Pulled Oats developer Reetta Kivelä: Research is entrepreneurship, too
Pulled Oats is a wonderful example of what happens when entrepreneurs and researchers are on the same wavelength. Reetta Kivelä, developer of the bestselling product, describes what it feels like to make the leap from researcher to entrepreneur.
Text: Reetta Mikkola
If you had to name one food phenomenon from 2016, it would probably be Pulled Oats. The first batches arrived in stores in the spring and disappeared off the shelves in a matter of minutes. Made from oats and faba beans, the novel meat substitute containing protein had clearly struck gold.
The new kind of plant protein, developed together by food scientist Reetta Kivelä and business guru Maija Itkonen, seemed to have found its way into people’s homes out of nowhere, but behind it are almost ten years of research and a thesis on oats.
Itkonen, a long-time friend of Kivelä’s who has guided many fledgling businesses to success, put forward the idea of developing a novel product. Having a friend on board from the start who knows the business world and user experiences allowed Kivelä to focus on obtaining a good product from oats.
”I myself was baffled by how many things you can do if you decide to. Few big companies would put a researcher in charge of establishing a factory.”
“It would have been hard for me to set out as an entrepreneur on my own. If I had started a company with another researcher from my own field, that would have been a long road,” Kivelä says.
Researchers are entrepreneurs, too
It is often thought that entrepreneurs and researchers belong to different tribes, but Kivelä sees a lot in common between the two groups.
”Research is entrepreneurship too: not one article is born without funding. It requires the same kind of project management as entrepreneurship,” says Kivelä.
Project manager skills have been useful when pulled oat production has had to be built from scratch. For example, Kivelä has been setting up a factory.
”I myself was baffled by how many things you can do if you decide to. Few big companies would put a researcher in charge of establishing a factory. As you do things, you grow along the way,” Kivelä says with a laugh.
Reetta Kivelä is a busy woman. After founding the company, the oat business has taken up all her time but now the practical work is gradually shifting over to new employees. Kivelä will once again get to focus on what pulled oats came from: research. In the future, more foodstuffs developed by Kivelä are likely to appear on store shelves. Pulled Oats will not remain the only product in Gold & Green Food’s range, instead, new plant protein products will be developed through research.
You cannot fail by trying
Becoming an entrepreneur demands courage and a bit of luck, too. In the early stages of Gold & Green, Itkonen’s ties to the business world proved to be worth their weight in gold. Kivelä describes the start as flying; so quickly did things fall into place.
Support and encouragement for the two were there from the start.
“I think that when you have good ideas, then you do get support in Finland. On the other hand, we had such a concrete product that it was easy to believe in,” Kivelä ponders.
”I think the majority of people get stuck thinking about whether to become an entrepreneur or not.”
Well begun is half done, believes Kivelä. Her and Itkonen spent a lot of time tossing ideas around and making plans. Kivelä encourages researchers to gather trustworthy people around them who know the business world, with whom business plans can be knocked about. You can’t mull things over endlessly, however – eventually you have to roll up your sleeves.
“I think the majority of people get stuck thinking about whether to become an entrepreneur or not. If you have the passion, then you should definitely go try it out. It’s no failure to fail as an entrepreneur.”
Reetta Kivelä is a doctor of science in food technology, who was chosen as researcher entrepreneur of the year in 2015. Together with Maija Itkonen, Kivelä has founded the company Gold & Green, which produces Pulled Oats. She works as the company’s technology manager.
Kivelä will be talking more about research and risk-taking at Slush Science Track's Opening Event on November 29th.
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