This series highlights ABPDU alumni. We interview different alumni to learn more about their career path and what makes them passionate about their work.
Fre Tachea joined ABPDU in 2013 as one of the facility’s first employees. Now she is the Director of Fermentation at Culture Biosciences, a biotech company in the Bay Area.
How did you become interested in fermentation?
Growing up in Ethiopia, we would make injera, a type of pancake-like bread made with fermentation. So fermentation is kind of in my blood. I’ve always been fascinated with how things are made. That’s why I decided to study chemical engineering. While I was in school, I did a lot of research on ethanol fermentation, and I also did an internship with a brewery. After that, I worked for many years in fermentation and downstream processing of a variety of products — including food, pharmaceutical intermediates, biomaterials, advanced biofuels, and more.
Tell me about your experience at ABPDU.
What interested me about the ABPDU was the diversity of projects. During my time in industry, we were mostly focused on making a single product. But at ABPDU, there was an opportunity to learn a variety of processes and work with many different customers. I also was managing several projects and overseeing different team members in the lab. At the ABPDU, you learn to adapt quickly. One week we might be working on one project, then a new project the next week — even in a single week we might have five or six projects running. While I was at ABPDU, I completed the project management program at UC Berkeley, and that really helped me learn how to manage multiple projects at the same time.
ABPDU was also really exciting in terms of scale up. We were able to scale up so many projects, some of them on the food side, as well as materials, chemicals, biofuels, pharmaceutical intermediates — you name it. Being able to work with companies who were at the time just starting out, but now have grown into big companies, was an amazing experience.
Another aspect of my experience was collaborating with other scientists to do research on biofuels, enzymes and proteins. After publishing our research, we often did follow-up presentations at conferences. This gave us the opportunity to share our findings with the public, and because of that I became an active member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).
How has your experience at ABPDU helped you in your career moving forward?
I was one of the first employees at ABPDU, so I went through the experience of building up a team from scratch. When I first joined, we had only one person working in fermentation. After some time, more and more people joined and our team got stronger. I was then able to develop my own team.
When I joined Culture Biosciences, I had a very similar experience. I was the second employee there and was initially the sole employee in the fermentation team. I drew from my experience at ABPDU in managing projects, collaborating with customers, and running bioreactors. Now, our company has grown and I have my own team. It was definitely a parallel experience.
What are your future career goals?
I’m so passionate about technology and making products through fermentation. My desire is to help these products be more accessible throughout the world. I really want to see the biotechnology industry go to market much faster than what we are seeing currently. I think new companies can do that using these platforms like ABPDU or Culture Biosciences, which make it easier to scale up bioprocesses.
I think biotechnology is the future of making food or any other pharmaceutical intermediates, fuels, chemicals or materials. You can see the market size — there is a lot of demand for food. For me, biomanufacturing is the way to address the current food and resource challenge. That’s why I’m still fascinated with what I’m doing. I want to help startup companies who are making these new technologies go to market much faster.