Law Background Impresses Michigan Alum's Venture into Food Technology
By Jenny Whalen
August 14, 2013
In Josh Tetrick's case, it was the law degree that came before the egg.
A 2008 Michigan Law graduate, Tetrick has since trekked the globe in search of solutions to some of the world's greatest problems, from climate change and education inequality to unsustainable farming and global hunger.
It was this passion for meaningful change—and a diagram drawn one day at Michigan Law—that led Tetrick to his current endeavor: food technology.
The founder and CEO of Hampton Creek Foods, a food tech company specializing in the development of plant-based eggs, Tetrick is a self-described social entrepreneur who thinks like a lawyer.
"A social entrepreneur is someone who sees that in order to solve some of our world's most pressing problems, you can approach those needs from a business perspective," Tetrick explains. "The study of law, and specifically the education I received at Michigan, leads to a sharpening of the mind and the ability to dig deep into a problem and see where the gaps are."
But before he would lead development of McGuire Woods LLP's global climate strategy, oversee reform of Liberia's foreign direct investment incentive law, or found a food tech company backed by Bill Gates, Tetrick was a 1L struggling with the question that plagues all law students: What will I do with my degree?
He found his answer in the form of a quickly sketched diagram.
"I knew I had a passion for the impact law can have on society, but I wasn't sure I wanted to practice at a firm. My first year I remember writing down on a piece of paper some of the global challenges—climate change, hunger, food systems, education inequality—and in the middle I had law, with lines going from law to all the other items. At the bottom, I wrote, 'Understand the connections.'"
By graduation, Tetrick had interpreted "connections" to mean an interdisciplinary approach. "Michigan Law really emphasizes a system's thinking approach," he said. "You're not learning law as an island of itself. You're learning law in combination with science, public policy, and entrepreneurship."
While he has since worked on many of the issues listed in that first diagram, Tetrick said it is the field of food technology that has attracted him as the ideal platform to have the greatest social and environmental impact.
"Our food system is broken. Inefficient. It's devastating to the environment and bad for our health. Our approach is to use technology to leap over the older ways of thinking and develop a new world of food—a world 10 times more sustainable and 10 times more affordable," Tetrick said. "Our path to do that is focusing on animal farming and, more specifically, egg production."
Using plants with the same functional properties of eggs, Tetrick's company has developed Beyond Eggs, an egg-substitute with the potential to be cheaper, safer, more sustainable, and healthier than real eggs.
And it is Tetrick's law background that keeps his company's results at the cutting-edge of intellectual property law and offers insight to the licensing negotiations and foreign investment needed to grow.
"A Michigan Law education gives you the breadth to do a lot," Tetrick said. "Whether it is working at a law firm, or starting your own business, by virtue of going to a place like Michigan it is almost required that you think about the greatest problems and spend time being engaged and making the world better."
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