From Dirt-Based Technology to Shaping a ‘New Era in Beauty’: How This CEO Leads and Innovates

Sponsored by Ginkgo Bioworks

Jasmina Aganovic

Photo courtesy of Ginkgo Bioworks.

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May 21, 2024 at 9:55AM UTC

Jasmina Aganovic, the CEO of Arcaea, has spent her entire career in the beauty and personal care industry, where she uses her leadership skills and extensive technical background to excel.

Her journey to helming Arcaea began during her time at Mother DirtTM, a brand that Aganovic started and led that is based on a skin microbiome technology. “The active ingredient is a live microbe that comes from dirt,” Aganovic explains. While at Mother Dirt, Aganovic started to see how constrained the ingredient toolset is for working with biology rather than pure chemistry.

This discovery led her to join Ginkgo Bioworks, a bioengineering company in Boston, as an Entrepreneur in Residence, to explore how biotechnology could expand the ingredient toolset in beauty and personal care. Arcaea, Aganovic’s new spin-off from Ginkgo, is the outcome of her work there. At Arcaea, Aganovic is working on technology that she says “will shape a new era in beauty.” Her team’s focus is on creating novel active ingredients using biotechnology to sustainably unlock previously inaccessible functionality and brand stories.

Recently, Aganovic spoke with Fairygodboss about Ginkgo’s support for her pioneering work in beauty and biotech, what’s next for Arcaea, and what she’s learned it takes to lead and innovate. 

What support did you have from Ginkgo to get you and Arcaea where you are today? 

I spent my early days at Ginkgo understanding their Foundry, their vast labspace consisting of integrated hardware and software that’s all connected to make biology easier to engineer. The Foundry has fewer people than a typical lab because of its automation and efficiency. This enables anyone using it to develop solutions faster, cheaper and better. 

It took a while to wrap my mind around what the Foundry is capable of today, tomorrow and in the future. This required a steep learning curve, but what was most helpful was talking to as many people as I could. I find everyone at Ginkgo to be incredibly excited and curious about how the platform there could be used. It made it easy for an introvert like me to get comfortable networking within the organization and learn as much as possible. 

This felt especially important to me because the beauty and personal care industry is often judged by technical experts as substandard, and I’ve always found this to be unfortunate and intimidating. At Ginkgo, all I encountered was a genuine interest to learn more about the industry I was in and how their work could be used for great benefit. This environment fostered collective creativity that made the plans we started exploring even more powerful. Fast forward to today, and Arcaea has several programs running within the Foundry and has a very close relationship with several technical team members. 

What’s your approach to building your team and developing Arcaea?

There are two key anchoring points that we’re thinking about while building this team.

First, in beauty and personal care, there’s usually an antagonistic relationship between technical teams and marketing teams, which comes at a cost to everyone involved. Both are critical to the success of a business and can learn from one another. 

We’ll need to develop core competencies around technical development as well as branding. Our objective is to foster a shared appreciation for what everyone brings to the table, and a genuine interest to learn and create synergy. We plan to do this through how we structure meetings, set up our teams to interface, and invest in educating team members across the organization on non-domain expertise areas. 

Second, we’re spending as much time looking at the past as we are looking forward. This industry is not reflective of the industry consumers want. It’s taking a serious toll on our environment. We can’t craft a new future unless we can look at the past with humility and curiosity and understand what types of decisions and frameworks got us to where we are today. This will help us to be more thoughtful and considerate about how we can genuinely build toward generational innovation. 

We believe our tools will shape a new era in beauty, so this means that, especially early on, we need to pay particular attention to diversity across multiple dimensions. By proxy, this means moving quickly isn’t really an option, as much as we wish we could. We are trying to give ourselves flexibility by solving for urgent gaps with consultants while we find the best long-term candidates. 

What are the next steps for you and Arcaea? 

Right now, we’re focusing on getting through the very early days of company formation! This means teambuilding and establishing our technical programs and stage-gate process. We’re excited for what’s ahead! 

Why do you think women would love to work at Ginkgo and its affiliate companies? 

I’ve enjoyed working at Ginkgo because I’ve felt supported and appreciated for what I uniquely bring to the table. I’ve never needed to downplay the traits and skill sets that are often stereotyped. Actually, working at Ginkgo has made me question those stereotypes and realize how unhelpful and inaccurate they are.


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