Saving Earth by inventing new materials with Andras Forgacs, Co-Founder & CEO of Modern Meadow


This post is by MPD from @MPD - Medium


Modern Meadow is revolutionizing the materials industry by inventing brand new materials that can be used in our everyday lives.

Inventing new materials is exciting, but Modern Meadow’s sustainable approach might just be the best part. By using nature’s building blocks — proteins — to build these brand new materials, they hope to replace the the materials used in most of today’s goods that are large contributors to global warming (ie leather derived from cows and plastic oriented synthetics derived from fossil fuels).

The potential is MASSIVE!

Andras and I discuss Modern Meadow’s ZOA technology, how these new materials will hopefully help save our world, and how Andras ended up at this current venture.

Listen via your preferred platform or watch/read below.

Follow us on Twitter: @ModernMeadow / @atforgacs / @mpd

Transcript:

MPD: Andras, thanks for being on the show today,

Andras Forgacs: [00:02:06] Mark. Great to be here.

MPD: [00:02:08] So we’re going to do, uh, get into modern meadow and everything you’re working on now. But before we do, I would love to kind of go through your background so people know who you are.

I’m going to start and save you some embarrassment. Let me give you some more embarrassment, but just kind of, yeah. Well, I’m just going to kind of rattle off your resume, uh, which I think is going to be pretty uncomfortable for you. Cause it’s incredible. And then get into a little bit of the color, but that way you don’t have to belabor all of this.

So your terrible resume includes undergraduate at Harvard Citibank McKinsey, a Kauffman fellow in venture capital, which is very prestigious. And then you started a bioprinting company that are coming to those bioprinting human organs that you took public on the NASDAQ. And now you run a company called modern meadow, which is bioprinting Cowskin, which we’ll get into in a little bit to disrupt the leather

Andras Forgacs: [00:02:59] market.

Actually, I will correct you though. Okay. Bioprinting and not cow skin, but other than that, you’re entirely correct on everything else. Oh boy. We’re going

MPD: [00:03:08] to have to learn a lot today. We’re going to learn a lot because I am going to get all of the jargon wrong that’s for sure. So you’re going to have to teach us, uh, how to think and talk about the space.

Perfect. Um, so, uh, without do, would you mind giving an intro into modern meadow? Cause we’ve done quite a bit of buildup. Uh, and folks listening, probably don’t even know what the company does yet. A little bit illusions here and there. Uh, would you give the overview?

Andras Forgacs: [00:03:34] Sure. So modern meadow, we’re a company that’s focused on, um, biofabrication, which is our core technology to, to develop materials and ingredients that can benefit the consumer people and the planet.

And we are our secret sauce in, in the form of this biofabrication is that we can work with the building blocks of nature. So we’ve developed the real competence around proteins, being able to design, tune, and work and produce and, uh, proteins in various ways that are structural proteins that we can combine.

Uh, through our material science know-how with other, um, with other bio-based ingredients to be able to create high-performing bio-based materials. And our, our, our main focus at the company is materials. So think of us as a biotech company and a materials company, that’s looking to revolutionize the materials that make up your wardrobe.

The makeup, your household goods that make up your furniture and your automotive interiors. And what we’re really focused on out of the gate is, um, applications where we can feature the performance advantages of this technology. In addition to the sustainability advantages of this technology and the scalability of it, because you have to be able, it’s all well and good to be able to innovate if you cannot scale it.

And if you cannot make it accessible, then you’re not going to have impact. And so this is one of our first applications.

MPD: [00:05:16] Wow. We’re seeing it. This is it. This is a decade in the

Andras Forgacs: [00:05:19] making a decade in the making. Exactly. Um, but footwear and, um, for those of you listening, I’m showing Mark a shoe here.

Footwear’s one of the beautiful

MPD: [00:05:30] white sneaker.

Andras Forgacs: [00:05:32] It’s one of the most challenging applications for materials, because think of all the abuse that you put your shoes through. So if you’re looking to bring to the world, you know, new to the world materials where it’s very much driven by sustainability. I mean, we see ourselves as a catalyst for sustainability.

