BY: JEFF SCHMITT ON OCTOBER 23, 2020
MBA Program: Duke University, Fuqua School of Business
Founding Student Name(s): Michelle Egger
Brief Description of Solution: BIOMILQ is enabling the next generation to thrive by producing cultured breastmilk that offers supplemental nutrition to mother’s milk with the practicality of formula.
Funding Dollars: $3.5M
What led you to launch this venture? The evidence is clear: breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure healthy development in children. However, the reality is that breastfeeding, let alone exclusive breastfeeding, isn’t always possible. In fact, over 4 out of 5 moms in the U.S. transition to dairy-based infant formula before the recommended six-month breastfeeding period ends.
Whether it’s low milk production, medical challenges, incompatible workplaces, or the ongoing stigma around breastfeeding in public, mothers often feed infant formula out of necessity rather than preference. Parents and caregivers are left with nutritionally suboptimal, mostly dairy-based options. BIOMILQ is developing a new choice for infant nutrition that lessens the trade-off between babies’ nutrition, mothers’ well-being and the future of our environment.
Attending Fuqua to concentrate in Social Impact and Entrepreneurship for Global Food Systems change was the catalyst I needed to be emboldened to change the world! I previously worked for General Mills in dairy fermentation, formulation and processing and most recently for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on their global nutrition team. Shortly after finishing my internship and returning to North Carolina for second year, I was introduced to Leila Strickland (CSO), who had been working on this technology since 2013, as a Ph.D. cell biologist and mother-of-two. It was clear we were both entirely mission-aligned and put parents and babies at the center of everything we do!
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Our seed round of fundraising came together during COVID-19, which was a bit stressful. We have actually never met any of our investors or lead (Breakthrough Energy Ventures), in person, which is pretty non-traditional. Talking to people for hours a day in their homes is quite an intimate process. So in some ways, I think we may know each other better by working through the pandemic. It was a really encouraging to see that investors still saw potential in the impact of this technology, regardless of the world around us.
How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? I left a good job I enjoyed for business school, specifically to learn more about impactful and sustainable business models. I knew the journey was necessary to be thoroughly emboldened to take the risk of starting a business. The spirit of Team Fuqua and the support I received from my fellow students really helped keep me going throughout my time at Duke. Without the support system of amazing change makers, I am not sure I would have had the guts to pursue my dream.
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Shazi Visram (who is an investor and advisor of ours), is an amazing entrepreneur with a journey that in some ways parallels mine. She is passionate about businesses doing good and has walked that walk throughout her career. We are honored to work closely with her.
Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? All of the classes I took really provided basic skills honing that I needed. When I reflect on my time at Fuqua, I find my courses in the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship most impactful on my world views and current go-to-market strategy. I think students fixate on quant skills as a part of their MBAs. They run the risk of missing out on being pushed to think differently and critically in their analysis of business decisions when considering all non-market factors. I am very lucky that the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship gave me a broader perspective.
What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Dr. Jon Fjeld has been a true supporter of mine throughout my MBA and entrepreneurship journey. He is an amazing listener and able to ask the hard questions that we as entrepreneurs have to figure out. While Jon has been less involved with me on BIOMILQ, I credit my fundamental understanding of entrepreneurship basics to him.
How did the pandemic impact your startup plans? We were really lucky that right around the time for quarantining, we were preparing to close the round and hadn’t yet re-opened our lab space or hired anyone. COVID-19 actually gave us the gift of time to do in-depth planning and feel prepared to hit the ground running.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? We will fundamentally change the way millions of babies are fed in our world and build a stronger ecosystem of choices for parents in the first moments of life for their child. It doesn’t get any loftier than that!