Back to Alumni News

Using biology to disrupt consumer products 

Alum Andras Forgacs engineers the future of materials at his company Modern Meadow.
We strive to provide individuals with disabilities equal access to our website. If you would like information about this content we will be happy to work with you. Please email us at:
Andras Forgacs, founder of Modern Meadow

Andras Forgacs (NYO 05-08) doesn’t believe consumer brands should have to choose between sustainability and the quality of their materials. He and his team at Modern Meadow are aiming to revolutionize the world of materials through biofabrication, offering high quality and environmentally friendly alternatives to animal-based products and fossil fuel-based synthetics.

Andras has been pushing the province of biofabrication across industries for more than a decade. He co-founded his first company, Organovo, with his father, Gabor Forgacs, and others – including McKinsey alum Eric David (NYO, SVO 05-12) – using Gabor’s research to biofabricate human tissues for medical and therapeutic purposes. This led to the creation of Modern Meadow in 2011, and in 2018, Andras partnered with fellow alum Niyati Gupta (NYO, DCO 05-07, 11-13) to spin off an earlier idea for the biofabrication of meat products with his company Fork & Goode.

Here, we talk with Andras about his goals for Modern Meadow, how his time at McKinsey has influenced the way he works, and how other alumni have contributed to his success.

Can you explain how Modern Meadow biofabricates materials – and what biofabrication means?

Essentially it means using the building blocks of biology at a macroscopic scale in a way that unlocks new functionalities and new properties. What we do at Modern Meadow is to understand how structural proteins can come together to create new generations of biobased materials. We've worked extensively with collagen, the body’s most abundant protein and the main biological building block in leather, and developed ways of producing it from synthetic biology through fermentation.

Over time we've also developed a broader class of proteins, some of which derive from fermentation and others directly from plants. We take these proteins, combine them with biobased polymers, and dye them in a solution where the dye molecules bind to the proteins, creating a class of materials that we call bio-alloys. In creating metals, you coalesce elements to create alloys. We're doing the same with biological elements to create materials where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

What was the impetus to move from biofabricating for medical applications to consumer applications?

As we were developing ways of making human tissues at Organovo, it wasn't a leap to ask, "If we can make skin, could we also make leather?” or “If we could make muscle tissue, could we also make meat?" We were approached about those opportunities but it was outside the scope of [my first company] Organovo, where we were focused on medical opportunities. But it was something that I was aware of as a set of opportunities adjacent to Organovo and a future set of applications that could be relevant for biofabrication more broadly.

Those opportunities became personally resonant when I was living in Shanghai with my wife, and I saw firsthand the booming consumer economy in China and its impact on the environment. I started to think about how I could apply the principles I’d become familiar with through biofabrication to reimagine how we consume everyday products and produce everyday items without the animal and without all of the environmental burdens that come with it.

How are you approaching sustainability?

We strive to provide individuals with disabilities equal access to our website. If you would like information about this content we will be happy to work with you. Please email us at:
Biofabricated leather
We're focused on three pillars of sustainability. First and foremost, we've designed our technologies to be mindful of climate impact. We design our materials to have a lower greenhouse gas emissions profile than other comparable materials. We're still doing the lifecycle assessments, but we estimate that our greenhouse gas emissions could be 90% less than traditional leather, and between 20% to 50% less than synthetic leather, and that's very important for us.

The second sustainability pillar for us is maintaining balanced ecosystems. We are mindful of water use, land use, and eutrophication impact from fertilizer run-offs. Finally, we design our materials to have a responsible end-of-life. We integrate circularity principles into our materials’ design to be durable, so they have a long life in the product, but can also be biodegradable at the end of their life.

What is Modern Meadow’s biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is that we’re competing with established technologies that enjoy the advantages of incumbency and massive scale. Traditional leather and synthetic materials have realized a lot of efficiencies over their lifetime. Our challenge is we need to win on all fronts to be desirable for the consumer. We need to reach scalability for our partner brands to make our technologies accessible and to realize their sustainability potential.

An important advantage is that we've designed our technologies to scale in existing infrastructure, so we don't need to build new factories. We're in the early days of scaling, and the biggest benefits of this technology will be realized as we scale and enter the market.

We strive to provide individuals with disabilities equal access to our website. If you would like information about this content we will be happy to work with you. Please email us at:
Modern Meadow uses the building blocks of biology at a macroscopic scale to unlock new functionalities and properties

Describe Modern Meadow's corporate culture and personality.

We're a very heads-down, humble, and nimble culture. It's a culture that's driven by impact. Of our ninety-person team, sixty are scientists and engineers, so we're very much a culture of scientists and engineers. We value cognitive diversity because the kind of solutions we're bringing together don't just sit in one discipline. They require knowledge depth in biology, material science, process engineering, commercial business perspectives, and design thinking. Bringing all of these disciplines together to solve these massive multi-dimensional problems is really essential. That's at the root of our company culture.

What is an integral component of your leadership style?

Very simply, I hire people that are smarter than me. This company’s journey has been about constantly making sure that we attract, retain, and develop amazing talent. This company would be nothing if it weren’t for some of the key people that we've recruited. My job as a leader is to make sure that we foster alignment among our team and our leadership, and that we empower and enable them. Our team does things I cannot do. My position on the field is to make sure that everyone can play their best position and that we have alignment for the end goals.

How did McKinsey prepare you for what you’re doing now?

McKinsey exposed me to the field of translational science, which is a theme of the three companies I’ve co-founded. McKinsey also taught me many ways of thinking that strengthened and broadened my business toolkit. The exposure to different engagements and people gave me a broader intellectual foundation that could allow me to appreciate different business opportunities and become more comfortable working with different personalities and working styles. McKinsey also presented me with outside opportunities around recruiting, knowledge building, and understanding intellectual property, which helped me be the entrepreneur I am today.

How did the relationships you made at McKinsey impact your career?

I took away a lot of cherished relationships, and in many ways, my opportunities after McKinsey were enabled by the relationships I made while there. When I left McKinsey, I joined a venture firm that resulted from a connection made by a McKinsey colleague. Modern Meadow’s first independent director was a client I met on a study who later became a mentor and advisor. The third company I co-founded, Fork & Goode, is led by Niyati Gupta, a McKinsey alumnus I came to know while in the New York office.

One of my closest relationships at McKinsey was with my colleague, Eric David. We started on the same day as Associates together and ended up becoming very good friends. He became a co-founder of Organovo with me and later its Chief Strategy Officer. He also officiated my wedding!

Where do you go from here?

I think the mission of Modern Meadow is a large one. We're looking to transform the world of materials by using the building blocks of nature to create new materials and ingredients to benefit people and the planet. That's not a mission that will be accomplished in the next two years, nor the next five years. We have an incredible organization here. I think we have at least a decade-long project, if not more.

For us to scale our technologies and to be able to bring a new generation of materials to consumers so that we can make a dent on major challenges like climate change and improving the environment is going to take a while. I think I'm going to be on this journey for the foreseeable future.