Our North star is sustainability, but we also know that consumers don’t want to accept less than. In the service of sustainability, we believe it shouldn’t be a trade off. You can get more sustainability and better performance, better look and feel with innovation, but real deep tech innovation. And so that’s what we’re focused on by launching footwear.

We can really, uh, feature that, that our materials are high-performing. They’re beautiful. Um, they’re durable. They’re more sustainable and they’re not inaccessible. They can actually be accessible so they can

MPD: [00:06:28] happen. Them becomes a proof point for using the materials elsewhere. Now, for folks listening, you’re talking a little bit abstractly about materials.

You’re not putting the rubber sole on the bottom of the

Andras Forgacs: [00:06:37] shoe. No, it’s the upper, so think of us as look we’re, we’re inspired by letter, right? Um, leather was the inspiration behind the start of modern meadow where we were, where we want it to. Make used biofabrication as a technology to make animal products without the animal.

And leather is this, as you will know, it’s a ubiquitous material. We’ve had a long history with it. It’s absolutely wonderful, but, but it, it also is associated with livestock and it’s got a lot of inefficiencies and the livestock industry is a big user of land water, and a big emitter of greenhouse gases.

So. If you’re looking for a material that can move you away from a dependence on livestock. Well, what has happened over the last 40 50 years is a move to synthetics to polymers, right? So a lot of the traditional leather industry has, um, a good amount of, it has migrated to two plastics. There’s enough volume coming in that it’s pleather, where does pleather

MPD: [00:07:40] fitness,

Andras Forgacs: [00:07:41] pleather?

Um, I mean, pleather, generically, but there’s like a number of different brands, some which are really high end some which are fairly commoditized, but there’s 10 times the volume of synthetic materials. Then there are, you know, uh, synthetic leather to traditional other, so clearly it’s, it’s gained, you know, it’s taken over the market share.

Right. Um, but neither are great. You know, both have limitations. Um, one derives from livestock and the other derives from fossil fuels. And if we’re looking to have a real impact on positive impact on the environment and a positive impact on climate change, we have to move away from a dependence on fossil fuels on the one hand, and we have to move away from a dependence on livestock.

On the other hand. But ideally, we want to do that in a way where you can have the best of both worlds in terms of look and feel in terms of performance, in terms of breathability, et cetera. And so we’ve created a, a material technology in the form of our bio-fabricated materials. The brand name of which is SOA.

That’s our world of bio-fabricated materials. We’ve created a technology that allows us to really tune at the molecular level. Our, our, our bio ingredients, our proteins and our other bio based ingredients. So we can create a whole range of properties that in some cases can, you know, be more referential to leather.

And in some cases can actually be quite different from leather, but can allow, um, brands and designers, um, and our partners to move away from, from leather and to move away from plastic. Right.

MPD: [00:09:23] So on one hand folks out there who are producing leather, have cows methanes go into the atmosphere, greenhouse gases, global warming.

The other side, you’ve got oil being pulled out, turned into plastic, which has turned into materials and indirectly global warming and poisoning the earth. Yes. What is your product, your product, when you say protein, so your product is made of animal tissue?

Andras Forgacs: [00:09:45] No, our product is made of proteins. That can be sore.

That can be a source and a number of different ways. So we can, um, we can source our proteins from plants, right? So the current generation of our technology is actually plant derived proteins. We also have developed technology to be able to design and produce proteins through fermentation. So we can either farm them our proteins and get them from the farm and then, and then tune and modify them.

Or we can ferment them, uh, produce them in tanks, uh, and then, and then to purify them and use them in our materials. But how are you produced the proteins? They are our hero ingredient and in, there are very special category of proteins. So we’ve learned over the years, what are the. The structure and function properties of the proteins.

That really makes it work in our bio. We call, we call our materials, bio alloy technology. We’re essentially able to alloy these proteins together with other bio-based ingredients to create tuneable properties. And so we were able to take these proteins, combine them with other, uh, other bio-based ingredients and, and, and in none of it is animal based.

So no animals involved. So no animals.

MPD: [00:11:07] What about biodegradability at the end of the day? People throw out the shoes or whatever your material in whatever way it replaces leather or pleather. W w w what happens with this product? Why is it better

for

Andras Forgacs: [00:11:20] the earth? So there’s three pillars to our sustainability, um, principles.

