Rachel Meyer, a postdoctoral fellow and co-founder of Shoots & Roots Bitters, scanned the crowd that packed the Leslie eLab on a Wednesday evening in April.
“I’m excited to have some guinea pigs to test on today!” she announced to an eager and thirsty audience.
Rachel investigates salt tolerance in African rice plants at NYU and simultaneously runs her company Shoots & Roots Bitters. The company produces and sells a variety of bitters that try to capture the essence of different regions and cultures across the world. On this evening, her goal was to educate the audience about the importance of biodiversity and share her experience of starting a company, all with the help of some creative cocktails.
Shoots & Roots grew out of this desire to educate the public about the beauty and complexity of the world around them. “People don’t pay attention to the environment because they’re staring at their phones,” Rachel said. The next question you may ask yourself is; why not make an app to teach people about botany? “It’s simple” said Rachel, “an app wouldn’t work because learning needs to be more experiential.”
Rachel realized she needed something which is both accessible and experiential “I realized a lot of the time when people have their phone in one hand, they have a cocktail in the other.” Drink ingredients became a way to get people interested in learning more about the various plants, herbs, and roots in their cup. “Everything around us that’s edible has a fate we can watch progress.”
This could explain why the talk kicked off with a cocktail made from root extract of Rhodiola rosea, which has anti-anxiety and energy-boosting properties.
As the audience sipped their beverages, Rachel talked about the work that her company does. Rachel and her two partners each put in about ten hours a week, putting together workshops, designing and selling bitters, or consulting.
Those who attended the talk got a taste of the workshops that Shoots & Roots puts on. Rachel highlighted the importance of understanding the plant life around us, noting that thousands of new plant species are identified each year. Some of these plants could change the way we treat certain diseases, as Taxol (originally isolated from Taxus brevifolia tree bark) did with cancer. “Botanical science includes the world. We get medicine, clothes, and building materials from plants.”
Rachel also rebelled against the notion that botany is not real science and does not deserve to be taken seriously. “It’s pretty hardcore,” she declared, noting the challenges that botanists face in the field, whether traversing uncharted territory or evading the local military.
Rachel mixed another round of cocktails, this one containing Rosaceae family members (including roasted black cherry pits, almond syrup, and rose petals), as she turned her focus to the production and sales portion of her business. She highlighted the importance of understanding the ingredients and knowing how to treat them. “How you process a plant can be the difference between life and death,” she warned. “Always know your plant origin, and do background research!”
The audience also had an opportunity to taste some of the company’s bitters, including their Black Bear’s Bitters. This recipe features the medicinal osha root, which was used by many Native Americans, who discovered the root after watching black bears fight over it. The osha root contains oxytocin, a hormone which aids in human bonding, “so we’re all going to be friends forever,” Rachel announced.
As the evening came to a close, the audience left with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the efforts taken in building a company and improving our understanding of the plant life around us.
Lesson Learned from Meet and Entrepreneur installation of the BioVenture Speaker Series:
(1) Rachel’s passion to educate science led her to launch a business model that not only provides a service or product but also educates their consumer. Shoots & Roots
(2) Rachel shared with us that commitment to the venture is essential for a launch: Rachel taught everyone that all of this is possible while working as a student or postdoc. You just need the motivation and passion to commit yourself.
(This event was co-hosted between the Scientific Entrepreneurs Society and the NYU BioVenture Speaker Series.)