First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Leonard Lerer: We are doing fine – just worried about the social and economic impact of the pandemic on those less fortunate than us
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Algae Sciences (BYAS).
Leonard Lerer: After a long career in healthcare finance, I discovered and became passionate about algae. The company was initially established to develop and sell natural blue food colorant, but I discovered the transformative potential of algae in food, agriculture, and health, and we now have an amazing diversified portfolio of algae-based solutions. We focus on the serious challenges of making plant-based meat more sustainable and healthy, making vertical, urban agriculture more accessible and supporting the growth of the cell-based food sector.
How does Algae Sciences (BYAS) innovate?
Leonard Lerer: We are on the way to becoming a leading supplier of natural blue food colorant and healthy alt, proteins for burgers, and plant-based foods. We are commercializing a biostimulant based on algae that will tip vertical farming into economic sustainability. We also have media and sera based on algae that will help us make cell-based food a reality. We have fully equipped laboratories and are committed to a range of innovative initiatives around bringing the circular economy into the food chain.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Leonard Lerer: On the one hand, the pandemic forced us to stop our fundraising and slowed our production upscale; but on the other hand, it has been a huge driver of innovative ideas and some incredible internal initiatives. For example, we had time to grow our R&D program on cellular agriculture of psychoactive tryptamine derivatives for conditions such as PTSD, depression, and addiction. It was also a time of huge personal growth for a young team – as people took on extra responsibilities, given that we could not all be in the lab at the same time.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Leonard Lerer: We decided to file a patent on one of our algal extracts as a possible treatment for acute inflammation in COVID-19 and explore clinical development to contribute to the fight against the pandemic. This was a big expense for a small company. We quickly learned that even though the regulators were positive about our therapy, we stood no chance of getting any clinical trials done because we did not have the resources to compete for investigator sites against big pharma and biotechnology companies. But the good news was that we found great R&D support in Europe, and we are continuing the pre-clinical development of the extract.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Algae Sciences (BYAS) in the future?
Leonard Lerer: Because we are focused on innovation and R&D, we have a long-term view, and this helps reduce the stress and anxiety in the team. We are more worried about the results of experiments and developing concepts/ideas than short-term survival. We are at the cusp of major growth as a company – as we raise our first major funding round – that will bring a range of new stresses and anxiety.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Leonard Lerer: We are pretty unique and do not really consider competitors – our main competitor is ignorance – where customers do not know that we have innovative solutions available that are game-changers.
Your final thoughts?
Leonard Lerer: It would be great if we are tried to wrap our head around the fact that the world is changing in ways that we maybe cannot really see. Given the technology and innovations that are so easily accessible, companies can be good at several things at the same time. We are very good at producing a range of ingredients and solutions, be they for food, health, or agriculture (including cellular agriculture).
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