Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, all his life Josh Tetrick was certain he was going to be a linebacker in the National Football League.
So when he fell short of a career as a professional football player, he needed a new place to channel his energy. As Tetrick saw it, he had two choices: Follow his friends into jobs on Wall Street or find a way to give back.
"I knew I wanted to do something meaningful," Tetrick told CNBC Make It. "I knew I wanted to get the same kind of feeling I got through sports."
So, shortly after graduating from college, Tetrick moved to sub-Saharan Africa. There, he spent several years working for non-government organizations on social impact initiatives, including getting kids off the streets and into schools. But, still, something wasn't adding up.
"I found myself sounding like I was doing these things, but in actuality, I didn't feel like the impact I was having was what it should be," said Tetrick, noting that non-profit work is often slow.
The book was called "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid" by C. K. Prahalad. It discusses how for-profit organizations can be an effective tool for achieving positive social impact, especially among the neediest in society.
"When I read the book, I realized that capitalism can be a tool to solve real problems," said the now-entrepreneur.
"If you care about a billion people who are going to bed hungry every single night, if you care about the billions of animals living behind the walls of factory farms, if you care about the 67 million young kids who aren't getting an education a day — the way to address that can be through capitalism," he said.
"And, in fact, you can do it a lot faster."
With that, Tetrick was inspired as he returned to the U.S. with a plan to start a business that tackled one of the biggest problems he could think of: Food sustainability.
Today, Tetrick is the founder and CEO of Eat Just, a California-based food technology company that aims to resolve the environmental and ethical concerns of mass animal agriculture with plant-based and cultured meat alternatives.
The nine-year-old business has so far attracted more than $400 million from investors keen to back the sustainable food trend, including Founders Fund and Bill Gates' Gates Ventures.
"Capitalism is energy and it's energy that allows human beings to do things in a way that incentivizes them, in a way that can end up being really fast," Tetrick said, referencing the book.
That energy can, of course, be used in damaging ways, said Tetrick. But it can also be a powerful force of solving problems at scale. To date, his company has sold the equivalent of 100 million eggs made from plant and recently gained regulatory approval to sell its lab-grown chicken nuggets.
"You can use that energy to do things that pollute our atmosphere, you can use that energy to do things that damage our oceans, or you can use that energy to solve the problem," Tetrick continued.
"That's what really attracted me to it: Not giving it a label of good or bad, just recognizing it's an energy and it's up to us to decide how we're going to use it," he said. "I think using it to get at this big food system problem is a pretty fun and effective way to use it."
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