BOULDER, COLO. — Biotechnology may well be the future of pet food protein, that is if Pernilla Audibert, Ph.D., has anything to say about it. A Colorado transplant from Sweden, Audibert leapt at the opportunity to contribute to this mission, leveraging deep expertise in biotechnology to serve as the co-founder and “left brain” of Bond Pet Foods to Co-Founder Rich Kelleman’s “right brain” in concept and marketing.

“It is exciting being a change agent and seeing the impact Bond is having,” she said.

In the following Q&A, Audibert shares how she is translating her deep knowledge of biotechnology to foster a more sustainable future of pet food proteins, details the two most important trends in the industry today, and imparts thoughtful advice for other women leaders.


PFP: Tell us about your business or career in the pet industry.

Audibert: I am a co-founder of Bond Pet Foods, a food tech company on a mission to remove animals from the pet food supply chain so that people, pets, farm animals and the planet all win.

You might ask how someone from Lund, Sweden, ends up co-founding a company in Boulder, Colo. Well, initially I came to the United States for two years for a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Colorado. My husband and I loved Colorado so much we decided to stay and have now been here for more than 17 years. After my post-doc, I started as senior scientist at an advanced biofuels company, GeoSynFuels, outside of Denver, and eventually took over as the R&D manager.

In 2017, I was lucky enough to get connected to Rich Kelleman, who had recently founded Bond Pet Foods and was gearing up to find the right team and start fundraising. When I first heard about the idea to make animal proteins through precision fermentation technology, I was immediately intrigued. No one had done this before, and I had the right technical background to get the company up and running. When I started reading up on pet food and the environmental impact that it has, in combination with antibiotic resistance issues and animal welfare challenges, I was hooked. Since Rich’s passion is animal welfare and his expertise is in marketing and not in a technical field, he needed a technically savvy co-founder. I took a leap of faith and jumped straight into it in March 2018. We were able to close our seed round in July 2019 and we were off to the races.

Fast forward to today, the business is growing fast, and we have the honor and fortune to work with some amazing pet food industry partners across the globe. We recently moved into a new, state-of-the-art 15,000-square-foot facility in central Boulder, and have 20 full-time employees on the journey with us to create a new class of high-quality protein for pet food that doesn’t harm animals or have an oversized, negative impact on our planet.  


PFP: How did you get your start in the pet industry, and how did that experience lead you to where you are now?

Audibert: Before joining Bond as co-founder, I had not worked in the pet industry and did not know much about it, aside from being a pet parent to two dogs and a cat. What an amazing opportunity to be a part of a team, bringing sustainability to the supply chain and the pet industry. It is exciting being a change agent and seeing the impact Bond is having.


PFP: What has been your biggest challenge — personal or professional — related to your work in the pet industry?

Audibert: As co-founder, I touch almost every area of the business in one way or the other and have had to learn a great deal about regulatory approval and compliance, quality, fundraising, legal contracts, intellectual property and more. While I have deep experience in biotechnology, many of these management and commercial responsibilities are new. I love a challenge and have been able to develop a great amount of knowledge and confidence in these areas over the past few years.

Additionally, as a non-native speaker, I think I have had to work extra hard to express myself and get comfortable talking to investors, collaborators and giving talks. I am also fairly introverted, which makes it even harder, but I have come to truly value these opportunities, as I have been able to improve these skills by working hard and going out of my comfort zone.


PFP: Tell me about a professional accomplishment in the pet industry that you are proud of.

Audibert: In 2021, we signed a joint development agreement (JDA) with Hill’s Pet Nutrition to develop a craft animal protein ingredient for their product portfolio. We could not have a better partner. Their science-based approach to pet nutrition is a great fit for Bond’s process of using precision fermentation to make more sustainable animal proteins for dogs and cats. Fast forward to today, we have successfully produced several metric tons of product for applications development and are expanding our work with a second JDA that was recently announced. We are excited to see what the future holds for this collaboration.


PFP: What is top of mind for you and/or your business in the industry right now?

Audibert: Sustainability and how we communicate our credentials and values to the broader market is top of mind for us. It is clear that ingredient suppliers and pet food manufacturers are very focused on finding more sustainable options, and we have an important role to play here.

