In Interview

Spirulina was once the staple food of the Aztecs and Spira hope to solve our growing food crisis by re-cultivating Spira . Spira consists of  founder Elliot Roth and cofounders Trevor Nicks and Hunter Casbeer. All of whom are highly motivated US citizens who came together to unlock the true potential of Spirulina . The current food economy remains unsustainable. As we are surrounded by food sources with a limited shelf life & questionable nutritional value this prompted the team to look to the past for solution. I sat down with their CEO, Elliot Roth to find out more.  You can also follow the team via their Twitter profile @drinkspira.

What is Spira?

We named our company Spira primarily after spirulina. Spira signifies a breath of fresh air – a new way to think about food, the environment and the world. Spira makes a high-protein beverage based on spirulina, a nutritious microalgae packed with vitamins and minerals. Our protein shake is unique in that it grows in the bottle, getting healthier over time. We use illumination not refrigeration, saving immensely on costs associated with energy, transportation; lengthening shelf-life and reducing spoilage. Currently Spira is operated by a network of entrepreneurial experts across the world with experience ranging from MIT to Stanford to Tesla. Our aim is to be as seamlessly integrated in daily life as coffee; to that end we are building a kitchen appliance to produce your own Spira beverages in the home.

Where did you get your inspiration for your product?

After I graduated with a degree in Biomedical Engineering in 2015, I was stuck in a city doing freelance consulting and barely making enough money to get by. In November after my last contract was up, I was left with some hard choices and little money in my bank account. I had to make a decision – rent or food. I was too proud to go to friends and family for help, and too stubborn to give up. So I chose hunger over homelessness and had sleep for dinner some nights. I was averaging 1000 calories a day and drinking meal replacement beverages to get by.

In the span of a month I lost 5 pounds (2.3 kg). I wanted to be self-sufficient. There had to be a way to grow my own food quickly. I started reading up on scientific studies, searching for the most efficient, quick-growing food source. I stumbled across spirulina on a space website. Turns out that NASA had been investigating this superfood as a potential high-protein food for astronauts and the Aztecs used it as a staple food. After being evicted from my apartment, I moved into my friend’s garage where I had started a DIYbio space while I was in school. I spent the last money I made from consulting on the initial spirulina culture and started growing in the dead of winter. Within 2 weeks I was harvesting spirulina and eating it daily.

Experiencing hunger firsthand drove me to realize that food is an essential human right. The current way we make food is inefficient, wasteful and expensive. During those lean months I couldn’t get enough protein in my diet because it was expensive. When I did get protein, it was in the form of unhealthy fast-food. I wanted to make an easy way to get nutrition like the meal replacement beverages that I had been drinking. I started mixing spirulina into different drinks to experiment with taste, flavor and texture. In March, I applied for the IndieBio program.

What is your goal/aspiration in business and life?

To solve the basic physiological needs of humanity using biology. With Spira, we’re starting with food, but the possibilities are endless for an at-home protein production platform.

Where will Spira be in two years using Spirulina?

We plan to have our beverage in the hands of everyone worldwide. Our go-to-market strategy is to have the high-end market drive sales in the developing world by enabling us to finance spirulina entrepreneurs around the globe through micro-lending. We’ll have our beverage in stores by August and customers should be receiving their own spirulina beverage-producing kitchen appliances by 2018.

Any setbacks/learning points from your experience so far?

Science takes time. Good science takes experience. Great science takes both. We have the team and experience, now we just need the time and IndieBio has helped us by providing laboratory space and expert mentorship for these three months. Since we are developing a consumer product based on an ancient organism, we have the advantage of being able to move quickly. However, it is important to realize that achievement is 99% preparation. IndieBio has done an excellent job of ensuring we’re adequately prepared to tackle the ever-shifting business world.

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