Nirmal Nair, founder and CEO of Sempera Organics, was really pleased to win the Dell Startup Pitch Competition award held May 7 during TiEcon, the annual conference hosted by TiE Silicon Valley. It was particularly encouraging because it was the first time he was attending the event.
Dell gives early startups advice, equipment and $25K in Dell products and services. Nair said he was thankful to TiE for giving back to the community by providing a lot of support through investment and advice.
Born in India, he earned an engineering degree at the National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu. He came to the US in 1992 to pursue Masters’s in Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State University and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1995.
A serial entrepreneur Nair founded PepperMob and was part of the founding team at Skyfire and Grokr.
Speaking of his company, Nair said the Morgan Hill-based Sempera Organics aims to use mushrooms and other fungi to help people, pets, and the planet.
He pointed out that mushrooms have been consumed for thousands of years for claimed benefits ranging from immunity, mental clarity, de-stressing and general body and mind wellness. Combined with their known culinary applications and because they are a natural source of umami, there is a lot that fungi have to offer, he said.
“We have created a biological manufacturing platform to sustainably grow fungi at scale. That enables us to rapidly meet these large global [demands],” he said the company is based in San Jose. A B2B company, so sells in large quantities to brands and distributors
He went back to the association that mushrooms – or fungi in general – had with immunity. He said there is a direct preventative aspect of consuming medicinal mushrooms during these times when infections are a concern. With the attention on that aspect of health, awareness has increased about the benefits of mushrooms.
Asked about the difficulties of starting a company in the midst of a pandemic, Nair described the COVID-19 as a black swan event that has now brought preventative care and wellness to the forefront.
“It was challenging to build manufacturing facilities while working closely with the team,” Nair said. “Our current facility is 8500 sq.ft. and it takes roughly 8 weeks for the spore to ship.
Since this was Nair’s third venture but the previous ones were in the tech space said he started with a $150K friends and family round in 2020 and raised Series Seed ($1.8M) in Dec 2021.
“We put together a fast-executing team that worked round the clock to get us into production in under 100 days. It sure was scary, but we managed to get it done.”