The, the first is, uh, is climate impact. We feel an urgency to have. Positive, um, impact on the climate. And as, as, as we talked about, livestock is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, both in the form of CO2 and also in methane. Um, so, and, and, and, and the, the oil industry is the largest. So, so if you’re looking to have a positive impact on greenhouse gases, and you’re very concerned about climate change, It’s not just about energy.

It’s not just the energy industry that you need to transition. You need to transition the materials industry as well. And so that’s our first pillar, our second and our materials, by the way, in their first version, 80%, fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional leather and 25 to 30%, fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to synthetics.

So that’s significant and very significant that scale. And I anticipate we’ll get even better over time. The second pillar is to have, um, balanced ecosystem impact I to, to, to balance, uh, the ecosystem resources. So we don’t, we want to be very responsible users of land water, and we also don’t want to, um, use technologies that, that, that promote agricultural runoff.

Um, you know, fertilizer runoff that would lead to algal blooms or eutrophication. So those are

MPD: [00:12:55] big words, but you mean poisoning, streams, land and

Andras Forgacs: [00:12:58] Bryce, especially like having stuff streams and, and, and lakes have algal blooms, right. Because too much fertilizer ends up in them. Right. So we’re very mindful of how are the resources and the ingredients that our technologies are based on.

The responsible in terms of ecosystem resources. So that’s our second pillar. And then our third pillar, as you alluded to is designing for our responsible end of life. And then end of life can be circular or it can be biodegradable. Um, it depends because at frankly, end of life is often determined by the application itself.

Do you, you know, just designing. You know, you need to be mindful of the entire product and what the lifecycle is of the entire shoe, let’s say, or handbag or furniture, and then design the material to have a, an end of life that supports the entire product. But the point is, from our standpoint, end of life is a tuneable property.

We can design our materials to be biodegradable. After all our building blocks are protein. And little bugs love to, you know, bacteria love to eat protein. So, um, so we can our materials to be biodegradable, but you also want to balance that with durability because the most sustainable thing you can do is to create great products that last long.

So you don’t have to buy new ones. And then when you’re done with it, that’s when it can have a very responsible, always a

MPD: [00:14:28] trade-off durability and biodegradability it’s that always

Andras Forgacs: [00:14:32] it can be. And that’s why it’s very important to be able to tune it. And so for us, it’s a programmable property.

MPD: [00:14:40] That’s fascinating.

So I, when I explain this company, I tell people you’re going to disrupt the entire leather market. Uh, but the, the broader narrative here is you may be disrupting huge chunk of a broader set of

Andras Forgacs: [00:14:55] materials. So the traditional leather market is a, um, it’s, uh, it’s 20 billion square feet annually, and it’s a hundred billion dollar raw material market.

Synthetic leather is about the same size in terms of dollars, but it’s 10 times larger in terms of volume and together. They are a fraction of the textile market, which is a trillion dollar market. And the fashion market is a $3 trillion market. So look, I would say, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I would be very, very happy if we become a significant percentage of the leather market or the, let’s say a synthetic leather market.

But as we talked about here, this is not about leather. This is about creating a whole new generation of. Um, performance materials that are bio-fabricated that can play the role or, or, or that are, that can move us away from leather and move us away from synthetics, from petrochemical derived synthetics.

So the opportunity, I think, ultimately is much larger than just leather. Yeah.

MPD: [00:16:03] You know, that you’ve secretly been a helpful advisor to me, uh, as an investor because you know, the synthetics market better than frankly, anybody else I know. You live, it you’ve been in it for a decade. Uh, you know, all the players.

How do you think strategically about the synthetic products market? Is there segmentation you use to think about, um, the types of categories what’s

Andras Forgacs: [00:16:28] synthetic

MPD: [00:16:29] products? Well, now you’re getting into the jargon land that. You know what I mean? So go ahead and give it the right

Andras Forgacs: [00:16:34] label. Well, call what we do.

And so there is a category called synthetic biology. Okay. Which is about programming biology, treating biology as an engineer, trouble discipline. Right. And, and, and, and being able to create a bunch of products of interest with that molecules of interest, products of interest, what I would call, well, we do synthetic biology as part of our toolkit, but I would call what we do.

