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Miyokos Kitchen

Women In Agtech: How Miyoko’s Kitchen CEO Deals With Male ‘Guru’ Figures in Plant-Based Food

January 22, 2018

Miyoko Schinner is founder and CEO of Miyoko’s Kitchen, a plant-based food startup specializing in nut and coconut-based cheese and butter alternatives.

Schinner is a true believer in plant-based foods, doubling down on her mission by making the word ‘vegan’ more prominent on the newest version of her products’ packaging.

The plant-based dairy alternative space is gaining players all the time, and investors are starting to take notice. Schinner has raised $8.7 million in three rounds – most recently a $6 million Series B round raised in February 2017 from impact investor Obvious Ventures, plant-based-focused VC Stray Dog Capital, and consumer goods investor JMK Growth Partners.

We caught up with Schinner to find out about her experience raising venture funding for an innovative food startup and how she thinks about operating in a space with some seriously strong male personalities.

Tell me about your fundraising experience.

At first, it was a little nerve-racking, because I didn’t know the lingo. I have probably talked to a couple hundred VCs by now. The very first time, I was really self-conscious, wondering what are they going to think.

Then I realized that most of them are just people, and they just want to hear your story. Just tell them how you started and why you’re doing what you’re doing, and what you’re hoping to do, and what your accomplishments are. Then it became really easy. I can only speak the truth, tell our story, and if it resonates, it resonates. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

That’s been my experience. I think it’s just like getting married. You have to find the right partners. I think it’s best to spend the time being honest and being sure that you know as much about them as they know about you. It’s a long-term relationship. You’re actually getting in bed with someone. It’s a partnership. It’s not like they’re going to give you money then they’re going to go away.

Women of color receive just 0.2% of all venture funding. Does that surprise you?

I’ve heard that before. I was surprised when I heard it.

Really? You were surprised?

Yeah. My kids always tell me I’m oblivious. I think maybe that’s one of my strengths: that I just don’t notice all the stuff that’s being said around me. Or maybe I’m impervious to it.

It’s obvious that this country is obsessed with white males. They get a lot more attention in the media. That’s pretty obvious. We can either spend our lives worrying about it or go out there and prove that we’re just as qualified. I think the best way to really change that perception of what true leadership is, is to become a true leader and not sit and complain about the fact that you didn’t get a fair chance in life.

I don’t think this male-dominated world is going to be that way in a couple of generations. It’s going to change. We use the word vegan because we’re looking to the future. We’re not looking at the past.

We believe in the word because of everything that it stands for, and we believe that’s the future, so we’re using that word. We’re really blowing it up with our new branding and packaging that’s coming out in 2018. 

I just don’t believe in living in fear. I’ve lived in fear much of my life. I lived in fear of wondering what others think of me. When you spend your time doing that, you can’t get anything done.

The plant-based space seems prone to guru-ism and you definitely have a couple of ‘white male genius figures.’ How do you think about that?

Yeah, that’s true. It’s kind of funny. I just can’t worry about it. I have to do what I believe in, and I think over time I’m becoming more outspoken about what we do. I feel like we have a lot of traction ourselves. Maybe not as much as some of those gurus, but I feel like people are beginning to pay attention, which is why I’m being asked to be on panels and speak at industry events, not just vegan events.

I think if you just keep working at something, you really believe in and keep speaking the truth, the world will start to listen. You can’t get hung up on a couple of self-absorbed gurus that are out there.

Do you ever feel pressured to come out in the media and be a personality?

Well, if it comes, it comes. I’m not out there putting huge ads in the New York Times to get people’s attention. I don’t think those tactics are necessary. We are getting attention.

It’s really clear when young people want to find out how you achieved your success, and the questions they’re asking are not right. They seem to be asking the question about how do I succeed? How do I become famous? How do I become recognized? We’re in the age of self-obsession and feeling like you only exist if you’re on the front page of the New York Times or if you have 300,000 followers on Youtube.

As long as the focus is on you, I don’t think you’re going to be effective in making an impact on the world. We can’t forget why we’re doing this. I’m just going to keep focusing on the mission.

The goal isn’t to achieve personal fame. The goal is to do what we can to contribute to reversing climate change, saving animals, and having people eat better.

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