What if sugar was good for you? The consumption of excess sugar has led to health issues in humans, such as autoimmune diseases and IBD, that begin in the gut. Sugarlogix has found a way to create prebiotic sugars to fix this problem and make sugar that’s actually healthy for people to consume. Although there are plenty of probiotic solutions that add good bacteria to the gut, Sugarlogix’s prebiotic sugar is the missing link in actually nourishing those good bacteria. The company’s co-founder and CTO, Chaeyoung Shin, explained more:
Where did everyone on your team first meet?
CS: I’m from UC Berkeley, and that’s where our team got together. We were originally part of a large project funded by British Petroleum to make biofuels out of fermentation. Our co-founding team consists of two professors and two PhD graduate students including myself. After that project, we realized that, “Hey, we could use this technology to make something of higher value.” That’s when we decided to build a company.
So you started with biofuels, and now you’re focusing on sugars?
CS: Yes, but not just any sugar. Prebiotic sugars. These sugars naturally exist in human breastmilk, however they’re not really accounted for anywhere in the market right now. They are starting to make some products that look like it, but not much, because it is very expensive to recreate it outside of a human body. We have the technology to do that in a cost-effective and food-safe way. We brew the prebiotic sugars by using yeast fermentation. It’s just the bakery yeast that we normally use.
How did you become interested in science and biotech?
CS: That goes back a long way. I actually chose to be in the biofuels project during my PhD because I knew we had no way of going around biotechnology. Right now the current industry consists of a lot of chemical-based industries, but we know that these won’t last forever, and also they’re not environmentally friendly. Now in biology, the coolest things happen. Just look at our bodies, it’s amazing what biology can obtain. Improving our knowledge of biotechnology would enable us to mimic biology and use it to our benefit. So that’s how I became interested in that area and I decided to focus my PhD project on it.
Why is Sugarlogix’s technology needed right now, and what problem is it solving?
CS: We know that our current way of living is not the healthiest kind with conventional sugars. We’re exposed to a lot of fatty foods, and that’s why so many people experience gut discomfort. There’s been a huge increase in gut-related diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome and autoimmune diseases which are known to have direct relationships to gut health. One way to prevent that is to provide these types of prebiotics to the gut. In relationship to probiotics (the probiotics are the good gut bacteria), the probiotics are food for the good gut bacteria. Only by having those two components can the good gut bacteria really thrive in your gut. There are probiotic solutions out there, but not the prebiotic part. And by providing the other half, we would really be able to affect people’s gut health in a good way.
What would be the single biggest indicator that your company is succeeding?
CS: Thankfully a lot of people have done research on prebiotic sugars that exist in human breastmilk. It has been long been known as the holy grail of an infant formula ingredient. As long as new research doesn’t come out that proves otherwise, we have solid proof that our technology will benefit people’s gut health. In the long run, an indicator that we’re successful would be the fact that we’re making a lot of profit by selling these prebiotic sugars. The question is different in terms of a short term goal. We want to do a demonstration of a larger size than where we’re currently at. We are hoping to move up to a larger size fermenter to prove to our investors and customers that we can indeed manufacture this on a large scale.
What big lessons have you learned transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?
CS: I never envisioned myself going through this type of transition. I thought I was just going to be scientist. But now my role has dramatically changed, where I’m actively seeking out customers, and actively reaching out to suppliers and investors. For me personally, talking to investors and recruiting them is the toughest part about all this, because you have to sell yourself as well as the company, and it’s something I’m still getting comfortable with. At IndieBio, it’s been really fun to see all the gears of the company come together along with my partner Kulika Chomvong, who is running all the gears.
See Sugarlogix pitch at IndieBio Demo Day on September 14th in San Francisco or via Livestream! Register here.
Photo credit: Or Weizman