2 Years of ‘Learning in Public’ & Prioritizing Our Values
by Michelle Egger, BIOMILQ’s Co-Founder and CEO
2021 represented a year of bravery for myself, Leila and our whole BIOMILQ team. On January 8th, 2021 (our 1st Birthday) we made the decision to grow fast enough that we would run out of cash in 1 year, unsure if we could fundraise to keep our science moving. We planned to grow from our team from 5 to 20 people who were going to take that risk with us. And, we decided that when we would raise Series A, we were going to work with a set of strict partnership criteria to help vet our potential partners that only, in our opinion, were walking the walk on creating a more equitable world of capital.
Our criteria for capital and business partners? Apply only if you have at least 1 female leader at a partner level in your firm, have a portfolio of at least 10% quantifiably diverse or disadvantaged founders, and have a firm mandate around health, nutrition, or sustainability that you demonstrably work towards annually. We should all have something we care about beyond money, right?
For those of us wanting to create impact, and seeing the pace of the world seemingly falling apart around us, these criteria don’t even feel adequate. However, we knew as an organization it would narrow the aperture of potential investors for our Series A dramatically even at just baby steps of impact. Leila and I believed (and still do) that utilizing soft power in this manner, along with how we treat and develop our own team, is the fastest way we can spur change. It was worth the risk.
And believe me, that risk led to uncomfortable conversations. For example, in April 2021, I sat in meeting after meeting of deafening silence from potential investors that didn’t seem to get BIOMILQ’s ‘why’. It took everything I had to stay sitting at my desk staring at an empowering post it note on my monitor to build the fortitude to say:
“I’m sorry, but unless I am mistaken, you don’t fit BIOMILQ’s partnership criteria and are not eligible to invest in this capital raise.”
But our partnership criteria and bravery also led to emblematic and real change, in the cellular agriculture sector and VC firms. I had the chance to see a female associate promoted because of our decision to tell a firm no — their work to create equity in VC by having lower-level female employees only wasn’t enough. And to have numerous founders reach out and get advice on how they, in 2022, could use their own criteria to vet capital partners. Watch out world, here we come.
By exemplifying bravery at BIOMILQ in 2021, we have spurred change to combat unequal VC capital distributions and uplift participation of nontraditional backgrounds in VC. We found amazing mission-aligned partners to raise our $21M series A and are set up to continue to strive towards bringing cell-cultured human milk to the market ethically, sustainably, and empathetically.
So, what does 2022 bring for BIOMILQ and myself?
How do we move our product development faster? How do we focus on the fewest most important things as an organization to create the impact our world sorely needs? How do we bring more talented people more quickly into the fold at BIOMILQ who are mission-aligned and as impatient as we are? How do align more stakeholders to strive towards just being better for our world?
Maybe it’s not PC to admit it; I am not sure what 2022 holds for us yet. But I know we are going to run headlong forward on pursuing our mission, with our north star being a moral compass of how businesses should interact in this world. And if that intrigues you? Join us — none of us have time to wait.