Learning About Entrepreneurship from Corporation to Startup
Cofounder and CEO of Norwegian Mycelium (NoMy)
Ingrid Dynna's venture at biotech Norwegian Mycelium (NoMy) was her first time founding a company, but entrepreneurship wasn't exactly new to her. "At Google, I had the pleasure and privilege to be a so-called intrapreneur," she says. At first, the jump from her 15-year career at Google and YouTube (where she worked in marketing, sales, strategy and business development) to full-time entrepreneurship might sound surprising. With a master's degree in European Business from EDHEC Business School, she's passionate about how technology can help improve people's lives, making societies more efficient and sustainable, and showing that the gap between corporations and startups is narrower than expected.
Ingrid began her career at Google in 2004, working as a team lead in online sales and operations. "I started when the company was very young. Google just had its twenty-fifth anniversary, and I realized I was there from almost the beginning. I got to start a lot of initiatives, build teams, build partnerships, build business plans and do sales and kind of everything that goes with getting a product to market." These experiences helped her with the startup transition as well. Her career at Google brought her from Dublin to London and then to California, where she worked as the right hand to the global chief business officer. After returning to Norway, she served as the head of YouTube and Google Display. "I knew that my next gig after Google had to be climate technology. I've always been extremely interested in how technology can help solve big societal problems. And with Google, we did much of that, but on the digital tech front," she says. However, the transition to a climate tech startup wasn't planned.
"I never planned to start my own business, but I was quickly convinced." During the Antler Accelerator program in August 2020, she was introduced to David Andrew, a microbiologist with a long-standing engagement in sustainability and high-impact research production. "He had a big vision of how we can use the potential of fungi and fungal fermentation technologies to develop future regenerative solutions. I was quickly convinced. This was something I wanted to be part of.” David had served in various capacities to the Norwegian and European Environment Agencies. He was the Norwegian representative in scientific committees under the United Nations and was looking for a commercial cofounder. "There are so many scientists out there working on amazing solutions in their labs, but these don't always make it to market," she says. David sought a cofounder who understood that transition, the storytelling bridge between lab and market. It felt right, so I took the leap," she says. Since then, entrepreneurship has been a fantastic experience. "Challenging, but amazing."
Offering a mix of food and agrotech solutions, NoMy is currently in the early stages of developing a range of versatile food ingredients. The startup also offers a sustainable, cost-competitive alternative to fish feed, meeting the rising demand for seafood while decreasing emissions and other environmental impacts of feed ingredients in aquaculture. NoMy’s feeds have a climate footprint as little as one-sixth that of commoditized soy protein, reducing the aquaculture industry’s dependence on imported raw materials and providing a new source of stable, high-volume and quality feed ingredients. Its vision is to make the food system more circular, using bioresources to develop future foods that are healthy, sustainable and scalable. "That's the core of what we want to achieve on a practical level," Ingrid says, adding that she wants to see NoMy not only in Norway but internationally as well. "The whole world needs healthy, sustainable food for the future. That's a huge problem we're facing right now, and we need more solutions for that. A solution that impacts more than one country, that could feed millions in a more sustainable way. That's our ambition."
Additionally, the startup wants to remain inspired by its biological collaborator: filamentous fungus. NoMy is also interested in external collaborations. For example, it has collaborated with Vesterålen Havbruk, one of the most innovative companies in aquaculture today, to create an alternative protein feedstock for fish farms, and with Snøhetta, an architecture company, to create a 100% biodegradable and low-carbon soundproofing material that is grown instead of manufactured. In 2022, the Nobel Prize Museum approached NoMy about integrating biomaterials into the upcoming exhibition "Life Eternal." The result was a set of large-format acoustic panels that the museum used to construct transitional zones between exhibits, allowing visitors to “reset” their senses as they moved about the museum. "I wasn't familiar with mycelium technology," she says. "Personally, I needed to understand what it was about to be able to translate it into a story, which is not always easy when the subject is technical or scientific. Customers don't really know about it either, so how do you communicate that story in a clear and understandable way?"
