Spira is technology for people to create their own nutrition. We focus on social impact, basing success on the carbon absorbed, the meals created, and the algae farming businesses helped.
Name: Spira Inc.
Location: Richmond, Virginia
Product / Service Offering: Algae food biotechnology
Co-founder Interviewed: Elliot Roth
This article is part of our Business Startup Spotlight series featuring entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope that these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you.
I want to shake the world. I am incredibly motivated by the idea that a small group of passionate people can change the way things are.
We aim to tackle some of the world’s most challenging problems using simple biological design. Every day that we are not trying to solve problems is another day that people get hurt, that people die. If we are successful in our mission, people will no longer have to worry about their physiological needs and instead be free to achieve incredible things.
I love enabling the innate abilities of people on my team every day and seeing them grow.
When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?
Spira started as an idea in a garage in January 2016 and became incorporated in April 2016. The idea was inspired by the NASA research of what can be done to provide air, water and food for astronauts in a closed system. Out of necessity, I decided to grow all of my own nutrition in a tiny space with only light, water and a few simple salts. I have been eating algae ever since.
What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?
The algae we currently grow, spirulina, can provide protein and micronutrients, particularly iron. Supplementing iron is a solution for anemia, a condition that affects over 1.62 billion people worldwide. Spira aims to provide access to basic nutrition anywhere, for everyone, effortlessly.
What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?
Spira creates technology for people to own their nutrition. Our technology powers the algae industry, enabling nutritional algae to taste amazing and be farmed anywhere effortlessly. We focus quite a bit on social impact, basing the success of Spira not only on revenue. We also base success on the carbon absorbed, the meals we have created, and the algae farming businesses we have helped start.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?
We have had a number of pivots. Initially I thought that we would be able to do everything, but now I realize how important it is to focus on the core essential functions of your business and figure out ways around everything else.
One of the biggest challenges we faced was not having a lab. We scavenged and fixed laboratory equipment from government auction websites until we had most of the pieces of equipment that we needed to function. It was also a way to help make a little money on the side to support rent and utilities.
What resources have you utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?
I track everything that I do online using RescueTime. You can’t improve something unless you track it. Most of my time is spent on communication so I use scheduling software like x.ai and youcanbook.me to help streamline that process.
What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?
I started looking for money for Spira before we were ready. We have been incredibly lucky to have the support of RebelBio, CommBeBiz, Lighthouse Labs, the WFP Boot Camp, the Halcyon Incubator, Launch100, The Launch Place, and countless other organizations. They’ve offered mostly non-dilutive funding to sustain us until we found product-market fit.
Now that we understand our core business better, I can go back to the solid relationships that I formed earlier when we started and ask for additional help. Relationship and consistent communication is the cornerstone of any successful CEO and financial raise.
What questions have you had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?
There are certain things I still feel like I don’t know about finances. I have learned quite a bit via trial-and-error, but it is hard to come up with projections when you are establishing an entirely new technology. I wish there were more examples of company financial projects and case studies to learn how to make proper financial assumptions and decisions.
What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?
We are a very small team so we are reaching the point of needing to grow with all the work that needs to be done. We don’t have the finances necessary to support expansion.
What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?
Make quick decisions. Don’t agonize. Keep moving.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your company?
We are looking for people who are experienced in biotechnology and finance to join our team. Please reach out to me if you want to ensure access to nutrition anywhere for everyone.
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