The stories we hear from our alumni constantly amaze us, whether they are about small world experiences or academic accomplishments. We recently heard from Jason Goodman (on right in image) about his new startup, Antithesis Foods. His team is made up of food scientists who believe it should be easier and tastier to eat healthier.
What years were you at Penn State, and what did you study?
I attended from 2005 to 2009 and majored in Microbiology and minored in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
What are you studying now?
Right now, I’m finishing my Ph.D. at Cornell in Food Science, focusing on taste biology, obesity, and the microbiome. My microbiology background from Penn State is a huge help here, as a great deal of food science entails ensuring that food does not have any harmful microbes. As we study the microbiome in my lab, it also helps to be acquainted with the field.
I heard you were involved with co-ops while at Penn State. How was your experience?
I did two co-ops, one at GlaxoSmithKline and one at Merck. At Glaxo, I was part of a team that designed imaging tools for drug discovery. If the cardiovascular team said, “Hey, we want to tell if our drugs cause less artery hardening in a mouse,” then we would design and execute the experiments to stain, image, and quantify how hard the aeries were. I continue to use that intensive work in my current lab at Cornell.
At Merck, I worked in the Chlamydia Vaccine group, helping move their program forward with day-to-day research support. I also helped design a new method to simplify how they carried out their vaccine efficiency analysis, which helped me win the college’s Co-Op Student of the Year Award while I was there. Here’s an extremely old link!
Whose labs were you in and what was your role and research focus?
At Penn State, I interned in a virology lab with Craig Cameron for a summer, and in a neurobiology lab with Bernhard Luscher. In both roles, I assisted graduate students with their research, generally doing all the “grunt” undergrad pieces.
The breadth of experiences was critical in forming how I view research, teams, culture, and performance. While the academic experience was very much a “one-person army,” exemplified by graduate students being directly mentored by a professor, the corporate world was much more team focused, albeit directed by a hierarchy and an intense schedule.
I noticed that the best performance came from groups with the best cultures, which was very often set by the best managers. If you want to do good science, it is not enough to be smart; you have to build the right culture in your group — a realization that led me to entrepreneurship. Rather than try to find the right team to join to do great work, I figured it would be better to just build it.
Was it difficult to migrate from your academic science experience at Penn State to where you are now in entrepreneurialism?
I think experiencing academic science at Penn State (and now at Cornell) was critical to understanding what makes teams work and not work. I think the fundamental curiosity and sense of discovery in academia, paired with a deadline-driven, “always on the verge of disaster”-type feeling in entrepreneurship makes for a great combination.
It’s hard to appreciate this without trying it, which Penn State made possible.
What is your role in your startup, Antithesis Foods?
I’m the CEO, but as we’re a startup, I do a little of everything: I help with research and development, shipping product, stocking inventory, pitching investors, understanding Google Analytics, and managing employees and interns.
Who is on your team?
The team is mostly other Cornell graduate students and recent grads in food science. We’re working on some really interesting problems in food, so we’ve been fortunate to have great, passionate, and entrepreneurially minded students and graduates reach out to us to join the team.
What's next for Antithesis?
Our main priority is continuing to scale up our current brand of better-for-you crunchy chocolate-coated snacks, Grabanzos. We’ll have a new version of them—crunchier, less sugar, more protein, and with more fiber—available for the holidays, which we’re incredibly excited about.
Then we’ll continue expanding our crunchy ingredient portfolio.
Basically, if it crunches, we aim to make it healthier by using our chickpea dough technology. Hopefully one day you’ll be able to get crushed Grabanzos as a topping for ice cream at the Creamery.
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Be sure to reach out to us—we’d love to hear what you’ve been up to!