Deciphering mechanisms to improve fruit and vegetables flavor, nutritional value and shelf-life capacity
This interview was conducted in spring 2017, when Marcarena Farcuh was a Keller Pathway Fellow.
Macarena Farcuh earned both her B.S. and her M.S. in agricultural sciences at the University of Chile, Santiago. She has several years of experience working with industry and as a research associate facilitating the collaboration between academia and industry partners. She is now a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Horticulture and Agronomy Graduate Group, Plant Sciences at UC Davis.
In a nutshell, describe your project or venture.
My research interests are focused on the improvement of overall quality of fresh fruits and vegetables before and after harvest. Throughout my Ph.D. project I have been working on deciphering key mechanisms that underlie fruit metabolism. Understanding these has helped us identify central elements that determine different aspects of overall fruit quality, including flavor, nutritional value and shelf-life capacity. These elements have direct applications in the business world, such as their use as active ingredients of biostimulants or similar products, or to develop new cultivars.
What’s important about your research or project—and where do you hope to take it?
In a world with limited natural resources, decreasing fruit and vegetable losses and enhancing their nutritional value and overall quality characteristics must be a research priority. I aim to develop the capacity to combine my lab research results into translatable business opportunities that can have an impact on the welfare of humanity.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
I’m most passionate about the huge possibility that I have, throughout my work, to improve quality of life on a large scale. Reducing fruit and vegetable losses through improved shelf-life capacity has a significant potential to increase the efficiency of the global production chain, and is a crucial means to close the predicted gap between food consumption and supply.
Additionally, improving fruit flavor and nutritional value may have a remarkable contribution to human health, as people would be more attracted to consuming healthy food that provides them with a pleasant, fresh and safe eating experience.
What was the most important thing you learned at the Entrepreneurship Academy?
The academy was an amazing experience. The most important thing I learned was about the importance of building a network as a main tool for success. Different people have different skill sets, like pieces of a puzzle; the key is to be able to identify the right people and bring them together to complete the puzzle.
Furthermore, I was able to grasp that more important than the idea, is to validate your market: really understanding the needs of your customer will make your venture rise, reducing your uncertainties. It’s like science: you have assumptions, but in this case you test them by getting feedback from your potential customers.
What is the most unexpected advice you received from a mentor?
That the best way to get the attention of my audience and communicate my idea is to bring it to a personal level, making people identify themselves with the problem that my product is solving, based on their own experiences. You must be concise and capable of making this connection with your audience.
How has participation in the Big Bang! workshops and business competition helped you as an aspiring entrepreneur?
The Big Bang! has helped me enormously. I have been able to put into practice in the competition all that I’ve learned in the workshops. It also provided networking opportunities that allowed me to assemble an amazing team for developing my idea in the competition. I can even dare to say that a kind of supportive community has developed among the Big Bang! participants, getting feedback and learning from each other in different areas. This has been such an enriching experience from every angle.
The Keller Pathway Fellowship Program specifically supports women, cross-disciplinary researchers and other underrepresented university-based entrepreneurs. Do you have any insight, experience or concern you’d like to share?
As a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate at the Horticulture and Agronomy Graduate Group, I always thought, on one hand, that I didn’t count with the right tools or skill sets to participate in initiatives such as the Big Bang! But, on the other hand, I really believed that I had great ideas that I wanted to move out of the lab and into the business world. I decided to take the chance and apply to the Keller program, as I felt very identified with its mission.
Now that I have been through the program, I would encourage anyone who has similar feelings as I did to move forward and take the risk. The Keller Pathway Fellowship program has helped me exploit my entrepreneur spirit, gain a glimpse of the tools and required business training, expand my connections, network and obtain guidance to achieve my goals.
How will your experiences as a Keller Pathway Fellow help you to change the world?
I really enjoy research and academia, and constant learning is part of my nature. But I’m always trying to focus on science as a tool to solve problems that have applications that are tangible and innovative, allowing me to transfer them from the lab into the real world—and ideally through an entrepreneurship approach. My experiences as a Keller Pathway Fellow have helped me to enhance all the mentioned above, filling me with enthusiasm to continue on this endless road of researching, learning, developing, applying and consequently solving problems that can help change the world!