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‘I wanted to create new solutions that will impact directly our society’ - Francia Navarette Utreras [Interview]

Article-‘I wanted to create new solutions that will impact directly our society’ - Francia Navarette Utreras [Interview]

© Fi Global Insights #womeninfood interview with Francia Navarette Utreras
Francia Navarette Utreras studied biotechnology engineering at university and co-founded Protera Biosciences when she was 22 years old and still a student. We found out more about her journey from student to COO of a startup that recently raised $10 million in Series A funding.

Protera Biosciences uses predictive algorithms that calculate millions of amino acid combinations and simulate protein patterns to develop protein-based ingredients that can make food healthier and more sustainable by reducing sugar content or extending shelf life, for example. 

What motivated you to start your own business when you had not yet finished your studies?

“I started to feel very interested in the world of entrepreneurship because I saw a lack of opportunities in the industry to [..] do what motivated me the most. I started worrying when I was in the [university] programme because I saw the regular path would be graduating, then doing a PhD, and […] focusing a lot on elemental science. 

“I think it's very valuable to generate knowledge for everyone to use but I had this feeling of urgency that I wanted to participate in something more applied, something that can create new products and new solutions that will impact directly our society. 
That's why I got interested in entrepreneurship: to have more liberty to do what I wanted to do in applied science.”

You went from being a student to a businesswoman, relocating from Chile to Silicon Valley and then to Paris, where Protera Biosciences is now headquartered. What was that journey like? Did you suffer from imposter syndrome? 

"For sure! You go there and meet all these 'rockstar' people that come from the biggest universities like Stanford, but you come from a regular university in Latin America and you only have the energy and passion to do [your project]. 

“It is very difficult [..]. because you tend to be very critical with yourself but when you meet these people and start to connect with them, you realise they are not very different from you. When you are far away, you think, 'there is no way I can compete with them', but when you are next to each other, you realise, 'I do have all the energy to do this, I have the passion and the potential’."

You have experience working as a female entrepreneur and scientist in Latin America, North America, and Europe. Have you noticed a difference in the way you are perceived in these three different regions? 

"I don't really feel a big difference. Of course, the cultures are different but that's for everyone. I, myself, never felt left out because I was a woman but I can clearly see that there is a group of females who are not very present in the entrepreneurship world or in the science world. 

“When people start to have more responsibilities in terms of having a family, they start to [get] left out of these communities [and] women are more affected by this because of course, most of the time, it's the woman who takes care of the children and the house. It is an unfair competitive [advantage] for men. 


“We tried to capture more executive or director members who were female and it was very difficult to find them because the people who have more advanced profiles tend to be men, and I think it's because of this."

Do you have a message for young women interested in setting up their own business?

"I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people and a lot of female leaders and I think it's great because we all have something to put on the table. It is [about] your conviction to do it and your commitment. You need to have the determination. 

“I would like to make a claim for everyone who has a company to open the space for this to happen - bring more women in [at] the executive level, all levels, and hopefully more on the technology side too because that's where I see a lack of female participation - in AI computational science, for example. 

“It's also our mission as entrepreneurs. We have the chance to make these decisions in our organisation [and] make this happen: to open this space to give more opportunities to women to play a key role." 

As a founder and COO, do you manage to keep a work-life balance?

"Not really! I'm not very good at balancing my personal life with my career. I think this is […] not very popular but I don't like to make the distinction because the company that I am building with the rest of my team fulfils my passion.

“It's not only work for me, it is the thing that I love to do the most in my life. I haven't really been affected because I had less time to, I don't know, go to parties in my twenties. It was worth it because what we have developed completely fulfils the mission I want to have in my life. I'm very passionate about that. A lot of the time I receive comments from my close friends or family [saying], 'You need to have some time for yourself' but for me they are not separate. I enjoy doing this so it's not a burden for me."