SAN FRANCISCO — There are certain foods some people can’t have, others that some don’t want, and, in both camps, there are foods that some people can’t live without. However, there are also people like Cole Glass, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Hero Labs, for whom avoiding certain foods is a literal life-or-death proposition.

Thanks to Glass’ scientific discovery that launched Hero Labs, those lines can blur just a little more.

What do you get when you cross a formally trained engineer with a rare esophageal autoimmune disease and severe pollen allergy? Tens of thousands of iterations of a zero-net carb flour that’s developed without almond, coconut or cauliflower. It’s then used to create carb-friendly baked products every bit as delicious as their traditional counterparts.

An engineer with experience working at NASA, SpaceX, Apple and Google — but no culinary or baking experience — Glass’ lifelong, life-threatening health issues had severely limited his diet. In a nutshell, he can’t eat anything unprocessed that comes from a bush, tree or the ground without risking his life.

After a childhood of highly processed foods and a shot at the keto lifestyle in adulthood, Glass put his engineering expertise to work in developing a new type of flour to create net carb-free baked products parallel to plant-based meat alternatives. He used combinations of proteins, fibers, liquids, fats, leavening agents, binding agents and anything else he could secure, first from GNC and Whole Foods, then from bulk suppliers and experimental research labs.

A big lesson in developing alternative baked goods: Flavor is the first roadblock.


While synthesized meats derived from plant-based proteins and alternative fibers can take advantage of flavor-masking ingredients like beet juice or genetically modified soy leghemoglobin, bread can’t.

“Those are things that can make it taste like meat, but that doesn’t really work for bread,” Glass said. “There’s no ‘magic bread dust’ that you can use to make it smell or taste like bread.”

It took about two years of crude product development — with hundreds of attempts a day — to develop allergen-friendly, zero-net carb muffins, cookies and waffles that not only tasted like the real deal but were on par with most salads on a macro-nutrient level. The trick was identifying the right mix of plant-based protein and fiber isolates combined with those traditional ingredients such as water, fats and yeast or chemical leaveners.

“The real work was in evaluating every protein or fiber isolated from any kind of plant, whether it was legume-based or wheat-based or things that come from corn, potatoes, rice, oats, sugar cane or flax,” Glass said. “But it’s all commonly available from plants, and it’s always about isolating that protein or fiber and then understanding how they look, taste, smell and feel on their own and how they function through the baking process.”

Glass shared the flour prototype and samples of muffins, cookies and waffles with renowned Silicon Valley-based food R&D lab Mattson. After a few weeks of testing, baking and sending the flour to top independent nutritional labs and consumer guidance panels to substantiate the claims, the verdict was in.


Even with its extensive product development expertise in keto, Atkins, gluten-free and low net carb, Mattson was stumped: Glass had cracked the code.

“They told me, ‘Whatever your day job is, you need to quit and start a company because this is going to change a lot of things for a lot of people,’” Glass said.

With the concept in place and support from a top research firm, the time for financial backing was there. And the next step was finding an investor with aligning values.

“This is a story that we, as venture capitalists, like to hear,” said Ray Lane, managing partner at GreatPoint Ventures. “If what you’re doing relates to the way you grew up or something that gave you inherent passion, it’s a very good thing in the venture capital world. We want to see a founder who puts those things together because they just pour more of themselves into it.”

GreatPoint is the investor behind innovative brands including The Fresh Factory, Good PLANeT Foods, Farmer’s Fridge and Beyond Meat in the food and beverage space, not to mention a host of technology, health and data companies. Lane himself is highly respected in the tech world, with leadership roles at giants such as Oracle and Booz Allen Hamilton.


In the GreatPoint portfolio, the brand that most notably aligns with Hero is Beyond Meat, and on the day of its IPO — just as they rang the bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange — Lane’s phone rang.

“I had gotten a text from Cole introducing himself and telling me that he’d produced a flour with no net carbs or sugar and half the calories of traditional flour,” Lane said. “And he said he could make products that taste just like the original. I told him to meet me at my house the next day.”

On that day, Lane and Glass immediately negotiated the terms of the deal, right there in Lane’s kitchen.

“After the due diligence, we invested in the company very quickly, and the deal was done in a few weeks,” Lane said. “I kind of liked the way we did it because we were both so excited. It’s a dangerous way to invest, but it was about the enthusiasm, the passion and the uniqueness of his desire to build a company that can make a difference.”

This story has been adapted from the April 2022 Q2 issue of Commercial Baking. Read the full story in the digital edition here.

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