University of Nottingham
  • Print
  

Nutritional psychologist becomes entrepreneurial award winner with business plan for dairy free protein

Natalie Masento is a Chartered Psychologist and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Reading in the Department of Nutritional Sciences. Natalie took part in YES in 2018 after first attending the internal taster session with her colleague, Simona.

Natalie and Simona were joined by Esmie and Andrew, also from Reading, to make up their team of four.
Based on Reading’s long history of participating, the team were advised by their Knowledge Transfer Centre to decide on their idea before attending the residential workshop. They spent several weeks looking at key issues in their sector to find something that could be developed as a business during the competition.

MooFree
From left to right: Natalie Masento, Esmie Wescott, Andrew Goodall and Simona Grasso
 
 

Where the team’s business idea came from

The team’s expertise was spread across psychology, chemistry, plant microbiology and food science. Simona’s understanding of food systems, food messages and healthy diet ended up leading the direction of focus. The team looked at helping people who want to be more sustainable in their daily lives and in the food they eat. Focussing on the big issue of environmentally-friendly products, the team settled on taking their rough idea of developing a business plan for a dairy protein replacement to the workshop.

They named their team MooFree, as their idea used core science in fermenting with yeast to create dairy proteins without the need for cows. Further investigation found an existing company that has commercialised this science in the USA, but the team looked at this as an opportunity to evolve this as a business idea for the European and Asian markets and approach it in their own creative way.

The team’s expertise was spread across psychology, chemistry, plant microbiology and food science. Simona’s understanding of food systems, food messages and healthy diet ended up leading the direction of focus. The team looked at helping people who want to be more sustainable in their daily lives and in the food they eat. Focussing on the big issue of environmentally-friendly products, the team settled on taking their rough idea of developing a business plan for a dairy protein replacement to the workshop.

They named their team MooFree, as their idea used core science in fermenting with yeast to create dairy proteins without the need for cows. Further investigation found an existing company that has commercialised this science in the USA, but the team looked at this as an opportunity to evolve this as a business idea for the European and Asian markets and approach it in their own creative way.

Diary cow

Dairy free products

 

Mentoring helps the team to refine their business idea

During the Plant, microbial and environment workshop, hosted by
Syngenta at Jealott's Hill, the team took part in short sessions with business mentors, all of whom brought different perspectives to the idea. Natalie says the mentoring experience was extremely useful to gain feedback from the specialists as many had science backgrounds and were able to challenge the team with things they had not considered. The team was also prompted to think about running their business in a sustainable way to match the environmental credentials of their product. Discussing patenting was also extremely valuable and not something that Natalie feels she would ordinarily have had access to.

By Natalie’s own admission, she is not naturally numerical and found the prospect of putting together business financials mildly terrifying. She says the YES workshop made finance more accessible for her:

 

The support is there and there is no pressure to be perfect; just take on board the advice that’s available in the room and work together as a team on the business plan.
 

 

 

Scientists can be entrepreneurs too

A key takeaway from this experience for Natalie was that there is help out there, and feeling that you don’t understand a particular topic shouldn’t stop you pursuing your idea.

The hard work paid off and MooFree made it to the final hosted at the Royal Society in London. They won both the Environment YES and People’s Choice award. During the final, Natalie was away in Singapore, but the team improvised by using a video of Natalie and explained that as the company’s CEO, she was off exploring business markets. There is certainly a market for lacto-free products in Asia which nicely tied her trip to the pitch.

 

If you’re driven enough to attend and build a team with experts in other fields, you can do it.
 

 

 

Push your boundaries and be creative!

When Natalie is asked if she would recommend YES to Postdoctoral Researchers, it’s an emphatic yes!

Since taking part in the competition, the team have attended a course delivered by  Indigo, sponsors of the People’s Choice award. Indigo delivers globally recognised training programmes and the session they attended helped them to think on their feet, reinforcing the skills they gained at YES. As a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Natalie now uses these skills in her academic life. She says having a more business-focussed mind has helped with her research.

Like many others before her, Natalie’s idea of entrepreneurship was shaped by watching TV shows like The Apprentice. She says that YES has opened her eyes to starting her own business in the future and has demystified the process and what it means to be an entrepreneur.

 

I think it’s an opportunity to do something completely different from the day-to-day and is something that you don’t typically experience in education. We learned how to communicate as a team and put ourselves on the spot. When you challenge yourself, it gives you a boost to know you can do it. Push your boundaries and be creative!

 
Just because you’re a scientist, it doesn’t mean you can’t start your own business.
 
 
Find out more about #YES19

Young Entrepreneurs Scheme

  • Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Nottingham University Business School
  • Jubilee Campus
  • Nottingham, NG8 1BB