Eric Jenkusky Of Matrix Meats: “You’re only on the train once, you can’t miss your stops.”

You’re only on the train once, you can’t miss your stops.” We only get one go-round in this life. We’re on a life journey in which death is the ultimate destination, but there are many opportunities in the stops along the way. Sometimes the stops are disruptive but if you’re mindful and, in the moment, […]

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You’re only on the train once, you can’t miss your stops.” We only get one go-round in this life. We’re on a life journey in which death is the ultimate destination, but there are many opportunities in the stops along the way. Sometimes the stops are disruptive but if you’re mindful and, in the moment, they can also be blessings that remind us we’re alive.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Jenkusky,

Eric is CEO of Matrix Meats. Matrix Meats, based in Columbus, Ohio, is a designer and manufacturer of nano-fiber scaffolds to enable the production of clean, healthy, and environmentally friendly cultured meat to ethically feed the world.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

The Matrix Meats phase of my career only began 18 months ago. I wouldn’t say it was any sort of master plan that got me here, it was just taking one step at a time and following where that took me.

In short, my journey first started with the Army Reserve after high school. Simultaneously, I went to college and then went to work for a defense contractor.

I then spent almost 30 years working in 42 countries around the globe for everything from multi-national publicly traded companies to start-ups. The range of my experiences includes project manager at a food processing equipment manufacturer to volunteering to provide Spanish medical interpretation for The Ohio State College of Nursing Medical Mission in Choluteca, Honduras to on set consulting services for Paramount Pictures’ filming of season two of Amazon Prime’s “Jack Ryan” series.

Over the years, before starting my own serial entrepreneur journey, I helped others start and build their businesses by consulting on business plans and building out ideas, etc. One example was my work with one entrepreneur who had an idea for a squirrel-proof bird feeder company. After consulting with him, I developed his business plan and eventually, he sold his company to Perky Pets for a significant amount of money.

Throughout my career, and through helping others build and scale their companies, I constantly had to be creative and relentless in order to identify the source of a problem and create an effective solution. In 2015, I decided to take this mindset to embark on an entrepreneurial journey of my own.

This first led to me co-founding TJ Clark International, LLC, a manufacturer of aviation fueling equipment and services, and I guided it from inception to multi-million-dollar sales. The company was named in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Todd J. Clark who was killed in action in Afghanistan while supporting a mission to train Afghan National Police. I still own that company, which is currently operated by my son.

My next business venture was the launch of Mercado Militar in Colombia in 2017, which is a Spanish language digital news platform covering the people, companies, associations, and government entities focused on the defense and security sectors.

Overall, I spent 28 years in the defense industry after which I was hired to do some consulting for Ikove Startup Nursery. That’s where I first came across Matrix Meats and after doing some research, seeing what a massive societal problem cultivated meat would solve and discovering how welcoming and passionate the people in this space were, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I can’t think of many things more disruptive than growing real meat for human consumption without the massive use of natural resources needed to raise and slaughter animals. By 2050 there will be a need to feed almost 10 billion people worldwide.

Cultivated meat will create a more equitable solution for the world and countries that don’t have environments for raising livestock and have always faced hunger issues will be able to grow their own meat for the first time by only needing a facility.

My time working in the defense industry showed that you need to be creative and relentless in finding solutions. It taught me to think not just outside the box, but way outside the box. It’s that way outside the box thinking that has been fueling Matrix Meats.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When the CTO from Ikove Startup Nursery, Dr. Robert Lee, asked me to take a look at the cultivated meat space, my first reaction, like many people, was, “You want to do what?” That was probably more of an epiphany than a mistake.

I think with Matrix Meats my biggest mistake was underestimating the interest and excitement that cultivated meat would get from social impact funds. It turns out we could have easily raised two or even three times the capital that we drew in the seed stage of our development.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

There was a retired Army Special Forces colonel named Lionel “Lee” Hector that I became friends with in the 1990s who always had wise counsel to share.

He told me it’s better to be the kingmaker than the king. Kings come and go, but the kingmaker is the institution.

Lee has several Masters degrees and is an attorney. He’s always been able to help me break down and analyze complex problems.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disruption isn’t innately either positive or negative. In fact, it’s usually both. The mobile phone is a great example. The initial positive was that you could reach anyone at any time wherever they happened to be. The downside was that you could get a phone call at any time of day no matter where you were or what you were doing. Convenience and annoyance, two sides of the same coin.

And mobile phones led to mobile apps that make it easier to bank, shop and get directions. It also led to social media that both brings people together and tears them apart. Social media lets us stay in touch with our kids and old friends, but it’s also been the source of disinformation campaigns.

In the case of Matrix Meats, we’re disrupting by adapting technology from regenerative medicine. Rather than cultivating human cells for biomedical purposes, we’re cultivating animal cells to be seeded on our scaffolding to grow meat.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. “It’s better to be the kingmaker than the king,” which I discussed earlier.
  2. “You’re only on the train once, you can’t miss your stops.” We only get one go-round in this life. We’re on a life journey in which death is the ultimate destination, but there are many opportunities in the stops along the way. Sometimes the stops are disruptive but if you’re mindful and, in the moment, they can also be blessings that remind us we’re alive.
  3. “The only thing you really get to do is to build memories.” People won’t remember that you helped them make money, all they’ll remember is how you made them feel. In the end, it’s positive memories that people will reflect upon when you pass.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I’m always thinking about what comes next. My next business will be involved with travel and aims to solve a problem that millions face every year.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

“Good to Great” is a book that has really helped me. The analogy that Jim Collins used about the bus — that it’s not enough to get the right people on the bus, you have to get the right people in thew right seats on the bus — really resonated with me. It’s important to find the right positions for people because, and I know this is a cliché, if you wake up and do what you love every morning, then you never work a day in your life. Our society overemphasizes materialism and money and as a capitalist I understand that. But our founding principles also include the pursuit of happiness and part of being happy is doing something you love every day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Don’t try to predict the future, go and create it.” The world is so complicated and there are so many variables that predicting the future is near impossible. Who would have said even three years ago that there would be a worldwide pandemic that would shut down the global economy. Rather than trying to predict the future, I try and adapt to conditions as they change. That’s what evolution is all about. Those who can adapt quickly will thrive.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think that’s exactly what we’re doing with Matrix. If cultivated meat can be grown in a factory, that means we don’t have to cut down rainforests so cattle can graze, we won’t need vast amounts of water to feed that livestock, we won’t have to use fossil fuel to ship food overseas because it can be created anywhere, and we won’t have to kill any animals in the process.

Beyond that I’d love to help start a movement based on honesty and self-reflection. I’ve met too many people in my life who are not honest with themselves about their talents and weaknesses, which in turn leads to bad decisions which have negative consequences. I think if more people were just honest with themselves the world would be a much better place.

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