Origin story series
Origin story series

Origin Story Series W/ Josh Brito, MakeGrowLab

Origin Story Series W/ Josh Brito, MakeGrowLab
Brighter Future
Author:
Brighter Future
|
June 8, 2022

H

ere at Brighter Future, we love having conversations with inspiring entrepreneurs about their start-up experience and how they’re making a difference. Today, we’re thrilled to be joined by Josh Brito from MakeGrowLab, an innovative company that uses unique technology to turn local food waste into natural, home-compostable and 100% plastic-free materials. MakeGrowLab fuses science with design, creating a fully circular production of local, sustainable materials.

H

ere at Brighter Future, we love having conversations with inspiring entrepreneurs about their start-up experience and how they’re making a difference. Today, we’re thrilled to be joined by Josh Brito from MakeGrowLab, an innovative company that uses unique technology to turn local food waste into natural, home-compostable and 100% plastic-free materials. MakeGrowLab fuses science with design, creating a fully circular production of local, sustainable materials.

Hi, Josh! Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story with us today. To kick things off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about where you’re from.

Sure! I’m from Garden Grove, a city in northern Orange County, which is located in Southern California. I grew up with a single mom, who was also a refugee from Mexico. It was actually my mom who taught me the fundamentals of marketing and planted that entrepreneurial seed in me early on. Because she was an immigrant, she couldn’t get a legal job in the United States, so she would hand out business cards on the street for doctors. She would earn $20 any time a patient would go in. I also spent a lot of time in nature growing up, which instilled in me a real love and respect for the environment. I think both of these things were early indications of what I would go on to pursue in my life and career.  

That’s an incredible story! It sounds like your mom was a very hard-working and resourceful woman. You must have learned a lot from her. What exactly was it, then, that led to the creation of MakeGrowLab?

I think one of the most important things that led to me starting this business was my previous jobs. For example, when I was studying at university, I worked in a large warehouse for an electronics store in the US called Best Buy. Essentially, my job consisted of unloading these huge trucks full of products, like laptops, TVs, camcorders, etc. Part of my role was unpacking everything, and this created mountains of cardboard every day that we would put into balers that smush all the cardboard together. It was on that job that I got my first glimpse at a very big problem with waste, which eventually informed the idea for MakeGrowLab.

Another hugely impactful experience was some disaster response work I took part in. That was when I kind of got out of my Southern Californian bubble and got to see the rest of the world. During this time, I saw people burning their trash or throwing it into nearby rivers in the mornings. One of my experiences took me to the Himalayas, which is a very remote area. What struck me most was that no matter how remote the village, there was still plastic everywhere. Even in places so removed from the world that you’d think you were the only person to have ever been there.

Now, years later, the places that I’ve been to—or the places that I would like to visit—are being destroyed. People are being displaced from their villages and homes because of the destruction of the environment. These places might not be there in the next ten years. I saw this happening before my eyes and wanted to help. Those experiences inspired me to start MakeGrowLab.

That’s incredible! Travel really broadens the mind and exposes us to problems that have the potential to be solved. We’d love to hear a little bit more about your company, MakeGrowLab, and what it does.

MakeGrowLab takes food waste—anything from an avocado to a beverage—and feeds it to microbes. These microbes take the nutrients from the food and synthesize it to make nanofibres. The microbes work together to weave a layer of cellulose into a blanket to protect themselves from the environment. We take that cellulose and use it to make paper, cardboard, packaging, etc. Most of the cellulose used today comes from recycled materials like trees. But with our process, instead of having to cut down or grow trees, we can just grow the cellulose in a room. No sunlight or chemicals are required. It’s simply grown by the bacteria very quickly. And it’s actually better cellulose than you would get from a tree because it’s one of the purest forms of cellulose and the fibres are much narrower, which allows us to create tighter weaves for better protection in the products created. It’s also completely home compostable!

Overall, it’s an amazing solution! Ultimately, we’ve created this product for the betterment of the planet. It benefits everyone, whether they know it or not.

What an amazingly innovative idea! You mentioned university and then disaster response work abroad. How did that come about? Was there a point in your life when you made a conscious decision to take a different direction?

