According to an article on, dog owners are also spending between $1,390 to $4,095 a year on nonessential items.

This includes everything from the usual collars and heartworm medicine to personal trainers and pet insurance. It seems that in 2023, dog owners are really going all out

Pair that with the rise of plant-based foods and that is where Mahsa Vazin and the team at PawCo Foods come in. 

I sat down with the CEO of PawCo Foods, Mahsa Vazin, Ph.D. to dive into why the Midwest is the perfect breeding ground for D2C companies. 

She was an early scientist at Impossible Foods and is now building a company in a similar space

Pawco Foods is a direct-to-consumer subscription brand for pet food made from plant-based meat. 

Pawco Foods was part of the IN-Prize pitch competition and was the winner for the Ag & Food category. 

Get IN. is the show focused on the unfolding stories and most extraordinary innovations happening in the heartland today. Get IN. is brought to you by Powderkeg and Elevate Ventures.

In our conversation with Mahsa, you will learn about:

  • Keys differences between The Bay Area and Indiana
  • Benefits of growing a D2C brand in the Midwest. 
  • Why attending conferences like Rally can be a game changer for companies. 

This conversation took place at Rally, the Largest Global Cross-Sector Innovation Conference. Rally forges and celebrates cross-sector connections between companies, entrepreneurs, investors and universities from across the globe and features a $5M cash IN-Prize pitch competition, 1:1 investor meetups, a demo arena, content sessions and more. 

Rally 2024 will take place from August 27-29, 2024 in downtown Indianapolis. Register now for early bird prices >> 

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Episode Transcript

Nate: From the crossroads of America in the Hoosier state of Indiana, this is Get IN. The podcast focused on the unfolding stories and extraordinary innovations happening in the heartland today. I’m Nate Spangle, head of community at Powderkeg, and I will be your host for today’s conversation.

Today we have a live recording from Rally, the largest global cross sector innovation conference that was held right here in Indianapolis. On the show today is Mahsa Vazin, founder and CEO of PawCo Foods.

Mahsa Vazin is the founder and CEO of PawCo Foods a company that makes fresh pet food made from plants and delivers it directly to your door.

PawCo was selected as the winner of the end prize pitch competition for Ag and Food. This interview was recorded before Mahsa knew she had won and she had some amazing insights on the Hoosier State. Please enjoy this live episode of Get IN from Rally.

Masha: My name is Mahsa Vazin. I’m the founder and CEO of PawCo, and it’s the very first and only fresh plant-based meat. So, we optimize basically this plant-based meat, which is something similar to Impossible Food, Impossible meat, but specifically for dogs.

Nate: Amazing. I love that.

And where are you guys based out of?

Masha: We are based in San Francisco. Hopefully, soon we can actually expand to Midwest. And we are very excited because this was an like an eye opening opportunity for us to come here and see like how much opportunity actually exists here in Midwest, specifically in Indiana, being located in the center of U. S.

We have 75 percent of the population of U. S. actually in a 24 hours drive from Indiana. That will help us to get our product like much easier, sooner, cheaper shipping cost to our customer.

Nate: Yeah. The crossroads of America, some like to refer to it as. So tell me, is it like impossible, but pet food?

Masha: Yeah basically if I tell you my story, it’s a very interesting story. You won’t believe it but I came from Like a stage of being scared of dogs and adopting my first dog. His name is actually Paco, but it’s P A C O. The name of the company came from Paco.

And as a scientist, actually I’ve searched for healthy and eco-friendly product. Now that he’s actually more than a dog to me, everything has changed. And it’s he’s more like my little boy, my beloved like son, I would say, and I care about his health. He’s like basically like he’s cared a lot.

And as a scientist, I’ve searched for a very healthy and nutritious, tasty food. And there’s like this gap in the pet food even though there’s a huge market in pet industry. But I don’t know maybe there’s like a huge opportunity for us to explore more. And as a scientist I’ve did some the search and there are no healthy options out there.

So it’s either a key ball that are made with a very low quality ingredient. It’s very surprising to know that like the key balls are made with the lowest quality meat, like dead animal bodies, like something that as a pet owner, like these days lots of pet owners, like they, they do their research and they are aware of that.

Nate: Oh yeah. Pet owners have definitely stepped up their game of quality of life, different things, food, toys, the whole nine yards. How long have you guys been working on solving this problem?

Masha: I came from a strong background. I was one of the early scientists at Impossible Food, and I actually helped them to also make the first generation of Impossible Burger.

So I came from that strong background and that actually helped me to like Basically build this product. We are working with a team of animal nutritionist to make sure that we are actually not just considering the taste and like the appearance of the product, but also all the nutrition in our product.

But we did launch our first product last year after one year that we found that the company and now after two years, we are about we just. Past 500K in ARR, we have our first 300 subscribers. Our product is actually subscription.

Nate: Subscription based direct to consumer? Yes. Nice. Okay, that’s super fun.

So this isn’t a product that people go out and buy at XYZ, whatever the dog or pet supplies plus or whatever. It’s a direct-to-consumer ship to your door. Amazing. That makes sense why the Midwest could be a good hub. How did you find out about Rally?

Masha: So, Rally was a great thing that happened for us.

And we were actually introduced to Rally from like a connection that they were connected to Elevate Ventures that are, I think they are one of the sponsors of this event. But I’m so glad that we found them. Actually, it was a great opportunity. To present PawCo, but also connected to all these amazing people in like Midwest in, in Indiana.

