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Elisabeth Latham
Elizabeth Latham

Founder of the Sustainable Protein and Environment Initiative

Inventor, academic and passionate advocate for applying science to improve the world, Elizabeth Latham is the founder of the Sustainable Protein and Environment Initiative. She was a category winner in Unilever’s Young Entrepreneurs Awards 2017.

When I finished my PhD, I knew I didn’t want my ideas to be confined to a patent that would sit on the shelf collecting dust. I became disillusioned with academia. I was on course to become a professor but I wanted to use scientific research as a way of changing the world. I had to make something happen.

It feels like the timing is right for us. People in the corporate world are talking about the need to make livestock farming more environmentally friendly. People want to eat meat but they feel bad about it. The interface between science and business hasn’t been moving at pace and with our product, we might be able to make a real impact.

We’re not waving a critical finger at farmers. I’m passionate about reducing greenhouse gases – but I believe we need to find a way to do that without penalising farmers and the people who work in that space. We need to help them to help the environment. Meat producers are a huge part of our economy here in the US, and they’re already struggling. Ours is a solution that benefits everyone – economically, socially and environmentally.

We’ve pivoted our initial business plan to reach more farmers more quickly. Rather than approaching individual farmers one by one, we realised we can have a far greater impact by working directly with feed companies and adding our probiotic to animal food.

Our biggest challenge is still ongoing because we can’t launch without regulatory approval from the FDA (Food & Drug Administration). It’s important, of course. But it means there’s a bit of a scientific bottleneck before products can go to market. However, we’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response and hope to expedite the process so we can launch our probiotic in 2019.

Often with entrepreneurs there’s an image of a lone founder forging their path independently but to really make a difference, it takes a village.

Elizabeth Latham

I have a hard time with pride. We’ve achieved a lot already but I feel I could always do more. There’s always another hurdle. Our ultimate goal will be getting 20% of the beef and dairy cattle in the US using our product. That will be equivalent to 20 million cars off the road.

I got very lucky – I wasn’t born an idiot. So I feel like it’s my purpose to use my ability to do science and research and think of innovations that can make the world a better place in some way. My parents are altruistic people and instilled that deep-seated drive in me from an early age.

I believe that businesses can set the zeitgeist of our time. Science and technology have the potential to help us achieve wonderful things. But if we can’t find a way to make it profitable for businesses, then it’s hard for it to remain sustainable. It must work for businesses too.

Being a Unilever Young Entrepreneurs Awards category winner has definitely opened a lot of doors for us. Not least because we’re currently trialling the probiotic with dairy cows that produce the milk and cream used to make Unilever’s Breyers ice cream. Having a corporate sponsor is of course a big help financially and when it comes to managing the regulatory process. But meeting the other finalists, the speakers, and the mentors from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership has been incredible fuel for the fire too.

It’s vital to find the right help. To anyone who has an idea and wants to make an impact, I’d say find your advocates and influencers, incubators and mentors, and work together. Often with entrepreneurs there’s an image of a lone founder forging their path independently but to really make a difference, it takes a village.

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