Biofabrication. Where are we? And I would not call what we do synthetic cause we actually, we actually deal with biological ingredients and we build biological.

MPD: [00:17:12] So the synthetic companies are using that replaced the biological ones. Whereas you were working with the. Based unit level units of, uh, the biology that people haven’t considered using

Andras Forgacs: [00:17:26] building blocks of nature.

We’re able to tune them at a molecular level to create new materials. So we’re not looking to imitate. We’re not looking to create drop-in replacements. We’re looking to create new materials with new properties, using the building blocks of nature. What I would say historically, what synthetics have meant is it’s rep it has really referenced the petrochemical industry.

It has represented, has referenced synthetic chemistry. Okay. So when you say synthetics, typically I would think of plastics. I would think of polymers. We, we, we certainly have scientists and we know polymer science and we deal with that. Um, but I would, but, but by bringing biology so centrally into the toolkit, I would say that this is not the same thing as synthetic chemistry.

This is, or, or even just synthetic biology. This is really about building with biology. It’s biofabrication and, and, and it’s, uh, it might sound like it’s a bit of a nuance, but while we do want to distinguish what we’re doing here from the plastics industry, or, you know, from the, um, you know, from just genetic engineering, cause that’s not.

That that, that I appreciate that. That’s

MPD: [00:18:39] what I, what I’d like to do lump you in with, for a second. And have you draw lines is the companies that consumers are aware of. Yeah. The companies that are replacing products that they’re used to consuming with new types of products of beyond me to the world.

Yes. You know, there’s, there’s dozens of these and on the outside as a simpleton, as a business guy, particularly your meat product. It fits into that bucket. Now it’s, you’re making a point that it’s different in that it’s built on the underlying biology versus other products that are mixed and shaped to look like the product it’s displacing.

How do you think about that market? Are there lines in the sand of what’s real? We could segment it in and out. Are there how w with your internal lens, there must be a way or a vernacular you use to think about the

Andras Forgacs: [00:19:31] space. Yeah. I mean, I think you’re thinking about it very sophisticated. They, because you’re thinking you’re trying to, um, categorize how the consumer might think about it.

I would simply say at the end of the day, what really matters is the consumer experience of it. And, and, and, and look in the world of materials, which is really what we’re obsessive about here at Otter meadow. At the end of the day, does the consumer care that we. Whether we refer to Zola has, uh, you know, a leather alternative or not.

I don’t think at the end of the day they care. Right. They will care about knowing kind of, you know, where it fits in maybe for a second. But then what really matters is their experience of it. Do they think that the material is attractive? Is the material durable, comfortable, right? Does it perform in the application?

Do they feel good about its impact on the environment? Right? Because at the end of the day, you know, I’d love to think that consumers buy first and foremost because of the environmental impact of something. Right. But while that might be a consideration, you know, most consumers won’t trade off their own consumer experience for the environmental experience.

But if it’s right, like if I can get the product, I love. The products. I love the brands I love, and now I can feel even better about it because it’s even better for the environment. Oh. And, and, and, and, and it’s at a price point where, you know, it’s accessible, right. That’s the real win. So I think of it much more.

I think what’s going to ultimately matter is the consumer centric viewpoint, which is, does the consumer love it for what it is inherently? Do they feel good about how it’s made. Broader question about, about sustainability and the impact on the planet and is it at a price point? That makes sense. And, and, and that’s that’s, so you’re at, you know, you’re asking the right question about how consumers might categorize this, but I think ultimately, you know, the product has to win as a great product.

Right? I have an electric car, um, but I love it as a car that just happens to be elected. It had to be a good car. First.

MPD: [00:21:52] I agree with you. So there’s a lot of entrepreneurs listening to this. Not everyone’s going to have a deep science background. What can entrepreneurs do to help fix this market to help contribute, to move mankind forward?

Or should they focus

Andras Forgacs: [00:22:09] everywhere? In my industry, mine is just emerging. And so I would say everything is needed. You need, um, uh, innovation. It’s, it’s an ecosystem that needs to mature. So there’s innovation that’s needed. In, not just the fundamental technologies, but uh, innovation needed and the supply chains, right?