Storytelling was a challenge where they have put in a lot of effort. Another big challenge was learning how to ask for help. "As a first-time founder, I have an overwhelming amount of tasks to get my head around. Everything from legal to financial, hiring to business, investors to partnerships. In the beginning, you have to wear all the hats," she says. "Delegate where you can. Sometimes, it's worth paying someone to help you, someone who will do things right. You might spend a tremendous amount of time on a task that would take someone else ten minutes because they specialize in that. I definitely spent a lot of time trying to master everything myself. I should have delegated more tasks earlier."
With 11 full-time employees from ten different nationalities, NoMy is currently focused on building a good company culture. "How do you continue to have good culture and integrate new employees so they can help you build the company together? That's something we're working hard on. Of course, the bigger you get, the more capital you need. Especially when you're pre-revenue." Having enough capital is always a challenge for startups. "There's also a lot to think about in terms of the legal and accounting sides, ensuring that our paperwork is in order. That's extremely important for me. Making things very clean and organized also gets more challenging as we grow because there are more and more things we have to think about.”
Being a founder is so rewarding. You learn so much about yourself and you get challenged every day. You develop as a person and as a professional.
Ingrid's learnings have come not only from her entrepreneurial journey but also from her long time at Google, especially when protecting her boundaries and her work-life balance. "I've always been quite good at turning off work; that's a skill you can learn too. I had a global role at Google; it could have been a 24/7 job if I wanted it to be." However, she was determined to enjoy her days off and switch off completely. "My weekends were usually free, and the team respected that because that made me a much better employee and person. Turning off is extremely important. Of course, it's hard, especially when you are in a very stressful situation like fundraising, for example. As a mother, I'm forced to have a work-life balance because I have a second shift when I come home. You need to balance that out. Otherwise, it's unfair to the company and your family."
In fact, Ingrid thinks that the myth that founders need to work 20 hours a day to be successful might actually scare lots of skilled, competent entrepreneurs from starting a company. "Of course, you need to work hard, but it's a misconception that you won't be able to have a life. It's a dangerous thing to say! Work hard, but take care of yourself.”.
Luckily, the Oslo ecosystem supports early-stage founders, which can help reduce the anxiety around building a business from scratch. "We've had the pleasure of working with Startuplab, for example. They have a great team to help founders, introducing them to a helpful network. That's the kickstart you need to get soft funding to continue rolling and access to other types of investors as your company grows. Oslo has been amazing in that sense." Ingrid has lived in six different countries, and although her past international corporate experience is hard to compare to the local startup ecosystem, she still thinks Norway has come a long way in supporting its founders. "In the early stages, we're well equipped. But I see we're reaching a gap where you're growing as a company, scaling up, and it's becoming more challenging, especially on the capital market. Moving back home was a bit of a shock as the city has a slower pace, but I absolutely loved it. I think it was a good change."
Having worked in markets like London, UK, and Silicon Valley in the US, being back in Oslo made her feel the significant change of pace. "Oslo is a fairly big city, but it's still very calm and cozy," she says. "It's a great city to start a business. We have a great incentive system, we have the innovation and research council supporting startups. I've been moving around since I was seventeen, and people frequently ask me when I'm moving out again. I have no plans to move anywhere. I'm very happy here."
[Flash Q & A]
What are your favorite podcasts?
In Good Company with Nicolai Tangen and The Big Idea Podcast: Food.
What's your most used app?
LinkedIn and Google Maps.
What do you do every day to get ready to work?
I try not to log on to my phone for the first 30 minutes to have some kind of “me time.”
Best place for a business lunch?
We have a lot of company meals at Hrimnir Ramen, co-owned by NoMy's cofounder David Andrew.
Do you have a favorite museum?
The one I've been visiting the most is the National Museum.
What's one thing everyone needs to get when arriving in Oslo?
Good walking shoes. It's a very walkable city.
Is there anything you've always wanted to do in Oslo but haven't done yet?
I've never tried the sauna plus cold-water plunge. I'm a bit of a chicken when it comes to cold water, but I hear it's incredible.