A few weeks ago, we went behind the scenes at Indigo with Gabriela Rodriguez as she talked in depth about her upbringing in Venezuela and her current responsibilities as Lab and Facilities Support Technician—a role well-suited to the discipline and drive of a naval school graduate.
This month's Spotlight features Fettah Kosar, who, as Senior Manager of Laboratory & Facilities, often works in tandem with Gabriela to tackle a range of tasks. Fettah traces his knack for details and passion for engineering to the experience of running his family’s multigenerational leather tannery.
TO START, CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO INDIGO?
I was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. I got my bachelor of science in chemical engineering from Bogazici University in Istanbul and then decided to continue my studies in the United States. I applied and was accepted into University of California at Davis in 1991. I received my MS degree and did one year of post graduate research. Upon my return to Turkey, I completed my military service—which is mandatory for all Turkish men to complete—and then I started working with my father. My stint in our family business, a leather tannery, lasted about four and a half years, and during that time I got married.
However, academia was calling me back! I applied to and got a scholarship at the University of Washington in bioengineering, and in 1999, started my PhD program, finishing six years later. At that time, we had a son, and I had to decide what was next. Go back to Turkey for a faculty [position]? I had an offer from one of the best private universities in Istanbul. Or, go to Harvard for a technical role? I went with Harvard and started working at the Center for Nanoscale Systems as an entry-level engineer. I was there for close to eight and-a-half years. I started as a staff engineer, doing microfluids, my specialty area. Then within a year, I became senior scientist, and then principal scientist and acting manager, and then technical manager of the Materials Facilities. We were training people, helping [them] with their usage of equipment and facilities. I also started teaching at Harvard; I still do teach, and I’ll be teaching another engineering course this summer.
Then I switched within Harvard to the Wyss Institute, an institute that does mimicking of nature; it’s called “biologically inspired engineering.” I joined as the laboratory manager, and was there for about a year and a half. A colleague of mine who briefly worked with me at Wyss knew that I wanted to step into industry, and he said, ‘Hey, you know what? There’s this company, a startup. And they’re looking for a laboratory manager. Are you interested?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely!’
Indigo made me essentially senior manager of the lab and facilities. When I came here, there were 55 people. I think we are now close to 150 people, so it’s almost tripled in size! Last August, I was looking for a lab technician. Brett [Boghigian] [Senior Director of Project Management] said, ‘You know what? There’s this very nice person I know. She’ll be perfect for this [role].’ So I said, ‘Yeah! Let’s call her.’ We talked, and I loved her just talking on the phone. And then we brought her in, and everybody loved her, so it was a no-brainer. That’s how Gabriela joined the team, at the end of last August. Since, we have been a very close-knit, effective team together. I say she’s my right hand, left hand, and two feet—and half of my brain! I cannot operate without her.
HOW DID CHEMICAL ENGINEERING KNOWLEDGE COME IN HANDY FOR YOUR FAMILY’S TANNERY BUSINESS?
The tanning business uses a lot of chemicals and chemical processes to process the raw hide into finished leather. It’s mostly organic chemistry, but there are also inorganic processes—like measuring pH, how dyes bond to leather, how there are fillers that make the leather more supple, thicker, stronger. So, that’s the reason I did chemical engineering. Also, it helps, when you work in a factory, to look at the processes and give recommendations to make them more efficient: to use fewer reagents, less energy, and create better leather. Quality control is part of it; standardization is another part. These are the things that I wanted to “inject” into our tanning business.
WHAT APPEALS TO YOU ABOUT THE AGRICULTURE TECHNOLOGY FIELD?
Before Indigo, I had almost zero experience in agriculture, but one thing I had, always, was a deep respect for nature. My life philosophy from the get-go has always been, ‘If you create some waste, clean it up.’ Don’t leave it there. Leave your environment in better shape than you started with. When I heard about Indigo, I looked at the website, which talked about sustainable farming, feeding the planet, using natural [means] to help crops grow better; I realized [these values] were what I was trying to apply in my own life by eating healthier, respecting my body—because we are only given one. And this environment—this world—is for us and our children and their children. It was a no-brainer to apply to Indigo. Everyone here is motivated and friendly, cares deeply about their work, and believes in Indigo’s mission and values.
YOU AND GABRIELA ARE INSTRUMENTAL TO INDIGO’S DAY-TO-DAY OPERATION. HOW DOES YOUR AVERAGE WORKDAY UNFOLD?
My typical day starts [with] making an overall plan, but lately, in the last couple of months, most of my days have been planning for the next [phase of] construction—the expansion. And then there are immediate tasks that I just have to follow up with, together with Gabriela: those are day-to-day urgent requests. We try to diagnose the problems and fix them ourselves. There’s a lot of juggling going on. It’s basically…well-contained chaos; we contain the chaos, and then put it in a logical order!
HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR TIME OUTSIDE OF WORK?
My biggest passion are my sons. Kaya is eight, Bora is 12. Every extra personal time I have, I like to spend it with them. My other hobbies? Motorcycles, definitely. I have four: two running, two I am trying to fix. I’m into cars, too. I have an old Dodge Neon that I got new in 1999. Over the years I’ve modified it. It’s turbo-charged now and loud. I use it for my daily commute and scare people!
I enjoy exercising, too: boot camp, yoga, Pilates, spinning, and whenever I find the opportunity, scuba diving and skiing. I also have a private pilot license. Although I’m currently not flying myself, my son Bora is taking flight lessons.
ARE THERE ANY FOODS THAT YOU CAN’T GO WITHOUT?
Yes! My special—very, very special—smoothie in the morning; I cannot do without [it]! It has, like, 13 different ingredients: frozen mangoes; one large banana; almond coconut milk; flax seed; hemp seed; cacao; protein powder; maca root powder; moringa leaf powder; spirulina powder; and green powder mix.
If I had to select one single food? Bananas. I love bananas. I’m bananas for bananas!
WHAT’S YOUR “SPIRIT VEGETABLE”?
Tomatoes: They’re bright, juicy, and fun, and they mix very well with other vegetables and foods. They are very flexible and can go into or onto anything: pizza, salads, hamburgers, hotdogs, hot and cold dishes. I love tomatoes. I often eat them plain and whole—like eating an apple!