Recent studies indicate that bioactive peptides, organic substances formed by amino acids and joined by covalent bonds known as amide or peptide bonds, may play a significant role in human health, particularly in the digestive, endocrine, cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems.
The concept for BioAncient was conceived in the Department of Food Science within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Cornell University by Alireza Abbaspourrad, Yongkeun Joh Assistant Professor of Food Chemistry and Ingredient Technology, Jason Zhang, post-doctoral researcher, and Sheren Winarto, MPS ’19. They partnered with Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, a business incubator in Ithaca, New York, which offers mentorship, workspace and other resources for new and growing businesses that will create jobs in the community.
The group also worked with the Cornell Food Venture Center's Pilot Plant and the Food Microbiology Lab. Those resources offered a full range of equipment, expertise and shelf-life stability testing to help create a modern manufacturing process that can grow with their business.
BioAncient is currently focused on developing a rice-based beverage that utilizes mold and yeast to produce bioactive peptides from rice grains through the process of fermentation. The beverage is similar to fermented drinks such as kombucha, or amazake, a Japanese sweet sake made from fermented rice, but without the alcohol. The founders envision their initial product being marketed as a functional beverage to consumers who prioritize health and wellness.
Winarto, who completed her undergraduate degree cum laude at U.C. Davis in Food Science and Technology, focused on studying the nutritional benefits of BioAncient’s rice-based beverage for her master’s thesis at Cornell. A dedicated food scientist with a zeal for exploring nature’s raw materials, she never expected to go into entrepreneurship.
“After graduation, I wanted to be a part of an R&D team in a food company,” Winarto said. “But while working on my master’s thesis, I realized there might be a chance to launch BioAncient as a business. I think it’s every food scientist’s dream to see their product on the shelves.”
Winarto’s entrepreneurial journey was aided by her participation in the first W.E. Cornell cohort—a program helps women in STEM commercialize their innovations and overcome the challenges of leading a growing technology-based business.
“W.E. Cornell was a steppingstone for me. It gave me the confidence to build a company. When I first joined W.E. Cornell, I wasn’t really an entrepreneur yet. The program provided me with a support system, and Andrea Ippolito, who leads the program, is the best mentor that anyone in my position could have. The whole experience was eye opening. It made me think—double think—about what it takes to build a company and become an entrepreneur,” Winarto said.
The startup recently joined Rev to take advantage of the guidance and resources it offers member companies. “Rev gives us a foot forward in the entrepreneurial community here in Ithaca. I’ve benefited immensely from the advice of Rev’s Entrepreneurs in Residence.”
What’s next for BioAncient? “I would love to see BioAncient on the shelves of retail markets, such as Wegmans. Our team is also targeting the West Coast, as there is a greater market for functional beverages there” said Winarto.
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