Additionally, we know that challenges exist with procuring a consistent supply of all types of protein, including meat, be it nutritional consistency between batches or lots, external stresses that impact ingredient availability (pathogen contamination, pandemics, processing/labor shortages), or pricing variability and volatility. Our fine-tuned precision fermentation platform can mitigate many of these issues and provide a stable, high-quality source of protein for the pet industry.


PFP: If you could pick three trends influencing the industry today, which are the most important and why?

Audibert: There are a multitude of trends driving today’s human and pet food culture, but two rise to the top for me.

Sustainability — We know from pet food companies that this is top of mind. They have defined sustainability goals, which are challenging to meet working with their current strategies. Precision-fermentation based ingredients can play an important role here.

Gut health, or the optimal functioning of the gut microbiome, and how it more broadly impacts dog and cat health and wellbeing. Given the chemistry of our brewed protein ingredient, there’s potential for us to positively contribute here as well.


PFP: What is something about the pet industry that people outside of the industry may not realize?

Audibert: The environmental impact of animal protein consumed by our pets isn’t trivial. A PLOS One article from 2017 calculated that dogs and cats in the United States, through their diet, constitute about 25% to 30% of the total environmental impacts from food and pet food combined — and if the nation's 163 million dogs and cats formed their own country, their meat consumption would rank fifth in the world.


PFP: What advice would you give to young people starting their careers in this industry?

Audibert: Start your career on the right side — be a part of the solution. Ask questions about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment.


Pernilla Audibert with her two dogs, Sasha (left) and Knox.

Audibert with her two dogs, Sasha (left) and Knox. 

| Source: Bond Pet Foods

PFP: Just for fun, do you consider yourself a dog person or a cat person? Or, if you have pets of your own, tell us a little bit about them. 

Audibert: I have a cat, Smilla, and two dogs, Sasha and Knox, who were all rescued. Since I have two dogs and a cat, I would like to think of myself as an equal opportunity animal lover, but I think I am more of a dog person.

Smilla (named after one of my favorite books, Smilla's Sense of Snow) has been with us for 13 years and she is keeping track of everyone (including the dogs) from her protected position on our roof. Sasha was adopted in 2014 from our local animal shelter. She looks like a lab/German shepherd mix and is the sweetest and most mellow dog, unless you are coming to the door with a package.

Knox was a “foster fail” during COVID-19. He was only six weeks old when he came to us with one of his sisters. We were supposed to keep them for about three weeks, and then they would both get adopted to different families. Since it was during COVID, there was only one adoption appointment per puppy scheduled and the family that was supposed to meet Knox did not show up. We had to bring him back home for another week and we took that as a sign that he was meant to stay with us. Sasha and Knox get along great, and we are very happy that we kept Knox, even though he can be a bit rambunctious at times, which our guests would undeniably confirm.


PFP: Any final advice for other women in the pet industry?

Audibert: One piece of advice for my fellow female professionals is to pursue roles or projects that align with your interests, because that will make work more fun and gratifying. Interests can be defined very broadly — they can be role-specific, they can be people-related (I personally always believed that people that you work with matter most — they make the job, not the other way around), and they can be company- or mission-related. 

For women who are just starting their careers and don’t know where their interests lie, I would advise to try different things. It is difficult to know what gives you energy when you don’t know what drains energy from you. 

Another piece of advice when it comes to growth and next steps/promotions is to start doing the job before officially having the role or title that you want. If there is an opportunity to take more responsibility in the direction that you want to grow in, I would almost always encourage the person to go for it. That way, you can see whether you really enjoy it, you can learn about it before the official recruitment/promotion cycle, and you make yourself a more “natural” candidate for the role. 

Finally, voice your ambition and wants at work. If people don’t know where you want to grow, it is difficult to help others get there.

Pernilla Audibert, Ph.D., has been endorsed for her skills in molecular biology, biochemistry and biotechnology, fermentation, and as an entrepreneur. Before co-founding Bond Pet Foods, Audibert held various scientific and R&D roles with GeoSynFuels, as well as provided biotechnology consulting services as principal of Altitude Bioscience LLC. She earned her master’s degree in chemical engineering, majoring in biotechnology, followed by her doctorate in biotechnology, from Lund University. She also held a post-doctoral fellowship with The Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado ─ Boulder. Audibert’s work has been published in several peer-reviewed journals, including Genome Biology and EvolutionApplied and Environmental Microbiology, and Green Chemistry.

Continue reading about other female leaders featured in our Women in the Pet Industry series.