One of our main ingredients is actually soy and Indiana is the second exporter of soy in us. So that’s amazing. You’re teaching me something I didn’t know,

Nate: I love that. Yeah. Okay. So outside of the pitch competition, tell me how the conference has been going for you. What have been some of the highlights outside of pitching?

Masha: I think it’s amazing to get connected to all these people coming from different backgrounds. Like both the investors and like those people who are connected to amazing universities that we have in Midwest. Purdue is one of those that they have an amazing agriculture program and other like startups. It’s also great as a founder to get connected to those and also share your experiences. We all have a different stories. We all started from somewhere and went through different stage different stages. Like We have like different challenges.

So, I think it would be great to also share those with each other. And I felt like I was very lucky. I was in a great sector, like the food and Ag, and I met amazing people that also went through these steps. And I’m very happy to be here.

Nate: I love that. Okay. It was just your first time in Indiana.

Masha: It is. It is. And I’m fascinated with like how friendly social people are. We, we are in San Francisco Bay area. And like when you are like walking and you’re working, everything is just it’s at the fastest pace. Like you don’t like me to say hi to people here. I was like, okay, I can actually communicate with you.

Talk with people and I was like so fascinated with like how friendly and social people here are and thank you, Indiana. Thank you, Raleigh, for having us. I’m so happy to be here.

Nate: There’s a name for that. They call that Hoosier Hospitality. Oh, amazing. So this is your first time in Indiana. It is. We do a rapid fire for the podcast.

What was… First impression of Indiana. You’re playing lands. What do you think?

Masha: I think it’s a land of opportunity. It’s like I could see, at least for us, for PawCo Foods we are somewhere that we have a great opportunity to get connected to more people and also use all of this amazing land to get all their soils, all their plants.

For trains and everything and take it for our company. And also getting connected to amazing research program at amazing universities that are here. So I think this is a great connection between California to here for us. That’s how I say it for PawCo Foods.

Nate: Amazing.

And so for listeners out there that want to. Get connected, learn more, potentially be customers of yours. Where can they find you at and what type of individuals should come and check you guys out. I would say

Masha: Everybody who has a dog, everybody who has actually maybe I can say maybe they don’t have a dog, but they know a friend or somebody that could benefit from our product.

So, our product, it’s basically it has everything in one package. We we offer an eco-friendly, sustainable product and packaging. And we are very like our products are very nutritious, very tasty. We have a very high liking score, so I don’t see anything to be missed in this product.

Nate: A high likeness score of, how are you, how does that get measured?

I’d love to know about that.

Masha: Okay, so I think possible for it, like we are you are like actually contacting people and like working with people to know like, how do you like this product? And like how do you describe this product? But not now we are dealing with dogs. And we do have different strategy to evaluate an asset, our product, assess our product and kind of say, okay, you like this product.

And so we are doing like different tests. And like basically the discrimination test, which of our flavor, which of our product like more and or like how much of our food they eat, and that does not just say about the liking score, but also the health of our product. Dogs are actually smarter than human.

If they if something happened to their stomach or their health next day, they won’t eat that food. So we are like basically evaluating our product. In a couple of days, not just in one meal and just like test how many times they don’t like dogs eat our product and how much of the food they will eat it.

The good thing was that we tested our product with a panel of a huge panel of dogs and multiple days and all of them, they’re finished all their food all days, like every single day that we actually provided the food to them. And so the result came back. As like they have, we have a very like liking score in our product, but also the digestible that proves that the digestibility of our food is also very high.

Nate: I love that. I just imagine a likeness score of dog like tail wags per minute or whatever. That’s amazing. Thank you so much for coming one on Get IN to thank you for coming to Indiana and rally. Yeah. Best of luck to you in the pitch competition. Thank you. Already.

Masha: I did. I did. How do we feel like that?

I feel like I won. I think I heard from everybody that it did go very well, and I’m super excited. I’m like I have this habit of watching my videos multiple times. I already watched it a hundred times, and I’m like, okay, I’m so proud.

Nate: Gotta watch the film. I have. What has been the coolest part that you’ve visited? Coolest part of the city that you’ve gone to thus far?

Masha: I think everything has been amazing. I can’t just pick one. That’s a very hard question. But I’ll say I’m already in love with Indiana. And I can’t actually wait for my second visit.

I already actually checked different places. Like sites, production site for us to get started and actually moved to Indiana as our second production site. I love it.

Nate: Amazing. Thank you so much. And good luck on the pitch competition

Masha: Thank you so much. Thank you for having us.

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Alchemy is actually our video partner here on Get IN and they do amazing work. All of the videos you see across social, uh, across YouTube, all of that is done by alchemy and they’re an amazing partner to work with. Reach out to me, Nate at powder keg, or check out alchemy film co. com to get connected with Alden and his team.

They will take care of all of your video needs.

This has been Get IN, a Powderkeg production in partnership with Elevate Ventures. And we want to hear from you. If you have suggestions for our guest or segment, reach out to Matt or Nate on LinkedIn or on email.

To discover top tier tech companies outside of Silicon Valley in hubs like Indiana, check out our newsletter at slash newsletter. And to apply for membership to the powderkeg executive community, check out slash premium. We’ll catch you next time and next week as we continue to help the world Get IN.

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