A Slice on Stephen Cowan, Founder and CEO of Beyond Microgreens
Inspired by natives of Peru, Stephen Cowan set out to help heal other people. Strong-willed and fully immersed, Cowan leaned into his intuition to connect with nature in the Amazon Jungle on the river surrounded by 150,000 different plants and animals. Pivoting from his sales career, Cowan is now Founder and CEO of Beyond Microgreens, on a mission to improve the health and wellness of society using all-natural ingredients.
Cowan, growing up in Chicago, describes the natives to “not have a strong way around health”. After moving to Michigan to attend university and play tennis, Cowan found himself in a 10-year career in enterprise software sales. Coming from a sales family, this was no surprise to anyone, but Cowan had the yearning to do more. “I really enjoyed and excelled in that [enterprise software sales], but I found myself wanting to help people more around anxiety in health and nutrition… That was the start of my journey.”
Traveling to Peru in 2017, Cowan wasn’t expecting to have a transformative experience. After arriving, he realized he was “completely illiterate” when it came to nature and plants. “Most of our society is very disconnected from nature. I got to see the healing powers of some of these plants firsthand.” Cowan recalls being shocked by his initial thinking that medicine was strictly in pharmaceutical sales. Cowan left Peru feeling so inspired that he started a hydroponic farm in his small apartment in Dillon, CO. Cowan’s apartment went from two-three house plants to thousands and several different hydroponic type systems. He eventually stumbled upon microgreens, and thought “how come nobody is doing anything with these in the garden?”
Microgreens are 10-14 days old, made up of unique compounds that are in high concentration. While most vegetables lose nutrients as they’re shipped, microgreens provide vitamins, minerals, nutrients and antioxidants at a young stage in their lives. They are able to be added to sandwiches, smoothies, etc. “I learned that we’re actually not getting the same benefits that our grandparents got with fruits and vegetables. You have to eat about four times as many vegetables today to match the nutrients found in vegetables in 1940. Through innovation, we can reverse that and there’s no more potent, natural stage in a plant’s life than the microgreens phase.” Cowan is on a mission to “sneak” these nutrients into peoples’ diets without changing their daily routines in drinks such as tea. “We actually got to beyond organic, where no herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers touch it. Just plain air and water, the plants pull everything it needs in the first 14 days of life.” The microgreens’ pure form provides the nutrients that get lost with pollution and overfarming.
Cowan decided to move from Dillon to Boulder in order to grow his business. Going from farmers market to farmers market, Cowan was able to easily enter the natural foods market. He views Boulder, CO as the Silicon Valley of the natural products industry, as the city is known for its natural ways. This is not the only thing that Boulder has to offer for Cowan. Rather than the “extremely cutthroat” environment you might find in places like the Bay Area, Cowan has an abundant network of mentors and other founders that he can lean on for support. “Some of my greatest mentors are CEOs of huge companies, so the titans of the industry, they take it on as their responsibility to pull off the newcomers. They give me tremendous advice and they’re like, ‘yeah we don’t care if you’re planning on doing something similar, we’re all in it together.’” He feels very fortunate to have had access to a great support system and startup ecosystem that has welcomed him with open arms.
Cowan wishes he had written a plan when starting out on his journey. He recalls the early days consisting of a lot of confusing and frustrating times. “You don’t plan to fail, you fail to plan… Having a plan to fall back onto then keep moving forward is really useful. I was just winging it.” The second step after writing a plan is to make sure your team is on the same page. As an enneagram seven, Cowan describes his personality type to be optimistic and very excited, rather than detail-oriented. This can lead him to run in 100 different directions, so he is extremely grateful for the team he calls his family, to balance him out with complementary strengths and traits.
Stephen Cowan holds a B.S. in Business from Calvin University and started his career in enterprise sales. Cowan currently serves as Board Member at Internation Functional Foods Association and is CEO at Beyond Microgreens. Connect with Cowan on LinkedIn.