The BioTech Startup With The Perfect Recipe For Grilling Food Fraudsters
An Ex-Wall Street Trader Is Taking The Long Position On Food Security Using Biotechnology
What drives a high-flying Wall Street trader to leave his job in finance to enter the ever-changing world of biotechnology? According to Vishaal Bhuyan, the short answer is the thrill of innovation and creativity. Formerly employed as a portfolio manager at Nariman Point, an outsourced derivatives hedging desk, and Verition Fund Management, a $1B multi-strategy hedge fund, Vishaal’s hunger for innovation has driven him to create Carverr, a biotech start-up that intends to utilize genetic engineering to combat food fraud.
Originally from the Philadelphia suburbs, Vishaal grew up fascinated by biology and majored in the history of science and technology at The University of Pennsylvania. He gravitated toward derivative trading and soon entered the high-octane world of finance in New York City just prior to the 2008 financial crisis.
The inconvenient timing sharpened his attention to the consequences of an unbridled global economy, from greed fueled economic collapse to the overexploitation of earth’s resources. From the vantage point of a commodities trader, Bhuyan was well positioned to observe the pitfalls and vulnerabilities of the world’s modern supply chains.
The light bulb moment happened two years ago when he and his wife’s side food business received a large batch of seeds completely infested with bugs. They were presented with the choice of shipping the seeds outside the US for fumigation (using the neurotoxic pesticide methyl bromide) and then returning for legal resale stateside. Alternatively, he could dump the entire batch — he fortuitously took the latter option. The experience left him appalled by the thought that his children could be eating food so easily tainted with toxic chemicals. Upon further investigation, Vishaal discovered that by some estimates that;
“Up to 10% of all food goods worldwide are adulterated.’’
Through his continued curiosity of biotechnology, Vishaal met his future CSO, Dr. Ellen Jorgensen, founder of the world’s first community biology lab known as GenSpace. It was in this dynamic environment that Carverr was incepted. He saw DNA as a way to safely and reliably track and trace food products. That’s when he presented the idea to Ellen, and together they founded Carverr and joined RebelBio, SOSV’s London based pre-seed venture capital program.
Carverr is now developing bio-trackers that authenticate the provenance and content of food accurately and in real-time. By reengineering the DNA of microorganisms naturally present in food, they’re able to create ‘biological barcodes’ to untangle the bewildering global food supply chain — allowing us to eat our breakfast with peace of mind.
You’d be astonished to hear of the bizarre ways that food is tampered with, including even the groceries you buy from your local supermarket. For instance, honey is often diluted with corn syrup which frequently goes undetected in routine quality checks. Carverr’s first bio-tracer is in the form of FDA approved probiotic which will be added to the food itself at its site of origin and through genetic sequencing will be authenticated at various checkpoints. For Vishaal and Ellen, this is just the beginning.
“One-day bio-sensors might even be grown into food to trigger GPS signals that alert for contaminated food such as e.coli outbreaks” — Vishaal Bhuyan, CEO of Carverr
One thing is for certain, Carverr will take us from the inadequate technologies of barcodes and RFID tags on food packaging to a seamlessly integrated bio-tracking system.
Check out last week’s story on Birdshade’s founder Bettina Kain.