Almost 15 years to the day since she established her business, Lina Sakai is preparing for a trip she doubted might ever be possible. By the end of this year, the CEO will travel to the United States to explore opportunities for the international expansion of her Tokyo-based company, Fermenstation, which aims to support a circular economy through its original fermentation technology. The company transforms food waste into non-petroleum-derived ingredients for use in food, drinks, cosmetics, animal feed and fertilizers.

An admittedly reluctant startup founder, Sakai launched her business due to a dearth of employment opportunities in her area of interest and only began pursuing growth through investment and hiring five years ago.

Fermenstation’s early days involved exploratory visits to department stores with cosmetics she created, a time she describes as “pretty tough” because of a lack of interest in how products were made.