Yes. I had a very tough year in 2015 with school, work and all of the other things that come with life. I remember that on one particular night, I was feeling so down. That same day, there had been a huge earthquake in Nepal. While I was scrolling on Instagram, I saw a post from National Geographic. It was a sketch of the Himalayas showing how many people had died. At the time, I had two jobs. I was burning myself out working every day and going to school. And in that moment—I don’t know why because I’m not a religious person—I was overcome with a sudden urge to go there and help. I felt a calling. So, I booked a ticket to Nepal the very next day. I was only supposed to go for a month, but I stayed there for half a year. That decision changed the direction of my life.

That was when I started to understand the true scale of the pollution issue. In Nepal, it’s a very big problem, and you’re confronted with it everywhere you go. It’s common for people to burn their trash multiple times a week there.

After my time in Nepal, I worked in Ecuador with the same volunteer relief agency, which is how I met my wife and business partner, Rosa.

The experiences I had while doing this relief work planted the seed for what became our business, MakeGrowLab, today.

‍Wow! That was a brave leap of faith. It sounds like you learned a lot from your time abroad. You mentioned your mom earlier, who immigrated to the US and made a life there. What aspects of your childhood and your upbringing do you think impacted the person you are today and the entrepreneur you have become?

I learned a lot from growing up with a single mom. My mom’s situation was very hard. She was living in California as an immigrant who couldn’t get a job, which meant it was very hard to pay for anything. Even though she worked all the time, we were still quite poor. She taught me a lot about discipline and hard work, which has stayed with me to this day. My childhood also taught me that you’re going to be alone sometimes, so you need to learn to live with yourself and be strong.

My mom is this very tiny Mexican woman. She is a hardcore feminist, and she raised me that way. She raised me to be strong and independent, which has definitely contributed to my ability to take risks, my willingness to put myself out there in the world, and informed my belief in my ability to have an impact through my business.

You mentioned making a split-second decision to go to Nepal to do disaster response work, which was not at all part of your life plan up to that point. In business, there are always times when things just don’t go to plan. Can you share with us a time when you took a different direction than the one you originally planned?

Sure! As an entrepreneur, you have to be adaptable. My partner, Rosa, is Polish. When I first arrived here in Poland—which is where we now live and run MakeGrowLab—Rosa introduced me to growing materials with the kombucha process. When you make kombucha, there’s a product that forms at the top called Scoby. That’s cellulose, and that’s how we started. That project was what made my partner, Rosa, very popular at university. But after we started to use it more and more, we noticed that it was actually quite difficult to work with. It was very challenging to clean it and to get rid of its fermented smell. So, after a year or so, we went in a completely different direction.

We knew we had to reinvent the business, so we brainstormed other types of materials we could grow. We looked at different types of cellulose and other microbes, which eventually led us to our current process of growing something a lot nicer with more yield. That was a real “aha!” moment for us. We knew there was something there that could be explored.  

It just makes sense when you see the process and when you compare it to the existing processes that we use. Before this deviation from the plan, we were just designers working with small companies, but now we’re working with larger corporate partners. So, we went from being a design studio to a biotechnology company. And that’s a huge difference. Today, we have chemists and engineers and biotechnology experts working with us at MakeGrowLab. It took a long time, as well as a lot of reading, research and mentoring, to get to where we are today. There were lots of long days and nights, but we are lucky to now have partners who can help us with the questions that we can’t answer for ourselves.

A solid team that works together is a huge asset in any endeavour. Many entrepreneurs try to do everything themselves, which means they’re much more limited and less likely to overcome the inevitable hurdles that arise along the way. What hurdles did you have to overcome when starting MakeGrowLab, and what did you learn from them?  

That’s a great question. There will always be challenges to overcome. Starting a business is always difficult, but one thing that stands out in our story is that I did it as a foreigner. You see, our business is based in Poland, which means I had to adapt to a different culture and different ways of doing things. One mistake I’ve made and learned a lot from is conducting business here in Poland as I would have expected it to be in the United States. Some things are done differently here, so I had to adapt.

Luckily, my partner, Rosa, is Polish. She’s very important because she runs all of the operations of our company. Her role is absolutely essential as there are many things that I can’t do as a foreigner in Poland.

Starting a business in another country is a brave move! You mentioned putting in lots of long hours when you were starting the business. What would you say is the biggest sacrifice you’ve had to make for MakeGrowLab?  

There are so many sacrifices, but the one that stands out most is that by leaving my home country, the United States, I lost many of my connections to the people around me, especially to my friends and family. It also meant being lonely sometimes, especially when I couldn’t make friends because I couldn’t speak the language.

