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Hedge Talks - Episode III: Vishaal Bhuyan

Vishaal Bhuyan is the CEO & Co-Founder of Aanika Biosciences, a high-growth bio-tech company based out of Brooklyn, New York. Aanika's ambition is to improve the global food system and ensure safer, more secure food supply. Aanika aims to do this through microbial-based technology, such as microbial tags. Prior to founding Aanika in 2018, Vishaal worked in New York for a decade as a hedge fund manager following his graduation, in 2005, from Ivy League school The University of Pennsylvania.

JR: For those who aren’t aware of Aanika and what you do, would you be able to give an overview of your work and why you, personally, decided to target the bio-tech industry?

VB: I founded Aanika Biosciences in 2018 and it was created to ensure a safer, more secure food supply. I had a personal experience with food contamination. It was the first time I really saw and understood the exponential negative impact one instance has on people’s health, the environment and the sheer financial cost. I made it my mission to apply my expertise in investment and desire to improve the global food supply to find a solution that could mitigate and minimize these types of outbreaks across the entire food supply.  

Subsequently, I then found Dr. Ellen Jorgensen, an outstanding molecular biologist, and we worked together to figure out how microbial-based technology can be used to trace and authenticate products as they move through the supply chain. Our aim now, is to bring this biotechnology to the market thus allowing companies, globally, to reduce waste whilst simultaneously bring more integrity and efficiency to their supply chains.

Furthermore, we’ve created microbial tags that are able to contain information like point of origin and percentage dilution. These tags are also able to go where traditional bar codes can’t – into and onto products like fruit, vegetables and grains by being misted onto (dry) goods or added into (liquid) products.

Image Credit: Aanika Biosciences

JR: In the Real Estate industry, there is a clear shift towards ESG and sustainability focused spaces, buildings and developments. However, it is also clear that this focus on sustainability isn’t industry-specific and is prevalent in many sectors. Therefore, what impact does your work have on the environment and how sustainable is Aanika?

VB: Yes, we’re certainly seeing that shift both broadly, across sectors, in New York and within the bio-tech space. Aanika can be considered ‘sustainable’ in many ways. Specifically, what makes Aanika sustainable is that we are able to track and trace a product across the entire supply chain, whilst also accelerating the time it takes to identify the origin of an outbreak (from weeks to hours), thereby reducing the amount of food that is wasted through recalls. Knowing climate change is going to make that even more challenging – meaning as the earth gets hotter it is more susceptible, in more places, to food contamination. Positively, our solutions can help farmers better prepare for the challenges bought about by climate change to grow crops more efficiently.  

Furthermore, Aanika can also help large companies reduce waste and bring more integrity and efficiency to their supply chains and meet their own ESG goals. One way in which we do this is by improving supply chain transparency and accountability which is not only kinder to the environment but also what today’s customers demand.

What makes Aanika sustainable is that we are able to track and trace a product across the entire supply chain, whilst also accelerating the time it takes to identify the origin of an outbreak (from weeks to hours).

JR: Moving onto the topic of real estate, I know you’re in the process of acquiring around 30,000 sq ft of lab space in Brooklyn. Are you able to shed some further light onto what you looked for when examining different real estate options and what makes certain real estate developments more attractive to bio-tech occupiers compared to others?

VB: Whilst I cannot discuss this (our office move) yet, I can say that – like other bio-tech companies – it is imperative that the real estate space we occupy is conducive to the work we do whilst also being attractive to the retention of and acquisition of new talent within the bio-tech space.

JR: I know you recently spent a significant period of time researching and working in a biotech incubator in White City. What were your main takeaways from your time over here and how do you feel the bio-tech industry is in London compared to New York?

VB: The UK is an incredibly exciting ecosystem for biotechnology with the Golden Triangle (Cambridge, Oxford and London) driving research and innovation in synthetic biology. Moreover, with the innovative work being carried out in labs across this area, there is a lot to be learnt, as a synthetic biologist, from spending time in the UK. However, I think the difference is that in the U.S. risk tolerance is generally higher and cities like New York are being incredibly aggressive when it comes to attracting biotech. While the higher risk tolerance of U.S. investors is helping fuel innovation, I believe this is changing and European startups (in biotech or otherwise) are being seen as increasingly interesting investment opportunities.

The UK is an incredibly exciting ecosystem for biotechnology with the Golden Triangle driving research and innovation in synthetic biology.

JR: The last few years have been difficult for everyone due to the challenges Covid has bought about. However, as a young CEO of a high-growth startup, how have you been managing these challenges? Especially, in terms of in-person and remote working, as it is vital for your employees to physically be in your labs working.

VB: Yes, it is vital for our operations that we had ‘boots in labs’ throughout the pandemic. Therefore, Aanika never shut down its operations during 2020 or 2021 but did implement covid protocols across the board. Moreover, thanks to our incredible team and their hard work, we actually grew through the pandemic whilst remaining hyper-focused on our safety and the safety of those around us. Furthermore, whilst also physically growing during the pandemic, we also secured a further $12m in Series A funding in December 2021 which will allow us to continue to expand our research and operations.

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