Fung Feature: Gina Myers, MEng ’20 (BioE)

Alumna Gina Myers on her MEng experience, startup, and passion for food and sustainability.

Gina graduated from the Berkeley MEng program with a Master’s in Bioengineering in 2020. Here, she shares about her startup, a passion for food and sustainability, and how she got into ultra-endurance athletics.

How did you get to where you are today?

“I did Bioengineering as an undergraduate at University of the Pacific in California. And before that, I actually went to culinary school. I worked for a couple years at a biotech firm before I came to Berkeley as well; I was in the product development program working on the gene therapy cure for hemophilia.

So I came to Berkeley with a background in engineering and also as a trained chef, and studied Bioengineering in the MEng program. I chose to pursue Bioengineering for the challenging and engaging nature of this field and its multitude of applications.

Now, I’m working remotely for an engineering firm as a technical writer. I’m also the chief operating officer (COO) of a startup that I co-founded at Berkeley along with two fantastic MBA students, who are both women as well. Our company is called SuperPetfoods. We produce sustainable dog food using insect protein from the black soldier fly larvae and are pursuing a multitude of efforts to grow and develop our business in order to disrupt and positively impact the pet food industry.

What made you decide to pursue graduate school?

I always planned to, and I still do want to go back for more schooling, likely a PhD. I just have a deep scientific itch that I need to scratch. I was actually applying for PhD programs when I got into Berkeley for the MEng program, and I recognized it as a really unique opportunity to gain business and leadership insight. I had aspirations at that time to engage in entrepreneurship, and I realize now that there isn’t a better place to start on that journey than at Berkeley. The Berkeley MEng struck me as a really great opportunity — [especially being contained] in just a one year program — that I envisioned taking me really far.

My experience in the MEng program was intense and dynamic. Berkeley is an awesome community and it’s a broadly intertwined network that I felt like I wanted to take advantage of in every way that I could. Cal is a fantastic environment that is full of really impressive people who want to help you, and everyone is interested in learning and growth. And I just wanted to be a part of that. That’s why I have taken on mentorship roles as an alumna to stay connected with Berkeley and contribute to the network that helped me get to where I am now.

“It’s such a fantastic community of really impressive people who are willing to help you.”

Can you tell us a bit more about your startup?

Well, I applied for StEP (Student Entrepreneurship Program) at Berkeley. I learned about StEP through an email from someone within the MEng program, which I’m very thankful for. I don’t even remember applying for it, but a month or so later I was matched with a member of the MBA program who had submitted an idea for a startup in StEP and we were joined over the course of the program by our third co-founder. It just started out as an idea and we took the idea through StEP and did a lot of customer discovery. We took first place on StEP Demo Day, which gave us the momentum to go into the UC LAUNCHprogram in the next semester, which we did.

We worked super hard to bring a minimum viable product (MVP) out of our idea, we progressed through the course of the UC LAUNCH program, and won pre-seed funding at LAUNCH Demo Day where we came in second place. And since LAUNCH we have done a lot more product development, done surveys, social media campaigns, gained customer insight from almost 500 people, and started selling our product in September of this year.

What is something you’re passionate about?

I think for me, probably my greatest passion is cooking and food — something that I came to realize early in life. Whether I was at home or with family in another state or even in all sorts of crazy places around the world like Zambia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica, I saw that people come together through food. That’s what makes food so beautiful to me, and cooking and eating together connects people in a special way enables you to bridge your differences with people.

I’ve been able to serve a lot of communities through food. Whether it be volunteering at food banks and preparing meals or cooking in other countries for groups of volunteers and people at rural hospitals. It’s always been my favorite thing to do for other people, and it is needed everywhere because everybody needs to eat. I went to Culinary School at the Culinary Institute of America after high school to gain classical training in Culinary Arts and experience working for some of the country’s greatest chefs.