Allowing, um, brands and, you know, uh, manufacturers of products to be able to integrate these new technologies. There’s innovation needed at very much at the application level. Right? So bear in mind, we develop our, uh, uh, bio-fabricated materials to make these roles and. Uh, these, these rolls of materials are different tunes differently for different applications, so different kind of material that you need to put footwear.

Then you need for handbags, then you need for, uh, furniture. But we also need a lot of engagement, um, from entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial companies and entrepreneurial brands, too. These new material innovations into products, and you learn so much from that application. I mean, it is not until we’ve made dozens and dozens of shoes and worn them for hundreds of thousands of steps that we really understood is the, are our zoned materials there for that application.

And we learned so much through that process and it’s a highly iterative process of going from fundamental innovation to product development, to producing these innovations at scale. To making the products that are made from these materials to then we’re testing and application testing these products and that whole cycle needs innovation at every single stage of it because no startup company can innovate everywhere in the value chain at the same time.

So you need partners in the value chain. Did

MPD: [00:24:05] you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? You’re now a serial entrepreneur officially. Um, is this something you grew up thinking about or. Did the business pathway

Andras Forgacs: [00:24:18] opened the door. And it’s a good question. I I’ve always had a, um, a desire to be entrepreneurial, but I don’t think I ever really knew.

I don’t think I knew in the beginning what an entrepreneur was. There were not a lot of examples or role models of entrepreneurship. When I was growing up, you know, I grew up, I was born in Hungary, raised in Hungary. France came to the U S went back to hungry and at the time, um, The examples of entrepreneurship in the 1980s and hungry where people like running little import export, you know, stores where they sold knickknacks and Western goods.

So it’s not that there were a lot of role models for entrepreneurship at the time. Um, but I, but I have been entrepreneurial and I have I’ve, I’ve had a lot of experiences, both in, in an educational setting and university. Even in my early, um, professional experiences to be, to be an entrepreneur within, within the confines of a larger organization or an academic institution.

So I’ve been an intrepreneur I would say long before I’ve been an entrepreneur.

MPD: [00:25:24] So when did you come over from Hungary? What’s the, uh, what age did you come to the States?

Andras Forgacs: [00:25:30] I came over. Um, initially when I was, uh, two years old and you know, then my parents followed me as well. I’m just kidding. But they came over, they came over in the late seventies and, uh, I was two years old at the time and I was here for three years and then we have to go back.

My father was here. Um, as a post-doc, uh, doing his postdoctoral work, he’s a physicist back in the late seventies. That was one of the few professions in the, in the sciences, the mathematics, where there was some international movement, you know, from the one side of the iron curtain to the other. And so we were here for three years and then we have to go back.

Um, it was, um, it was, uh, uh, the early eighties and we had to go back. Um, and, and so he continued his, um, His research and physics and hungry and theoretical physics at the time. And then he had an opportunity as the, the environment there was, was loosening up a little bit to go to France and to do, um, physics research there, uh, for a couple of years on his way back to the United States, uh, he had always

MPD: [00:26:34] wanted to come back to the States or

Andras Forgacs: [00:26:37] that was the foundation for him.

I think for him in the sciences, he was always keen to pursue great science. And great science comes through great collaboration. And by having scientists around the world be able to work with one another. And my father was also in, uh, uh, kind of, uh, an internationalist globalist from a fairly formative age.

My grandfather was an ambassador, was a diplomat, was an ambassador. He spoke many languages. My father grew up learning many languages, having lived in a number of different countries. So for him, I think it was always very attractive to be able to. Work and study abroad. I mean, he, he learned English. He was a translator early, you know, during his studies, he worked as a translator.

So I think for my father, uh, science just allowed him to be able to be international as well. And that was the most, um, frankly I was the most attractive way to have an international career, um, in hungry in the eighties, um, late seventies and eighties. And that was a

MPD: [00:27:37] pretty limiting time period. Correct.

Right. What do you think are the things that you, when you were younger in your background that shaped you, that you can point to that set your course early. And, but before you went to college, things that you look back on, you’re like, yeah. That’s when I knew I was on this path or, or put me in the right direction.

