July 24, 2023
Maia Farms powers brains, bodies and planets with plant-based protein
Building a massively scalable business requires hard work, flexibility, and finding the right focus to ensure your idea stands out in the crowded marketplace as a clear winner.
Gavin Schneider, CEO and co-founder, Maia Farms, already knew this when he and his team, Ashton Ostrander (COO and co-founder) and Sean Lacoursiere (CSO and co-founder), applied for the Ag stream at Creative Destruction Lab - Rockies (CDL-Rockies) in 2022. He had already witnessed how CDL had supported some of his peers, and even received encouragement to apply from a graduate company.
CDL - Rockies, housed at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, accelerates the commercialization of science-and tech-based startups. The program capitalizes on Alberta’s innovation ecosystem, UCalgary experts and the larger Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) network to help startups build something massive.
What the Maia team experienced in the program was evidence that the right support, network, knowledge and access to a marketplace for judgment could take an idea and turn it into a scalable solution to real-world challenges.
Schneider and his team entered Session 1 of CDL-Rockies as Kinoko Farms, which acted as a two-tiered business. The team would use the profit from their main product, gourmet mushrooms, to fund the development of a second product called mycelium.
“Mycelium is the root structure of a mushroom,” explains Schneider. “It’s a plant-based protein unlike others currently in the market due to its high nutritional content, lack of bitterness, and superior taste and texture.”
“One of the comments made at the session was that mycelium will become one of the most valuable materials in the world in the next 15 years, and that any resources and time that we spend not focusing on the development of that will take away from our potential,” Schneider says.
This planted a seed in the team members’ minds, and throughout the course of the program, the trio began making changes that would help their company grow.
“The CDL process fundamentally reworked the company and our focus and our direction. We actually changed our name and completely changed the identity. We were able to really dig in and refine our vision as a team,” Schneider says.
The entire rebranding and refocusing process happened quite quickly, due in part to the nature of the CDL program, which has ventures work with mentors over six- to eight-week periods on specific objectives aimed at de-risking the business and accelerating the path to commercialization. The team continuously met their objectives and progressed through to each subsequent session.
For Schneider, the mentors in the Ag room — entrepreneurs, industry experts and leading Canadian scientists — were key to successfully refocusing and continuing the momentum.
“It was like having a coach in your back pocket that was keeping you motivated. Our mentors had our success in mind and some of the contacts that we made through it really set us up for future success,” he says.
“[Without CDL-Rockies], I don't think we would be where we are right now. I think we’d still have split focus and would be focusing on the wrong problems. And I don't think that we would have had the same fire in our belly to move forward.”
The CDL-Rockies program also served as a learning experience, with takeaways that will continue to support Maia as the company continues the journey toward reaching its goal of powering brains, bodies and planets.
His advice to founders considering applying to the program?
“I would say that opportunities are taken, not given. The community that is involved in CDL is among the best business and science and technology leaders in Canada. If you take the opportunity to associate yourself with them, they can take you much further places than you will on your own.
“Just apply. Do it. ’Cause it's that good.”
To learn more about CDL-Rockies, visit the program’s website.