was made out of technology and doing it in such a short period — the excitement of that really was the pivot point in my career that made me want to keep doing it over and over.”
Think big, then start small
Squalane began as something of a side-project to Amyris’ primary goal of making biofuels. It grew to become the company’s flagship product. That taught Jason something else: Bringing really big products to market is a journey that begins with much smaller steps.
“Fundamentally transforming the way we manufacture things is a grand challenge,” Jason says. “And to be granted permission to win in really big areas, you have to find smaller wins first to build the path. If you dream too far ahead, you’ll stumble and fall. So create a big vision, but have the logical proof points to keep your trajectory real.”
After Amyris, Jason wanted to understand how food and ag worked from a CPG perspective. He joined Ferrero, the famous Italian chocolatier, a role that took him and his family to live in Luxemburg. Leading biotech open innovation, he represented startup technologies to industry insiders, which gave him an appreciation of how to approach big companies with the open innovation model.
“You have to inspire at the executive level, and you have to get them to believe at the science level,” he says. “You really need multiple approaches into these companies to get them to fully embrace and take in difficult new concepts.”
Taste —the ultimate metric
Jason also says that he brought to Shiru some of Ferrero’s approach to the art and science of taste.
“At Ferrero, taste was the only metric that really mattered. There weren’t as many lab notebooks or datasets I could analyze. At first, I couldn’t believe it — in a $50 billion industry, it seemed as if they were just tasting stuff. But by the time I left, I very much appreciated it.”
Shiru, on the other hand, was all about data when Jason came aboard, so much so that he pushed the team to get its own “burger in hand”. The result: The food science team created Shiru’s first plant-based meat model system — the humble meatball — to taste-test Shiru’s alternative fat ingredients internally and with partners — with impressive results compared to commercial products.
“We can measure all day,” Jason says, “but if it doesn’t taste right, it’s not going to matter.”
As Chief Product Officer, Jason will continue to lead the commercialization of Shiru’s product portfolio, beginning with its first product launch in 2023. He will also lead product vision, strategy, and execution to deliver uniquely capable ingredients to global food companies.
On the far horizon, one area Jason is curious to explore involves expanding from “downstream” ingredient products to see how Shiru could make an even bigger “upstream” impact with broadacre crops.
“Insights from Flourish™ can be used to optimize agriculture in terms of crops and crop processing. That would be a massive innovation. With one technology, we can go from high-value ingredients to tomorrow’s broadacre crops,” he says.
Jason thinks we’re going to need a lot of compelling solutions to enable the kind of disruptive innovation needed to serve a growing planet and maximize our resources.
“It’s going to take a lot of complex products, across many technology areas, to sustainably feed and fuel humanity,” he says.