Andras Forgacs: [00:28:00] Yeah. I mean, I would say, uh, one, uh, being the, the, you know, the child of, of, uh, The scientist and a doctor. My mom’s a doctor, my father is a scientist. And so having that be, um, the, the, the conversation at the dinner table, having that be, um, you know, the conversation on long drives. I remember having these very long car drives with my father, either on road trips or when he, you know, later on would drop me off, um, at college.

And what do you talk to a physicist about? But like everything you can talk about, the nature of the universe, the big bang time, everything it’s, it’s, it’s really fascinating. And so from a very young age, I, I w I was always really curious about, about all the things that my father was doing. Research on.

Um, and then my mom being a doctor, I mean, you know, biology’s is, is, is also something I’ve had a lot of passion for. And then, so, so science being a, a big part of my upbringing was one side of it. And I would say the other really formative experience was just moving around so much when I was young, uh, being born hungry, coming to the U S at the age of two, going back to Hungary at the age of five, going to France at the age of eight at a time when not a lot of people.

In, in, in Hungary at least had that opportunity to leave and come back. And so it gave me a different perspective. Um, it, it also made me sometimes feel like an outsider. Um, but importantly it gave me, uh, an international outlook. It gave me a global, global view of things and. And so maybe it’s not completely an accident that many, many years later, I find myself drawn to global challenges, global problems and science, and the service of that’s a challenging

MPD: [00:29:53] dynamic for kids.

And when I find what I’ve interviewed people in the past, it there’s a different spot, a spice, a different flavor that I, I sense from folks who. Where children, uh, you know, with parents in the military or whatever, but anyone who was moving, you know, uprooted, changing friend groups. Do you think that affects you as an entrepreneur?

Does that make you more independent? Is there,

Andras Forgacs: [00:30:18] I think it definitely affects you. And I think, look at the time there’s advantages and, and struggles with it. Um, I mean, I, I remember. Perhaps one of the first experiences I really remember vividly was coming back from the United States to hungry when I was five years old.

Cause then your, your memories are a bit more vivid. And I do remember it was, I had a, uh, a bit of a unique perspective being in Budapest, being in kindergarten, you know, being, uh, sorry, first and second grade. But having had the experience of having lived in the U S and at the time I have to say, I kind of feel special about it, right?

Because no matter where you were in the world, the U S was idolized. You know, it was the time that the star Wars movies were coming out. American culture was just so aspirational. So I felt that I could. Uh, you know, I could talk about that even as a first and second grader. And, and, and for me that was a positive.

And then when I moved to France, I, um, there too, it was a, it was an open culture. Uh, I went to an international school and there no one was made to feel bad or different because they had a different nationality or a different cultural background. It was just a melting pot. You know, there were, there were kids from all over and that was, that was really wonderful.

Where I experienced culture shock in a different way where, where I had to struggle with it at first was moving back to the U S um, in 86, when I was in the last year of my elementary school, I think it was like fifth grade. And I moved to a, um, Um, upstate New York, North country, New York, small town, that was a college town.

And I went to, you know, his dad’s job went to, uh, um, with my father’s job. He went to Clarkson university to be a professor there. And it was a wonderful town Potsdam, New York, but you know, population 5,000. So after living in Budapest, after living in. You know, uh, Versailles and the Paris, uh, outskirts and going to a, you know, an international school there.

I went to a small college town and North country in New York, and it was wonderful. There was a lot of, uh, you know, academic, uh, resources. There are great universities there, but it was much different. I mean, there are, I had a lot of. Friends in school who had not even crossed. He had not even been to Canada, even though we were half an hour away.

Right. So I was definitely the international weird kid. Um, and, and, and that was, um, you know, that’s something, I think that at the time you, you kind of struggle with it, but in retrospect, I think it’s also an important experienced to have, to, to just be able to feel like you’re an outsider and then figure out kind of like also who you are

MPD: [00:33:10] was that lonely.

