NutraWomen Wednesday: Natasha Dhayagude, Chinova Bioworks

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags mushroom extracts nutrawomen wednesday

Globally, 18% of females in college are pursuing STEM studies — compared to 35% of males. While the gender gap in STEM persists, you wouldn't know it at Chinova Bioworks, a New Brunswick-based food technology company with a team that is 90% female.

Using white button mushrooms, Chinova has developed a natural, clean-label preservative to improve quality, freshness and shelf-life for food, beverage and cosmetic products.

Co-founder Natasha Dhayagude said even as a child she knew she was destined to pursue a career in STEM. 

“I'm South Asian. I grew up surrounded by people in STEM fields through their education, through their work that they were doing. You could say that I was always kind of pushed towards that path. So for me it wasn't how I get into STEM, because it was always around me and I was always interested in it, but it was a question of how do I navigate a very technical education by not going down a traditional path, but using it creatively to commercialize a product or solve a real-world problem. That was the big push for me in my mission, to really use my textbook knowledge that I had learned and amalgamate it with some kind of creativity to create an out-of-the-box solution within this space.”

Despite the allure to Chinova’s out-of-the-box solution, Dhayagude said she still felt like she had a lot to prove, as a young, minority entrepreneur, and also as a female. 

“Whenever I walked into the room—and I have a male counterpart as my co-founder—people always looked to him for making the final decision and having the final say,”​ explained Dhayagude.

To counteract that reaction, Dhayagude said that it was very important to have the backing of her team. 

“I really tried to get the allies and the support within my company to showcase that I was in fact, the leader and the driving decision maker within the company and so having those allies to support me during that time, I think was very very critical as I navigated this path.”

So far the plan has proved successful. Dhayagude was named Startup Canada’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017 and Startup Canada’s Woman Entrepreneur of the Year in 2019. The company recently announced plans to expand its manufacturing capacity with a newly constructed 20,000-square-foot bioscience manufacturing facility and a 6,000-square-foot space for R&D. 

The Chinova Bioworks co-founder said one key to her success is not being afraid to take risks and leave her comfort zone. 

“Plunge from the conventional to the unconventional—which is what I've done with my career—going down a very traditional path and a traditional industry, and disrupting a very traditional manufacturing space.”

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