Stephanie Michelsen, 27, is being recognized by Forbes. She made their prestigious 30 under 30 list.
Michelsen is the CEO and founder of Jellatech, a biotechnology startup that synthesizes animal proteins in a cruelty-free way.
“Our mission is to build a future that does not rely on animals and to make ingredients and proteins and other molecules in a much more sustainable and more efficient way that doesn’t rely on animals,” said Michelsen.
The millennial founder launched the company in 2020, midway through the pandemic. The company is hyper-focused on creating collagen through cell agriculture – producing animal-sourced foods from cell culture.
“I was wondering, if tomorrow we removed all cows and pigs, what are some of the things that we’re gonna be missing?” said Michelsen, about where the idea came for developing this technology. “We have great alternatives to the big things [like milk and meat] but what about all the other byproducts — the proteins, the molecules that we can’t replicate from plants, and or fermentation. That inspired me to look at collagen, and its relative, gelatin, because it’s something that we still have to get from animals.”
Collagen is found in many items in homes from cosmetics to food and pharmaceuticals. Michelsen aims for companies to use the animal-free, synthetic collagen in those products.
“We have a growing population, and at the same time, animal agriculture is at capacity,” she said. “So we need to find new ways of making the same ingredients, foods, proteins, materials, cosmetics, and everything in other ways.”
According to the company’s website, “the only way to source native, functional collagen is to extract it from animals. This is what we are changing at Jellatech. We make functional, native collagen without animals. Cellular agriculture enables us to produce a more sustainable, smarter, high-quality collagen that breaks the cycle of relying on an inefficient and unethical supply chain of live animals.”
In the nearly 18 months since she founded Jellatech, the biotech startup has received $2.1 million in funding. They have a lab in Raleigh and a team of five people.
“I read a lot about the new and exciting application of cell culture,” said Juan Camacho. “I really wanted to get involved with that and this new industry that seemed really exciting.”
A Denmark native, Michelsen made her way to Raleigh by way of San Francisco. She said she was drawn to the area for a variety of reasons: the draw of Research Triangle Park, the area’s use of its green space, its affordability and the talent.
“There’s three great universities here that you can source talent from, so that’s kind of really what made me move over here,” she said. “But also to be part of building a new network of founders and entrepreneurs is all something I’m passionate about. Whereas in the Bay [Area], there’s a lot of founders, a lot of noise; here, it’s a little more kind of new and exciting, and you get to become an early steps of that.”
While Jellatech is growing the cells and developing this technology here, their mission and this accomplishment is doing something bigger – highlighting the importance of sustainability and bringing attention to how young people are finding solutions to systems that have long been in place.
“I always wanted to build my own thing and, as cheesy as it sounds, I always wanted to do my part to try and make the world a better place.”