That’s tough. Being an entrepreneur can be a very lonely road, and even more so when you’re far from home and those you love. Your business, MakeGrowLab, is doing important work. It’s helping secure a brighter future for the generations to come. We’re curious to hear about how you envision the future.

I see the world moving more towards technology. At the same time, I think people will also shift back towards their roots in terms of sustainable living. I envision a combination of new technology and an ancient way of living. For example, although we are classed as a biotechnology company, which sounds very futuristic, our process is actually a very natural one. If you were to leave your beer or vinegar outside for a while, this process will naturally occur. So, it’s something that we can all benefit from, and it doesn’t require much technology to accomplish.

That’s very true! There’s still a lot of room for learning, exploration and innovation in some of our oldest and most natural processes. When future generations look back on your story and your journey with MakeGrowLab, what do you want them to take away from it?

To be honest, I don’t really care if future generations remember me or not. I just really believe in this material. So, if people want to remember me, it can be for the product and the technology.

From my perspective, I just really like where I’m from. I love this planet. I love everything about it and all the beautiful things that we’re lucky enough to live alongside. At the end of the day, I’ll just be Josh. A guy from California who liked nature.

There are so many young people out there with great potential and big dreams of starting their own business. What advice would you give your younger self or a young entrepreneur who is just starting out on their journey?

That’s a tough one. To my younger self, I would say, “Hey, Josh. No girlfriends! ;-) ” I would also tell myself to stay in school like my mom told me to.

And I would tell my younger self and any aspiring entrepreneurs out there to take some business courses and financial classes. That’s an important but often overlooked part of education. No matter what you go to school for, one day, you may want to be your own boss. You can either learn the hard way, by just jumping in with your own cash to burn, or you can take some classes and learn it in a safe environment.

So, my advice would be to focus, save your money, and surround yourself with people you want to be like. That’s some advice I wish I had gotten that I would like to pass on to anyone who is starting out today.

‍Great advice! Especially surrounding yourself with people you aspire to be like. Unfortunately, like all good things, our conversation has to come to an end. To wrap it up, we’ve got one last question for you. If there was one lasting message you could share with the world, what would it be?

Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure. My message for anyone reading this is: Be more mindful and conscious of your surroundings, because all of your actions cause a reaction—and even the little things you do today can have a very big impact on the rest of the world.

--------------

A huge thank you to our inspiring guest Josh Brito from MakeGrowLab! If you would like to find out more about Josh and his amazing work at MakeGrowLab, you can find him at: www.makegrowlab.com.  

To stay up to date with all of our latest content and interviews with inspiring entrepreneurs like Josh, subscribe to the Brighter Future newsletter here.

Hi, Josh! Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story with us today. To kick things off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about where you’re from.

Sure! I’m from Garden Grove, a city in northern Orange County, which is located in Southern California. I grew up with a single mom, who was also a refugee from Mexico. It was actually my mom who taught me the fundamentals of marketing and planted that entrepreneurial seed in me early on. Because she was an immigrant, she couldn’t get a legal job in the United States, so she would hand out business cards on the street for doctors. She would earn $20 any time a patient would go in. I also spent a lot of time in nature growing up, which instilled in me a real love and respect for the environment. I think both of these things were early indications of what I would go on to pursue in my life and career.  

That’s an incredible story! It sounds like your mom was a very hard-working and resourceful woman. You must have learned a lot from her. What exactly was it, then, that led to the creation of MakeGrowLab?

I think one of the most important things that led to me starting this business was my previous jobs. For example, when I was studying at university, I worked in a large warehouse for an electronics store in the US called Best Buy. Essentially, my job consisted of unloading these huge trucks full of products, like laptops, TVs, camcorders, etc. Part of my role was unpacking everything, and this created mountains of cardboard every day that we would put into balers that smush all the cardboard together. It was on that job that I got my first glimpse at a very big problem with waste, which eventually informed the idea for MakeGrowLab.

Another hugely impactful experience was some disaster response work I took part in. That was when I kind of got out of my Southern Californian bubble and got to see the rest of the world. During this time, I saw people burning their trash or throwing it into nearby rivers in the mornings. One of my experiences took me to the Himalayas, which is a very remote area. What struck me most was that no matter how remote the village, there was still plastic everywhere. Even in places so removed from the world that you’d think you were the only person to have ever been there.