Andras Forgacs: [00:33:12] At times. Yeah. But I mean, I figured out how to make friends. Um, um, but yeah, I mean, I was, uh, I remember, you know, I got, I got picked on, I got into fights. Um, gosh, in the beginning I would, I would commit, uh, Uh, heinous, uh, offenses, like, you know, wearing the same clothes two days in a row. Um, you know, for a European kid who like, you know, who’s in like a fourth grade, like that, that was not a big deal, but I apparently, uh, you know, I didn’t know the right brands and I didn’t know the right, uh, you know, how important, uh, attire was.

Um, and anyway, I figured all that out, but, um, but that builds character

MPD: [00:33:55] positive spin on. It sounds challenging as well. That’s fine. Yeah. I have a political family. Right. I didn’t know your father was in political service. I’ve had the pleasure of having a family over. Yeah.

Andras Forgacs: [00:34:08] My grandfather was a, was a diplomat.

My father was tried to be as apolitical as possible by going into the sciences. Got it. Okay. Thank you

MPD: [00:34:16] for the correction. And I’ve had the pleasure of having your family over to my house to break bread a couple years ago. Right. And I, my

Andras Forgacs: [00:34:24] wife’s family had had some political history though. Point you want to give us more color on that?

Yeah. So my wife is a, is a, uh, a brilliant, um, architect, uh, originally from Albania. Um, and she spent the first 18 years of her life in Albania. Um, but, um, um, Her her family’s background is that, is that her, her grandfather led the democratic movement, um, in opposition to the dictator there, the communist dictator, and, uh, he was assassinated many years ago.

Um, and her father and uncle grew up in orphanages from a young age, um, and they were separated and, um, and her father was prevented from. You know, I mean, he was blacklisted from, from, from a young age because he was from this, you know, political family that, that was associated with the democratic movement.

And the dictator. There had to personally sign off on a Della’s father being able to go to university and to medical school. Because he would have been blocked from education, but he was able to do that because he was so a political and so harmless and so altruistic. And so into medicine that, um, that he was not seen as being political or threatening any anyway, which is why he was able to ultimately become one of the leading doctors of Albania, one of the leading surgeons of Albania, and after the fall of communism and the civil war, uh, he actually became the minister of health for a brief period.

That’s amazing. To

MPD: [00:36:02] get a dictator to sign off on your education. What is the, so it’s like, you know what, I don’t

Andras Forgacs: [00:36:07] know. You’d have to ask Adela. That’s a fantastic story. Yeah. How to, you know, Wiki page on that? I don’t know.

MPD: [00:36:17] I doubt there is. Where do you see yourself? 10 years. You’ve been doing this for awhile.

You’ve carved out a very important niche in. Not just the business ecosystem and hopefully for mankind with the climate change bit, where do you see this going? And I

Andras Forgacs: [00:36:35] would say is I have no idea, but I can tell you the following. That the problems that we’re focused on are not going to be solved in a year’s time.

They’re not going to be solved in five years time. And unfortunately, I don’t think they’re going to be solved even in 10 years, time, climate change is not like a, you know, a 20, 21 problem that we’re going to just resolve. It’s a decade problem and frankly, a multi-decade problem. And so if, as a company we’re focused on the intersection of climate change, Meets science based.

Innovation meets the scalability of business, right? All aimed at the consumer. I think that intersection is going to be a really compelling intersection even 10 years from now. So I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m working on global environmental challenges or challenges adjacent to that, and working with fundamental innovation long lead time innovation.

Um, And using the scalability of business to make sure that we can get to maximum impact.

MPD: [00:37:41] Last question here, Andreas, you’ve had an incredible professional training,

Andras Forgacs: [00:37:48] but sorry, but what I would just say is that modern meadow are just getting started. So it may feel like we’re an eight year old company.

Yeah, really after eight years just getting to the starting line. I mean, it’s taken so much innovation for us to be able to, to be able to make our very first generation of materials that we can bring to consumers. So I think, I think the next decade is even more exciting than the last, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m.

Not just in this category, but frankly, continuing to, to, to be involved in whatever shape form is best or for modern meadow.

MPD: [00:38:22] Yeah. I’ve watched, uh, a lot of entrepreneurs in the tech, psycho crazy pulling their hair out, waiting for six months for an application. It should be developed. You’ve been doing it for eight years.

