Matthew Wallenstein, PhD

Department Head and Professor, Soil and Crop Sciences



Why I Innovate

“It was a recognition that to be satisfied in my career, I had to do something to make an impact on people and the planet. For most of my early career, I focused on natural systems like the arctic, desert, grasslands, forests, and tried to understand how those systems work. I utilized new technologies that enabled us to use DNA-based approaches to understand these complex and diverse microbiomes. In recent years, I started taking that knowledge and applying it to how we can manage and manipulate those microbiomes to enhance agricultural sustainability. It was a conscious decision to change my focus in my research program. It was a desire to do work that made a difference in people’s lives. I really enjoyed studying these cool natural ecosystems, but it wasn’t clear how to apply that knowledge to make the world better. However, there is a clear opportunity to do that in agricultural systems because they are so intensely managed.

I never had a plan to do this, I just followed my interests and passions to see where it landed for me. I always did have entrepreneurial streak. In high school, I started a few small companies, and my approach to my science career was also entrepreneurial. We are all sort of entrepreneurs in a way, to pitch our work to find funding. I always had that inclination, so this was a real opportunity to scratch that itch and learn more deeply about how to do that.

Through this startup [Growcentia] and experiencing the customer discovery process, I have changed the way I think about research. I have focused on starting from problems that need to be solved and working backwards from there. This is in contrast to starting with the next interesting question and assuming it might address a current problem without talking to the people whose “problem” is being solved. That’s a big mindset in academia right now. I call people out when they say ‘this work will be really important for policy.’ Have they actually talked to a policy maker? We often assume that our work is important, but without talking to the people that might implement the solution, you shouldn’t make that assumption. You need evidence to back it up.

Launching a startup has been one of the great adventures of my life. I have learned so much in the last 5 years – it’s been a thrill.”

Areas of Collaborative Interest

My research focuses on the microbes that live in soils and other environments. I’m particularly interested in thinking about how those microbes interact with the rest of the ecosystem to help support healthy crops, clean air, and clean water. I am also interested in accelerating the translation of research to improve crop production through working across the supply chain.

I am interested in collaborating in the following areas:

  • Agricultural technology
  • Biostimulants
  • US 9,868,675 B2:  Synergistic Bacterial Consortia for Mobilizing Soil Phosphorous

Patent list generated using Google Patents; Last updated on December 16, 2019.

Matt Wallenstein, Matthew Wallenstein, Mathew Wallenstein