In conversation with Dr. Ranjani Varadan, Shiru’s new Chief Scientific Officer


July 27, 2022

Shiru is thrilled to welcome Dr. Ranjani Varadan as its first Chief Scientific Officer.

As CSO, Ranjani will lead our ingredient discovery operations from chemistry to fermentation all the way through to product. She will serve as a key member of Shiru’s executive team and help grow the company’s talent base in producing gelation ingredients and structured fats for better-tasting baked goods, alternative meats, and more. From 2011-2021, Ranjani was a key scientific leader at Impossible Foods, where she was the first scientist hired by founder Pat Brown and eventually rose to Vice President of Research and Development. Ranjani sat down with us recently to share her background and perspective as she enters her new role at Shiru.

How do you describe your role as Shiru CSO?
I think one of the most important things for a CSO to do is to translate a company’s objectives into clear deliverables for the R&D team. You have to ask questions like, “Are we doing the right things in the best possible way to drive the organization forward?” Then you need to build and support an exceptional team in achieving those deliverables, all while fostering a culture of excellence, openness, and fun!

Initially, though, my single most important job will be to listen and absorb everything going on. As a Shiru advisor, I came to understand Shiru’s long-term objectives and strategy. Now, it’s time to dig deeper and learn how to best support the team in achieving our immediate goals.

Why Shiru? Why now?
I care deeply about using my skills and know-how not just to create another product but have a meaningful impact on our planet. A major way to reduce our carbon footprint is to provide food system solutions that can sustainably support the human population. Shiru is uniquely poised to make a broad impact, so I’m both honored and super-excited to join!

To me personally, it is also very important to work with a great team. Jasmin is an exceptional leader who leads from the heart. The team is simply fantastic — this is important to me because, after all, we spend most of the day at work. Our roster of board members and advisors is a seasoned, dream team for what Shiru is doing. So I’m really looking forward to being part of the team!

I also love teaching and mentoring, but I realized that classroom teaching alone did not help me achieve the total impact that I could make by being part of an organization like Shiru. I think mentoring and coaching are part of leading and growing a team, too, so in a way, this is the best of both worlds.

What strikes you about this moment in the food industry?
The fragility of our food supply chains has been shown by pandemic, climate shocks, and war. That means higher prices at the supermarket, and real hunger and suffering for millions around the world. Alternative sources of proteins can increase food security by offering manufacturers a stable source of sustainable, locally produced ingredients.

Over the last year or two, there has been an explosion in the number of plant-based food companies. Unlike many others, Shiru is not about making and selling an end-product. Instead, using its proprietary platform, Shiru promises to deliver naturally occurring alternatives to key ingredients that are pain points of our current supply chain. So it’s a clever business strategy – pure B2B ingredients that work across multiple products and product platforms. Ultimately, we can make a much broader impact on the food system than any single end-product alone. We’re providing the “seeds and shovels” for the food industry.

What are some key learnings from your previous work you bring to Shiru?
First, it’s critical to be able to quickly and effectively translate a company’s vision into a working strategy. Of course, the landscape will shift, and you have to revisit and adjust course as needed. But clear strategy and execution among the different functional teams are as important as the vision itself. Otherwise, you end up wasting time and resources.

Second, being a good leader is a lot of hard work. You have to have a pulse on people, team dynamics, technical issues, and other factors that may or may not be in your control. You have to help them solve these things and sometimes make difficult decisions. Being a good leader takes discipline, and you must earn and build trust.  But the hard work pays off — good leaders spawn strong teams.

It’s also extremely important to build cross-functional collaboration and trust. You have to keep open channels of communication. We all rise and fall on the same tide.

Do you have a “soapbox” issue that personally drives you?
I don’t want to be on a soapbox. I just want to dig in, start doing the work, and help Shiru achieve its vision.

(conversation edited for clarity and brevity)