Yeah. Plus, so when a patient’s

Andras Forgacs: [00:38:33] in there. Materials take a long time, you know, the luck, the innovators in the 20th century, like the companies like Dow and DuPont, the ones who revolutionized polymers, they spent a decade and a half and a significant portion of their balance sheets developing these new innovations.

We’ve done it in less. Right.

MPD: [00:38:53] You have a nice mode for that kind of IP I’m. Sure. Yep. Okay. So last question for you. Um, What is the most important thing you’ve learned as an entrepreneur? I always ask this question, cause I think, um, people have garnered different experiences and for the folks who are listening, we want to provide insight, but a nugget of wisdom would you want to pass on?

Andras Forgacs: [00:39:16] I would say it’s all about talent. You’re, you know, I’ve been really fortunate to be able to, uh, work with amazing people from day one. Um, at, at, at modern meadow and in other adventures and talent is path dependent, right? So main job as an entrepreneur is to find the very best co-founders and the very best advice in the beginning.

And then to continue to, um, create opportunities that are so compelling that they attract the very best talent. And, and that then determines the trajectory of their success. And so it really is, um, all about talent throughout the organization, you know, at the leadership and, and, and, and all levels of the company.

And, um, and so that’s one really important thing. And, and, and that talent has to be, I think it’s very important to S to, to, to bring together cognitively diverse talent. If you think about the kind of company we are at modern meadow, where scientists, engineers, and biologists, material scientists, we’ve got designers, um, We’ve got people who understand the world of applications.

You got people who understand operations and supply chain. We’ve got business books and it is the diversity of all of that expertise that makes it, it hump it. And it is something that we all think differently and we’re able to bring the best of that thinking collective thinking for, uh, to, to the problem at hand.

Uh, so multi-disciplinary ways of thinking is really important. I would say that the other thing that’s, that I’ve learned as an entrepreneur and I’m still learning is that different stages of entrepreneurship require different types of, of, of, of engagement with the organization. In the beginning, when you’re a kind of a zero to one entrepreneur, you can think fast and move fast.

And it’s all about optionality and opportunity. When you’re at a, at a company that’s scaling, it is really important. That management and leadership, not making the organization schizophrenia would all kinds of new opportunities and ideas. Right. And as an entrepreneur, I see opportunities everywhere. So I have to not make my company’s head spin because a lot of the things that we’re working on have long lead times and where the development cycle can be.

It’s like big gears turning and yes, smaller, faster gears turning as well. But you’ve got to keep the, the, you know, people’s eye on the road ahead. Um, so. But what we can do as leaders and managers is to provide context. We can, you know, the metaphor that I’ve heard others use is as leaders we need to, you know, are we, we, we, we are the ones who provide context on the, like we’re modern meadow.

We provide the soil, the fertile soil for the roots to take hold. Managers are the ones who then informed the trunk of the tree. And our amazing scientists and engineers and designers and individual contributors are the branches and the leaves that are the ones who are closest to the sun. They’re the ones who make this tree beautiful and lush and, and fully come into its own.

And what leadership can do is it’s not my job to dictate where every lead should go. That’s a formula for failure. That’s a top-down organization. What we’re trying to do a better job of is to provide enough context so that we all in the company have the same shared context so that the right level of innovation and ideas can happen everywhere in the organization to really make this tree bloom.

And that’s how we’re going to make modern meadow. Um, No fully grow into its own.

MPD: [00:43:06] Thank you so much for being on. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Thank you for trying to help save our world. I appreciate that. Oh,

Andras Forgacs: [00:43:13] shucks. Thanks. Thanks buddy. Great talking to you. Be well

MPD: [00:43:23] big, thanks to Andreas for joining today for the sake of the planet. I hope modern meadow continues to do amazing things and achieves its gold and venting sustainable materials. If you liked what you heard, please look us up with a like, or a five star review and feel free to share with a friend. You can find me on Twitter at M P D.

And to hear more of my conversations with innovators, subscribe on YouTube, Facebook, or any other major podcast platform. Just search for innovation with Mark Peter Davis.


Saving Earth by inventing new materials with Andras Forgacs, Co-Founder & CEO of Modern Meadow was originally published in @MPD on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.