Now, years later, the places that I’ve been to—or the places that I would like to visit—are being destroyed. People are being displaced from their villages and homes because of the destruction of the environment. These places might not be there in the next ten years. I saw this happening before my eyes and wanted to help. Those experiences inspired me to start MakeGrowLab.

That’s incredible! Travel really broadens the mind and exposes us to problems that have the potential to be solved. We’d love to hear a little bit more about your company, MakeGrowLab, and what it does.

MakeGrowLab takes food waste—anything from an avocado to a beverage—and feeds it to microbes. These microbes take the nutrients from the food and synthesize it to make nanofibres. The microbes work together to weave a layer of cellulose into a blanket to protect themselves from the environment. We take that cellulose and use it to make paper, cardboard, packaging, etc. Most of the cellulose used today comes from recycled materials like trees. But with our process, instead of having to cut down or grow trees, we can just grow the cellulose in a room. No sunlight or chemicals are required. It’s simply grown by the bacteria very quickly. And it’s actually better cellulose than you would get from a tree because it’s one of the purest forms of cellulose and the fibres are much narrower, which allows us to create tighter weaves for better protection in the products created. It’s also completely home compostable!

Overall, it’s an amazing solution! Ultimately, we’ve created this product for the betterment of the planet. It benefits everyone, whether they know it or not.

What an amazingly innovative idea! You mentioned university and then disaster response work abroad. How did that come about? Was there a point in your life when you made a conscious decision to take a different direction?

Yes. I had a very tough year in 2015 with school, work and all of the other things that come with life. I remember that on one particular night, I was feeling so down. That same day, there had been a huge earthquake in Nepal. While I was scrolling on Instagram, I saw a post from National Geographic. It was a sketch of the Himalayas showing how many people had died. At the time, I had two jobs. I was burning myself out working every day and going to school. And in that moment—I don’t know why because I’m not a religious person—I was overcome with a sudden urge to go there and help. I felt a calling. So, I booked a ticket to Nepal the very next day. I was only supposed to go for a month, but I stayed there for half a year. That decision changed the direction of my life.

That was when I started to understand the true scale of the pollution issue. In Nepal, it’s a very big problem, and you’re confronted with it everywhere you go. It’s common for people to burn their trash multiple times a week there.

After my time in Nepal, I worked in Ecuador with the same volunteer relief agency, which is how I met my wife and business partner, Rosa.

The experiences I had while doing this relief work planted the seed for what became our business, MakeGrowLab, today.

‍Wow! That was a brave leap of faith. It sounds like you learned a lot from your time abroad. You mentioned your mom earlier, who immigrated to the US and made a life there. What aspects of your childhood and your upbringing do you think impacted the person you are today and the entrepreneur you have become?

I learned a lot from growing up with a single mom. My mom’s situation was very hard. She was living in California as an immigrant who couldn’t get a job, which meant it was very hard to pay for anything. Even though she worked all the time, we were still quite poor. She taught me a lot about discipline and hard work, which has stayed with me to this day. My childhood also taught me that you’re going to be alone sometimes, so you need to learn to live with yourself and be strong.

My mom is this very tiny Mexican woman. She is a hardcore feminist, and she raised me that way. She raised me to be strong and independent, which has definitely contributed to my ability to take risks, my willingness to put myself out there in the world, and informed my belief in my ability to have an impact through my business.

You mentioned making a split-second decision to go to Nepal to do disaster response work, which was not at all part of your life plan up to that point. In business, there are always times when things just don’t go to plan. Can you share with us a time when you took a different direction than the one you originally planned?

Sure! As an entrepreneur, you have to be adaptable. My partner, Rosa, is Polish. When I first arrived here in Poland—which is where we now live and run MakeGrowLab—Rosa introduced me to growing materials with the kombucha process. When you make kombucha, there’s a product that forms at the top called Scoby. That’s cellulose, and that’s how we started. That project was what made my partner, Rosa, very popular at university. But after we started to use it more and more, we noticed that it was actually quite difficult to work with. It was very challenging to clean it and to get rid of its fermented smell. So, after a year or so, we went in a completely different direction.

We knew we had to reinvent the business, so we brainstormed other types of materials we could grow. We looked at different types of cellulose and other microbes, which eventually led us to our current process of growing something a lot nicer with more yield. That was a real “aha!” moment for us. We knew there was something there that could be explored.  

