Nov 04, 2015

Sobotka Stories: Poda Foods

The Sobotka Seed Stage Stories will introduce you to former winners of the grants who share their experience and perspective. The Yale Center for Business and the Environment aspires to build a robust entrepreneurial community around sustainability and is proud of its alumni. 


We recently met with the founders of Poda Foods, Yesenia Gallardo (F&ES’15) and Kenny Cloft (F&ES’15). They are proud winners of 2014 Sobotka Seed Stage Grant and the 2015 Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize.

Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, Poda Foods raises and processes crickets for protein powder. Poda sells their cricket powder to food entrepreneurs making a variety of items, including protein bars, cookies and chips. Passionate about sustainable food and the role of edible insects in creating a low-carbon-footprint protein, Yesenia and Kenny launched their cricket farm in the summer of 2015. They expect their first production run in early 2016.

The inspiration for Poda Foods came from Yesenia’s mother who is from Oaxaca, Mexico. As a child, Yesenia grew up eating chapulines, a type of grasshopper with a delicious salty, nutty flavor that is eaten in the region. After her first year at Yale, Yesenia thought perhaps insects might be something that could catch on in the US. She put together a team and incubated the business in the Entrepreneurial Business Planning class taught by Maureen Burke and Dave Cromwell at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Sobotka Seed Stage grant gave Yesenia and Kenny the confidence to keep going and motivated them to then apply for the Sabin Prize. With the funds, they were also able to conduct research and development, including building a farm prototype and running a feed trial. They were also able to visit a competitor farm and learn more about the rearing process of crickets.

Poda faced several initial challenges, one of them being the decision and team preparedness to fully commit to starting the venture. Did they really want to give up the comfort of a salary, 401k and health benefits to start this thing? Yesenia and Kenny did. They moved to Portland 2 weeks after graduation to launch Poda. Once in Portland, they had a host of other challenges including a lack commercial real estate problems as well as some questions about the incorporation process, for which they got legal support through a local business clinic.

As piece of advice for the long journey ahead, Yesenia says: “Keep your day job and work in the evenings. But be ready to give it up when you need to.” She adds: “Being an entrepreneur at Yale was a great way to get experience and support.”

Note: At the time of the Sobotka Seed Stage Grant application and award, the team of Poda Foods consisted of 3 additional team members: Nicholas McClure (F&ES’ 16), Latha Swamy (F&ES’16), Osama Zayyad (MD’17).

Follow our website for more Sobotka Seed Stage Venture Grant stories.