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From Academic to Food Entrepreneur: Pat Brown’s Impossible Journey

Impossible Foods founder Pat Brown believes “you have to bet on your own success.”

Why would a tenured professor in his late 50s leave a job he loved to start a company he never intended to create? Meet Pat Brown, who did just that.

By any measure, Brown is a smart guy. He has three degrees, including an M.D. and a Ph.D in Biochemistry, from the University of Chicago. He’s a world-renowned geneticist whose resume includes stints as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator and a professor of biochemistry at Stanford University’s School of Medicine.

As he neared his 60th birthday, Brown reached a crossroads that’s familiar to many of us who have been in the workforce for a long time. He pondered two questions.

How should he spend the rest of his career?

What could he do to make the world a better place?

The answers came during an 18-month sabbatical from his positions at HHMI and Stanford. Brown concluded that the world’s biggest environmental problem was the use of animals to produce food.

The best way to reduce this problem, he reasoned, was to find a way to make delicious, affordable meat and dairy products directly from plants. That solution meant competing in the marketplace and starting a business, even though he never planned to become an entrepreneur.

Brown left Stanford and, in 2011, launched Impossible Foods. Its first creation was the Impossible Burger, made entirely from plants but with a taste geared toward people who love ground beef. In January 2020, the Redwood City, California-based company added two more products: Impossible Pork and Impossible Sausage.

Today, Brown’s priorities are different than the ones he had earlier in his career.

“If I would have realized how catastrophic the use of animals in the food system was when I was in my 20s, instead of going into biomedical research, I would have gone right to working on this problem,” he told Business Insider.

While Brown’s success may be extraordinary, he follows certain fundamentals that any entrepreneur can apply. He’s honest about his capabilities. He hires well. And he doesn’t place limits on himself.

“You have to bet on your own success,” he says.

You can learn more about Pat Brown and his journey by listening to this NPR interview.

About Lynne Strang

I’m a freelance writer who helps organizations and individuals meet their marketing and communications goals. I am also the author of “Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40.” To learn more, please visit my website:

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