The World Ocean Initiative’s Women and the ocean: Changemakers challenge, sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, showcases leading female innovators working to develop business solutions to achieve ocean sustainability.
In the third and final article in a series, we catch up with one of the three winners—Dr Ka Yi Ling, chief scientific officer chief and co-founder of Singapore-based startup Shiok Meats—to find out more about her idea, what inspired it and her plans to make it a success.
In a nutshell, what was your winning business idea?
At Shiok Meats we avoid the need to farm animals by using stem cells to cultivate meats. We harvest stem cells from crustaceans and provide the cells with a greenhouse-like environment with the right temperature, humidity and nutrients. Our meats are animal-, health- and environment-friendly with the same taste and texture, but more nutrients and minimal harm. My fellow stem-cell scientist turned entrepreneur Dr Sandhya Sriram and I founded Shiok Meats in August 2018. Our cell-based crustacean company is the first of its kind in the world. We are currently in R&D phase and will commercialise in a few years.
In what way do you hope your idea will disrupt the market?
With cellular agriculture, I hope to provide consumers with the option of clean, sustainable crustacean meats for daily meals. Shiok Shrimp, Shiok Lobster and Shiok Crab will be in restaurants from the end of 2021 and then in groceries by 2024. I look forward to the day when cell-based meats will be the norm, and there will be no more shrimp farms, or fishing of crustaceans from the ocean.
How will your idea provide economic, environmental and social benefits?
Cell-based crustaceans will be manufactured in a brewery-like setting in stainless steel tanks; but instead of brewing beer, we are cultivating crustacean meats. It is an urban solution that doesn’t require much land use or energy. The space for manufacturing can be extended vertically.
Our solution is health-friendly—there is no use of antibiotics and no contamination by pathogens including viruses, heavy metals and microplastics; animal-friendly—as we do not kill or harm animals for manufacturing; environment-friendly—sustainable, energy-efficient, and carbon neutral. Finally, from an economic standpoint, our technology will lead to creation of new jobs.
What or who inspired you to develop this innovative solution?
Sandhya and our advisor/investor, Ryan Bethencourt, chief executive of Wild Earth and partner at Babel Ventures, came up with the idea and the name of Shiok Meats. When Sandhya shared with me the possibility of making food with stem cells, I was so excited to combine both my technical experience in stem cells and development, and my love for food. The idea of creating food from stem cells instead of farming animals is a huge motivation for me. With the increasing global temperatures, pollution from chemicals and microplastics, I think the seafood we consume is increasingly damaging our health.
What challenges are you facing in bringing your idea to market and how are you working to overcome them?
The biggest challenge to commercialisation is bringing the costs of production down while scaling up output. We are targeting multiple ways through in-house research and industry partnerships to bring down the largest production cost—the media in which the stem cells are cultured. At the same time, we are optimising the bioprocess of expanding our cell numbers and biomass in-house. Beyond the technical challenges, there is no infrastructure available in Singapore for Shiok Meats to use. We had to set up our own research labs, and are now raising funds to build our own pilot plant in the country. Finally, as cell-based meats are considered a novel food, only Singapore has provided a framework for regulations approval. We are privileged to have a supportive and open regulatory board, and have been able to provide feedback from day one in their process to establish the regulatory framework.
Where do you hope your business will be in ten years’ time?
I foresee traditionally farmed crustaceans as being more expensive than our cell-based Shiok products. Our Shiok Meats products will be in all types of restaurants and grocery stores. I look forward to sharing this technology with the entire world, through Shiok Meats and our partnerships.
Main image credit: Conventionally farmed white shrimp, Nirapai Boonpheng/Shutterstock
Dr Ka Yi Ling has been paired with Maren Hjorth Bauer, managing partner, and founder, Fynd Ocean Ventures, for the mentorship programme of the Women and the ocean: Changemakers challenge. The mentorship was set to be launched at the World Ocean Summit in Tokyo in March 2020, which had to be cancelled in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic. The plan is to launch the mentorship later this year instead.