Future Fields’ co-founders speak on their greatest resource

Future Fields’ co-founders speak on their greatest resource

Contributors: Matt Kingston, Diane Jeon

How it began

You may have heard Future Fields’ origin story before. It all started with one fateful conversation in line at a University of Alberta Tim Hortons in 2018. While waiting to order, our current co-founders, Matt and Jalene Anderson-Baron, were discussing how to grow their cell-based chicken nugget project without the commonly used component, fetal bovine serum (FBS). They wanted an alternative that was better for the planet, and didn’t break the bank.

Jalene wondered if the common fruit fly, Matt’s focus of PhD studies, could offer some answers.

Future Fields co-founders Matt and Jalene Anderson-Baron Drosophila fly tattoos
Future Fields co-founder Matt Anderson-Baron Drosophila fly tattoo

Co-founders Matt (CEO) and Jalene (COO) Anderson-Baron showing their Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) tattoos. Photos: Ryan Brodziak

Diving into a century’s worth of fly genetics studies, our co-founders discovered that fruit flies held the key. With synthetic biology, genetic engineering, and insect biotechnology, they could produce effective FBS alternatives—without the large economic, environmental, and ethical price tag. Recognizing its potential for not only the cellular agriculture industry, but all cell-based research and production, they knew that this was something they couldn’t just keep for themselves.

After Future Fields was founded in 2018, they launched the EntoEngine™: the insect biotechnology platform that is changing how we do science. Their mission? To create the biomolecular tools scientists need to succeed to sustainably and economically do great science.

This is what we call the biorevolution.

Since then, many others have come on board. Under Matt and Jalene’s leadership, Future Fields has grown to 30 team members to date. We recently asked Matt and Jalene to share some thoughts on their experience as co-founders so far.

Meet our co-founders

Co-founders Matt (CEO) and Jalene (COO) Anderson-Baron at YEG Startup Community Awards 2022. Photo: Hannah Hamilton

Co-founders Matt (CEO) and Jalene (COO) Anderson-Baron at YEG Startup Community Awards 2022. Photo: Hannah Hamilton

Jalene describes the early days of startup life as pushing a boulder up a hill. Before you know it, something switches, and the boulder takes a life of its own—now you’re chasing the boulder down the hill, trying to keep up with it, and clearing a path for the hurtling force as it gains even more momentum.

Both Jalene and Matt would say that “being an entrepreneur” was never initially on their radar. For Matt, he loved science and being in the lab, exploring the unknown in the scientific world and making discoveries, but he knew that academia was not the right path for him. Jalene, who was previously in the spheres of social justice work, saw climate change trends happening all around her and knew she had to act. When they discovered a way to apply Matt’s PhD studies for immediate sustainable impact, they set out to act on the climate crisis together and built Future Fields around this mission.

Like two pieces of the same puzzle, Matt and Jalene are a dynamic duo who complement each other’s skills and characters. While both competitive and driven to solve the world’s biggest problems, they’re also very different in how they operate. Matt has the dream and the big picture vision; Jalene is the one who figures out the details to get us there. As Jalene puts it,

“A CEO has to be so confident—their job is to sell vision and success. A COO has to poke holes in things and see how to get from A to B, and find out what's missing.”

From building a company, to raising a 3-year-old, to cycling and crossfit, Matt and Jalene are no strangers to working together. Matt says, “It’s great working with Jalene. I don't know how I could be doing this with someone else. It makes the work more enjoyable.” When referring to their mission-driven attitude, Matt is glad that they’re both on the same page regarding the effort and investment required. Sometimes they’re both working until midnight, or taking Zoom calls at odd hours. Matt goes on to say, “Jalene gets it. That’s why we have to work so hard.”

Being so close means they can have conversations about anything at any time in the day. This also forces them to be diligent in setting boundaries between work and home life, and expectations on communication. They both agree that poor communication is the greatest cause for friction and breakdown between co-founders; they’re very grateful to have a transparent, communicative relationship both inside and outside the office, describing it as their personal startup superpower.

Not a solo journey

When we were developing our first product, we were a team of eight people. In the past two years, we’ve more than tripled in size, and moved from TEC Edmonton’s lab to a home of our own. Looking back on the progress, Matt attributed much of Future Fields’ growth and success to the collective steam power of our mission-driven, close-knit team.

Future Fields team at Edmonton headquarters, May 2022. Photo: Ryan Brodziak

Future Fields team at Edmonton headquarters, May 2022. Photo: Ryan Brodziak

As we grew and put down roots in YEG, we took special care in maintaining a healthy and inclusive work culture. Staying true to one of our corporate values, which is “We’re a team, not a family (so spend time with yours!),” Jalene operationalized several initiatives to cultivate a legitimate work-life balance, such as flexible time-off policies, hybrid working teams, and generous maternity and parental leave.

Future Fields team on a party bus, July 2022.

Future Fields team on a party bus, July 2022.

Setting the foundation for a positive company environment was crucial to Jalene and Matt, as they view the team as Future Fields’ greatest resource. Having once described the people as the best thing about doing business in Alberta, Jalene says she is astounded by the innovation, passion, and kindness of the Future Fields team, and is confident that the people here can make a difference.

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