Q. How would you define Empire Medicinals as a company in one phrase or a sentence?

 

A. Empire Medicinals is a Rochester based biotech company converting underutilized agricultural byproducts into premium quality ingredients for Food, Nutraceutical, and Herbal Medicine companies serving a Global marketplace.

Q. What are your initial product offerings?

 

A. Our entry into a market product is Empire LINGZHI™; a contaminate free, USDA Organically certified supply of Ganoderma Lucidum destined for export to China. Ganoderma Lucidum (known as Lingzhi in China and Reishi in Japan) is one of the most researched and revered species of medicinal mushrooms used in traditional herbal medicine among East Asian countries, and increasingly studied and accepted by Western science for its medicinal properties.

Q. When and how did your journey begin? What is your story so far?

 

A. Empire Medicinals was founded in the spring of 2015 as a spinoff of our previous company. Chris, Dr. Xinmin, and I saw an opportunity to utilize filamentous fungi to convert various agricultural waste streams abundant in Upstate into high-quality mushrooms, and fungal compounds. Since then we have built out a pilot factory, refined our technology, engaged in extensive business development (we’re within striking distance of our first large PO), and won the 2017 Rochester Venture Challenge.

EMPIRE MEDICINALS

 A Scientific Approach to Holistic Medicine

To George Zheng, the conflict between healing traditions of the East, and Western medical science always seemed a misnomer. Chinese-American, and son of a physician, Zheng saw an opportunity to marry the time-tested healing herbs of his ancestors, with the scientific methods of the West.


We sat down with Zheng to discuss how his company - Empire Medicinals - is bringing a variety of mushroom products to the New York food and health industry.

Q. What are some of the hurdles the company faced and overcame to reach where it stands right now? 

 

A. Product-market fit, people and capital. It took two and a half years of zigzagging to arrive at a strong go to market strategy; there was quite a bit of iteration involved. We had to learn the importance of “hire slowly, fire quickly,” the hard way. Being based in Upstate, NY has provided difficulties with access to capital; it took quite a bit of networking throughout the state to get to where we are with our current financing round.

EMPIRE MEDICINALS

A Scientific Approach to Holistic Medicine

Q. What stage of funding is the company in? Are you looking for more?

 

A. Late seed. Yes, we anticipate starting our Series A round next year.

Q. What value would your products bring to the NYC market? Who do you plan to target as a consumer here?

 

A. Our business model is B2B: supply remarkable functional ingredients to companies looking to deliver remarkable good for you food, supplements, and medicine to their customers. 

 

There is a mushroom-based product we’re working on for the culinary space, particularly for the east coast market at launch.

Q. How do you plan to expand this company and what are the goals you intend to achieve over the next five years? How confident are you about what you envision? 

 

A. The plan is to develop a set of core competencies and a culture that excels at manufacturing biologically derived chemistry for a broader range of customers, and applications meant for human or animal consumption. We’re quite confident in our current business plan, but not arrogant enough to believe further evolution isn’t awaiting us. We envision a future where the Finger Lakes and Western, New York are known as the Napa Valley of various functional foods, and medicinal natural products.

Q. What is your personal favorite mushroom? As the CEO of a mushroom-based company, we would love insider tips when it comes to fungi.

 

A. That is like asking a parent to pick their favorite child! If I had to choose, I would go with matsutake, a mycorrhizal mushroom with this amazing aromatic odor, but they’re hard to come by so I settle for cooking with maitake and oysters. The range of complex polysaccharides in mushroom cell walls are great for gut health, so get more of them in your diet. If you eat enough of properly prepared maitake and/or oysters on a daily basis you would see an improvement of serum lipid levels, and a bolstering of one’s immune function (especially if you cook them with aromatics like garlic, onion and ginger).

 

Q. When and how did your journey begin? What is your story so far?

 

Empire Medicinals was founded in the spring of 2015 as a spinoff of our previous company. Chris, Dr. Xinmin, and I saw an opportunity to utilize filamentous fungi to convert various agricultural waste streams abundant in Upstate into high-quality mushrooms, and fungal compounds. Since then we have built out a pilot factory, refined our technology, engaged in extensive business development (we’re within striking distance of our first large PO), and won the 2017 Rochester Venture Challenge.

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Empire Medicinals:

 A Scientific Approach to Holistic Medicine

To George Zheng, the conflict between healing traditions of the East, and Western medical science always seemed a misnomer. Chinese-American, and son of a physician, Zheng saw an opportunity to marry the time-tested healing herbs of his ancestors, with the scientific methods of the West.

We sat down with Zheng to discuss how his company - Empire Medicinals - is bringing a variety of mushroom products to the New York food and health industry.