Nirmal Nair is a “techie” in his professional background, but he has always been a “foodie” with a strong interest in health and wellness. This combination of abilities and passion led him to start Sempera Organics mushroom farm in Morgan Hill about 18 months ago.
Operating out of a modest industrial warehouse space off Church Street, Sempera Organics doesn’t produce the kind of mushrooms that you might slice freshly into your salad. The biotech startup produces “functional mushrooms” that contain medicinal or nutritional properties that promote health, explained Nair, the founder and CEO of Sempera Organics.
“These mushrooms are very well known in ancient cultures for having very strong benefits for people,” Nair said.
Mushroom varieties grown and processed at Sempera Organics include lion’s mane, chaga, reishi, turkey tail and cordyceps. Benefits of these fungi include improved mental clarity, enhanced energy, immunity and deep sleep, Nair said.
These and other mushroom varieties have been valued for their health-inducing active ingredients for generations in Asia—particularly in China and Japan, Nair added. They have even been prescribed as medicine. But the market is just starting to grow in the U.S., and Sempera Organics is poised to make its mark.
The Morgan Hill company grows all its mushrooms in its vertical “lab farm,” explained Nair. Bags of feedstock are injected with mycelium, which grows into mushrooms in the compact space.
The mushrooms are dehydrated and processed—ground up into powders—on site, and packaged for shipment to Sempera Organics’ clients. The farm’s products, retaining the mushrooms’ active ingredients, are sold to other companies that use them as ingredients in food, beverages, dietary supplements and cosmetics, Nair added.
The facility and its products are certified organic, non-GMO, vegan and as sustainable as a farm can get, producing “zero waste,” Nair said.
The mushroom powders produced at Sempera Organics can even be infused into coffee and tea—a particularly growing market—or sprinkled in soups or omelets, Nair said.
“Our mission is to bring in real products that are highly sustainable and good for the planet,” Nair said. “We look for opportunities to feed the world. Mushrooms are a great source of protein, and they need very little energy to grow.”
Sempera Organics boasts a team of officers and advisors that suggest the company is devoted to spreading the ancient knowledge of functional mushrooms to modern consumers. Srijith Gipinathian, an executive chef from San Francisco with two Michelin stars, is the company’s chief culinary officer. Well-known mycologist Dr. Dennis Desjardin is Sempera’s Chief Mycologist; and Dan Gordon, a founder of Gordon Biersch beer, is an advisor to Sempera Organics.
Nair, a mechanical engineer by training, is a Silicon Valley tech veteran himself. Before starting Sempera Organics, Nair’s most recent corporate profession was as Chief Marketing Officer for an electronic messaging platform.
Nair has also been a long-time devotee to wellness and fitness; he practices yoga and enjoys gardening. A few years ago he purchased a property in Boulder Creek, where he continued to get his hands in the dirt with farming and gardening.
“That got me thinking (about) not just farming, but I wanted to produce products, and medicinal mushrooms is it,” Nair said. “One thing led to another, and it was very clear this was the path I wanted to go.”
He added, “This has been a lifelong vision of mine, to do something in the wellness space. I have been thinking about it for over a decade, and a couple years ago decided to do it.”
When he started looking for a commercial space, Nair wanted to be close enough to Silicon Valley to take advantage of the region’s amenities and resources, but didn’t want to be in the heart of the hustle-and-bustle. He also wanted to be close to the valley’s agricultural regions. After looking for potential lab farm spaces as far south as Salinas, he found the warehouse in Morgan Hill and signed a lease in September 2020.
Sempera Organics began growing their first mushrooms in December 2020, Nair said.
Nair admits he didn’t know about Morgan Hill’s history as a mushroom mecca before he started Sempera Organics here. Learning that background has motivated him even more, and he hopes to get his team involved in this year’s Morgan Hill Mushroom Mardi Gras festival in May.
“We are excited to be here and doing it all in Morgan Hill,” Nair said. “Morgan Hill has everything we need.”