Isha Ukani grew up in Simi Valley, California, a first-generation American in a family originally from Gujarat, India. Descended from a long line of farmers, her father taught her about the plant world as he worked in the family garden. By the time she got to high school, Ukani was passionate about science, particularly botany, which led to an interest in molecular biology and biotechnology. Now, that early exposure to nature is already shaping her career.
The fourth-year MCB biochemistry major is currently taking an academic pause of one or two semesters to found a new plant-based food company, Hardly Foods, with fifth-year data science major James Wang. The pair is working to incorporate the start-up as well as close a deal for a six-month accelerator program with Nestlé that will enable them to prototype their first project, a plant-based egg—both hard-boiled and soft-boiled.
“Current egg alternatives are limited to scrambled-egg powders and liquid mixtures, which lack versatility, taste, and nutritional value,” she says. “We’ve mastered the exact appearance, texture, and nutritional value of the egg, and are now working on the taste.” As part of the program, Ukani and Wang will work with food scientists, chefs, packaging experts, and a dedicated R&D team to test the product and eventually develop in-house technologies.