It just makes sense when you see the process and when you compare it to the existing processes that we use. Before this deviation from the plan, we were just designers working with small companies, but now we’re working with larger corporate partners. So, we went from being a design studio to a biotechnology company. And that’s a huge difference. Today, we have chemists and engineers and biotechnology experts working with us at MakeGrowLab. It took a long time, as well as a lot of reading, research and mentoring, to get to where we are today. There were lots of long days and nights, but we are lucky to now have partners who can help us with the questions that we can’t answer for ourselves.

A solid team that works together is a huge asset in any endeavour. Many entrepreneurs try to do everything themselves, which means they’re much more limited and less likely to overcome the inevitable hurdles that arise along the way. What hurdles did you have to overcome when starting MakeGrowLab, and what did you learn from them?  

That’s a great question. There will always be challenges to overcome. Starting a business is always difficult, but one thing that stands out in our story is that I did it as a foreigner. You see, our business is based in Poland, which means I had to adapt to a different culture and different ways of doing things. One mistake I’ve made and learned a lot from is conducting business here in Poland as I would have expected it to be in the United States. Some things are done differently here, so I had to adapt.

Luckily, my partner, Rosa, is Polish. She’s very important because she runs all of the operations of our company. Her role is absolutely essential as there are many things that I can’t do as a foreigner in Poland.

Starting a business in another country is a brave move! You mentioned putting in lots of long hours when you were starting the business. What would you say is the biggest sacrifice you’ve had to make for MakeGrowLab?  

There are so many sacrifices, but the one that stands out most is that by leaving my home country, the United States, I lost many of my connections to the people around me, especially to my friends and family. It also meant being lonely sometimes, especially when I couldn’t make friends because I couldn’t speak the language.

That’s tough. Being an entrepreneur can be a very lonely road, and even more so when you’re far from home and those you love. Your business, MakeGrowLab, is doing important work. It’s helping secure a brighter future for the generations to come. We’re curious to hear about how you envision the future.

I see the world moving more towards technology. At the same time, I think people will also shift back towards their roots in terms of sustainable living. I envision a combination of new technology and an ancient way of living. For example, although we are classed as a biotechnology company, which sounds very futuristic, our process is actually a very natural one. If you were to leave your beer or vinegar outside for a while, this process will naturally occur. So, it’s something that we can all benefit from, and it doesn’t require much technology to accomplish.

That’s very true! There’s still a lot of room for learning, exploration and innovation in some of our oldest and most natural processes. When future generations look back on your story and your journey with MakeGrowLab, what do you want them to take away from it?

To be honest, I don’t really care if future generations remember me or not. I just really believe in this material. So, if people want to remember me, it can be for the product and the technology.

From my perspective, I just really like where I’m from. I love this planet. I love everything about it and all the beautiful things that we’re lucky enough to live alongside. At the end of the day, I’ll just be Josh. A guy from California who liked nature.

There are so many young people out there with great potential and big dreams of starting their own business. What advice would you give your younger self or a young entrepreneur who is just starting out on their journey?

That’s a tough one. To my younger self, I would say, “Hey, Josh. No girlfriends! ;-) ” I would also tell myself to stay in school like my mom told me to.

And I would tell my younger self and any aspiring entrepreneurs out there to take some business courses and financial classes. That’s an important but often overlooked part of education. No matter what you go to school for, one day, you may want to be your own boss. You can either learn the hard way, by just jumping in with your own cash to burn, or you can take some classes and learn it in a safe environment.

So, my advice would be to focus, save your money, and surround yourself with people you want to be like. That’s some advice I wish I had gotten that I would like to pass on to anyone who is starting out today.

‍Great advice! Especially surrounding yourself with people you aspire to be like. Unfortunately, like all good things, our conversation has to come to an end. To wrap it up, we’ve got one last question for you. If there was one lasting message you could share with the world, what would it be?

Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure. My message for anyone reading this is: Be more mindful and conscious of your surroundings, because all of your actions cause a reaction—and even the little things you do today can have a very big impact on the rest of the world.

--------------

A huge thank you to our inspiring guest Josh Brito from MakeGrowLab! If you would like to find out more about Josh and his amazing work at MakeGrowLab, you can find him at: www.makegrowlab.com.  

To stay up to date with all of our latest content and interviews with inspiring entrepreneurs like Josh, subscribe to the Brighter Future newsletter here.