I’m also a competitive ultra-endurance athlete. I’ve competed in 9 Ironman Triathlons and twice qualified and competed at the World Championships in Kona, HI. I am an avid ultra-marathon runner and train and race the 50km, 50-mile, and 100km distances on trails throughout the West Coast and Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Gina running the Marin Ultra Challenge 50-miler in 2018.

When I was a young kid, I would see these people out on the race course and just think that they weren’t even human. I grew my own sense of athletic drive and I did my first triathlon when I was 16. I started doing the longer ones and did my first Ironman in the summer after my first year of college when I was 18 — and just kind of went from there. My dad was instrumental in that journey, a big triathlete himself. From growing up cheering for him out on the race course to cheering for each other in the same race and celebrating at the finish line at the end of the Kona World Championships, we share some amazing memories through our adventures in the sport.

After college, when I was working at a biotech firm in the Bay Area, I met a few really awesome people who were into ultra-marathon running and they introduced me to the wild and crazy nature of long distance trail running. During that time I also got into ultra-marathon swimming. My first event was a 12.5-mile swim around Key West. I [later] curated my own ultra-swim event while recovering from a fractured hip and swam 20 miles in a beautiful lake in Northern Idaho supported by my sister who supplied my nutrition and hydration from a kayak alongside the whole time.

Athletics are a foundational part of my life. They have ingrained a fierce love of the outdoors and a deep connection with nature that nothing else can replace. This drives me to work for a better planet and be a steward of all the earth has to offer.

Can you expand on your passion for sustainability and protecting the planet?

Gina backpacking in the Montana wilderness.

My passion from sustainability probably comes from growing up surrounded by really, really beautiful lakes and rivers and mountains around northern Washington and Idaho. Having that appreciation for clean air and clean water and experiencing these beautiful lakes and mountains in conjunction with horrible logging operations, pollution and destruction, a dedication to preserve the natural world is pretty ingrained in the fiber of who I am.

Through all of my educational years I’ve learned more and more that when you do things that are good for the environment, they’re also good for your business, your people, and the long-term benefit of everything on Earth. That’s something that I’m really committed to in how I live my daily life as well as in my career as it informs the impact I hope to have in my life.

I think people neglect their ability to make an impact in their own daily lives because they write off their own personal responsibility onto something bigger and more powerful, like corporations or the government. They don’t think that taking a shorter shower or using every bit of food they bring home from the grocery store or biking to work will make a real difference, but over the course of your life, but they add up. The things we do every day over a lifetime make a huge difference.

“When you do things that are good for the environment, they’re also good for your business, your people, and the long-term benefit of everything on Earth.”

What are some of your goals for the future?

One of my big personal goals is to run ‘100-miler,’ or a 100-mile trail race. I’ve done up to the 100k distance so far, and I overcame a really bad injury a couple years ago with my broken hip. When the time is right, that is one of my big goals.

Professionally as a bioengineer and a chef, my goal is to become recognized as a leader in advancing environmental protections, sustainable practices, and ecological conservation. I also plan to engage the refugee community through my work to support and open doors for underserved individuals. I hope to inspire future leaders and women especially, who are underrepresented in STEM and lack many of the opportunities afforded to men.

Do you have any advice for current MEng students?

One thing I would say is just how amazing Berkeley is. That community and the experience of being there is super intense, but it’s such a great thing to go and experience Berkeley, especially through the MEng program, because you get a diversity of opportunities and experiences that I think would be really hard to find anywhere else.

It’s been hard with COVID-19, but my other piece of advice would be to embrace new opportunities, and try to take advantage of the unique things Berkeley has to offer. Don’t be afraid of talking to people and just getting out there, because people will take you seriously. Even if you’re nervous or not quite sure of yourself, you’re in the Berkeley MEng program and that counts for a lot. Don’t be afraid and get out there so you can pursue what drives and inspires you every day.

Connect with Gina.

Learn more about the Fung Institute at funginstitute.berkeley.edu

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Berkeley Master of Engineering

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