The 2019 Women in Tech Festival 5th Anniversary is approaching fast! The festival kicks off with a female founder startup pitch competition on May 23rd – 10 companies will compete for the EntrepreneuHER trophy and Audience Favorite. Our “Startup Personals” will take a closer look at some of the companies you will see at this year’s pitch competition. We had a chance to catch up with Riana Lynn, Founder and CEO of Journey Foods.
Riana is biologist with 10+ years building and scaling high-growth food and tech ventures. She is a leader in food innovation, technology, and venture strategy. As a scientist and serial entrepreneur, Riana has developed high-growth, nationally recognized technology and food businesses.
Question: What is the name of your company?
Answer: Journey Foods
Questions: Can you tell me a little about your company?
Answer: Journey Foods is an AI-powered platform that supports product management and data services for food companies. The team is creating the future of nutrient consumption through software that supports smarter R&D and efficient, data-driven production in the 3 Trillion-dollar shelf-stable foods market. Our prototype and “edible training data,” Journey Bites, was developed as a re-imagination fruit snacks by focusing on nutrient-density, cost, and additional functional benefit complexes.
Question: How did the idea for your company come about?
Answer: When I first started my food journey by launching a family Juice Bar, I hated the amount of compost we wasted, the plastic bottles, and the safety of our juices that, at times, sickened dozens of people. At the time, I was working at UChicago with top geneticists on food science projects, which got me thinking about how I could combine my love for the food industry, helping people, and food science. The core of a competitive and impactful food company lies in reducing cost through operational efficiency, and we needed to make a change. The clear solution came to me: technology and data. Soon thereafter, I built FoodTrace to increase traceability and my own understanding of the food supply chain. After scaling FoodTrace for a number of years, I created Journey Foods to take health foods and data-driven product development to the next level. I’ve built a team of food scientists, machine learners, and data scientists with a desire to help people get more nutrients, better. I designed a framework based in data and an easy-to-use software interface that allows to drive efficient production of millions of pounds functional and nutrient-dense food globally. My team has collected thousands of insights through millions of data points that quickly create improved ingredient recommendations and dynamic market reporting without wasting time and money on a bulky team of food technologists and multiple trials of raw materials. Artificial intelligence not only makes things run faster and better, but increases nutrient density and lowers waste, my ultimate goal as an entrepreneur and scientist in the food industry.
In addition to feeding people better, my goal has been to support biodiversity and the farmers around the world contributing to it by gathering more data on uncommon ingredients that I’ve come across during travels…and some that I wish I had. We use proprietary algorithms that I worked to create with a small but mighty data science and programming team to support high output manufacturing of better ingredients — quickly — while maintaining high standards for flavor, texture, and nutritional benefits. In turn, our institutional customers can use our data portal to create unique versions of products with optimization around costs, recipes, and nutrient profiles. I became a technologist to find better ways for people to take in food. I am an entrepreneur to make sure the solutions to real problems facing our planet are adaptable, accessible, and sustainable, not only for today, but for the future of our planet.
Question: How has being a woman leader played into this experience, if at all?
Answer: Being a woman leader has taught me the importance of being different in order to stand out, especially in such a male-dominated and male-centric space. It is good to differentiate yourself, which is what I had to learn especially in the food industry where there are so many players.
Question: Any advice for other female entrepreneurs?
Answer: Even though African American women and women of color are the fastest growing groups of entrepreneurs; they must think about differentiation as a way to capitalize on bigger market share. Additionally, I underestimated the importance of a healthy body, mind, and support system in family, friends, and partners when you’re starting a business is vital to keeping yourself grounded. Lastly, entrepreneurs have the unique opportunity to become experts very quickly, especially in your product, service, or field. With this, entrepreneurs should always be learning because it’s a privilege to be considered an expert so much more quickly.
Marketing and Special Projects Manager