Kitchener Startup Perfecting Milk Made From Plants
When we think of milk, we typically think of milk derived from cows, or maybe goats. Of course we know of other sources, such as coconut milk and almond milk, but these don’t boast the same texture or taste as their animal-based counterpart.

Sara Bonham, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of WillowCup, is making milk with the same texture as cow’s milk, but she is using plant sources. WillowCup, Bonham’s startup, is an award-winning member of the University of Waterloo accelerator at the Tannery in downtown Kitchener.

WillowCup, which Bonham runs in conjunction with co-founder Craig Deebank, wants to do its part towards solving on of the largest issues for the future of our species—maintaining adequate food supply for an exploding population.

According to Bonham, “In the next 50 years we are going to have to produce more food than we have in the past 10,000 years. When I read that, I thought: ‘Holy crap, we gotta move fast.’ Technology has evolved in every area it seems but food tech. I want to create a food system that takes humanity through the next 100 years.”

Bonham’s technology makes milk from plants, and it has the same texture as cow’s milk, but contains less fat and less sugar. By conventional standards, it requires 1,000 gallons of water to produce a single gallon of milk. Currently, animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

During her undergraduate studies in food science and agricultural chemistry at McGill University, Bonham took an elective on animal science. She wasn’t particularly moved by her experience milking a cow at the university’s dairy farm.

She witnessed how technological advancements focused on hormone injections to increase milk production and automated pumps to remove milk from swollen udders, but this led her to a novel thought. She wants to remove cows from the equation altogether.

Early on, she worked on creating milk from plants in her home kitchen while completing her master’s in biological engineering at the University of Guelph. She founded WillowCup just over a year ago, and received acceptance into her graduate university’s incubator program.

A few weeks later, she learned that WillowCup had been accepted by the San Francisco-based accelerator, IndieBio. Bonham received $200,000 to complete the four-month program at IndieBio. However, after finishing the four-month program, it was decision time once again.

During her time in San Francisco, Bonham heard very good things about the Kitchener startup scene from another startup at IndieBio. She landed a place at Velocity last October, and has since been accepted into a six-day boot camp program designed to support startups founded by women.

The boot camp, known as Fierce Founders, includes pitch coaching, mentoring, networking, lean business plans, and talks by successful women entrepreneurs. Bonham won the pitch competition at the conclusion of the program, along with a $60,000 prize.

Her plan, over the next six months, is to optimize WillowCup’s formula and conduct tests on the milk’s shelf life. If they are to be successful, Bonham recognizes that her innovations must easily mix with existing tech in the food production sector.

That’s where her co-founder, who has a background in architecture and design, will play a substantial role. “We combine scientific discovery with design thinking to solve problems,” says Bonham. “You can have the best product in the world, but if you can’t pitch it, or show how people imagine it, it doesn’t get anywhere.”

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Posted by: DSR
Monday, April 3, 2017
Tag: Healthcare
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