When Isha Datar was a student pursuing a Bachelor of Science in cell and molecular biology at the University of Alberta in 2009, she developed a fascination for the emerging field of cellular agriculture.
“I thought the idea had so much potential and was so unexplored,” Datar says. When she came across New Harvest, one of the only non-profits exploring the concept of creating animal-like products without animals, she immediately started to keep tabs on its progress. “I was so glad to see New Harvest existed, and I just wanted to be part of it.” In 2013 she noticed the organization was looking for an executive director. She applied without any non-profit experience but a lot of passion, and got the job.
In 2014, Datar co-founded Perfect Day and Clara Foods, companies dedicated to creating animal-free dairy products and egg protein. When she left, she donated her stocks to New Harvest. “I really believe growing food from cells is an ecosystem effort that is so much bigger than any one company,” Datar says.
“I figured if these companies ever raised any money, we would be able to build an endowment and build up the field, welcome new players into it and focus on emerging research and academic and public infrastructure.”
Perfect Day and Clara Foods have since raised hundreds of millions of dollars, and Datar has no regrets about supporting New Harvest with her stocks on top of her role as the executive director. “I’m proud of how much that endowment has grown,” Datar says. “I think New Harvest has really elevated the field of cellular agriculture. Growing food from cells is a next step for humanity and I feel so motivated to be part of what is potentially a big technological and historical shift.”
Datar is also investing in her hometown. After a five-year stint in New York City, Datar and her family happily moved back to Edmonton in March 2020. “I’ve been looking for an excuse to move back for a long time, and there really is nowhere else I’d rather go,” Datar says. “There’s something about the river valley that I feel really shaped me. I spent so much time in there at a young age and it’s such a great place to foster an exploratory spirit in your daily life.”
This article appears in the Winter 2022 issue of Edify