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2020 has been the year that “2.0” level plant-based meat products began to take shape and direction in China, hitting the mainstream. Beyond Meat is opening their own production facility near Shanghai, in addition to partnering with KFC, Alibaba and others; leading multinationals such as Cargill and DuPont have begun rolling out a range of products for the Chinese market; and a growing contingent of local startups, including Starfield and numerous others, continue to roll out products, form partnerships, and ambitiously build traction.

Meanwhile, new opportunities in other segments of the plant-based protein value chain have also arisen—particularly in raw materials and production. Our Asia Alt 100 list features a number of Chinese companies that are capitalizing on these trends, but today, I will spotlight two of traditional producers that are seamlessly evolving with the times:  Whole Perfect Food (Qishan) and Ningbo Sulian Food.

Chinese consumers have a long history of consuming plant-based products, driven in large part by cultural and social factors, such as adherence to Buddhism. Traditionally, wheat gluten or soy-based meat analogues are common on the dinner table of people motivated by dietary restrictions for religious purposes. These individuals and religious groups, including temples and monasteries, are the traditional customer base of Whole Perfect Food and Ningbo Sulian Food, each of whom have successfully expanded their sales through B2B and B2C channels. Their traditional meat analogue products require less evolution because of high brand loyalty and repeat purchases among the dedicated customers. Nonetheless, amid an unprecedented rise in demand for plant-based foods in China and beyond, traditional plant-based companies like Whole Perfect Food and Ningbo Sulian Food are looking to take a bite of the burgeoning market.

Source: Shutterstock


Whole Perfect Food: Crafting the Perfect Product for Specific Settings


Founded in 1993, Whole Perfect Food has established a strong manufacturing capacity (producing more than 5,000 tons of plant-based meat annually), which has encouraged leading Chinese startup brands like ZhenMeat to forge a supplier partnership with them. In June, the company rolled out a new e-commerce brand called “Future Meat” by virtue of a partnership with Tmall—the biggest B2C online retail platform in China. The brand divides the market based on different consumption occasions and has honed in on two of them specifically—healthy snacks before or after a workout, and meal replacements. Their first product is a plant-based protein bar with Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs, a group of three essential amino acids), which has inherent nutritional benefits beyond providing an energy boost, such as reducing fatigue and increasing muscle growth.

Source: Whole Perfect Food

According to Whole Perfect Food marketing executive Mr. Zhou Qiyu, the key to growing their business is to identify specific occasions where target audiences may find plant-based meat products to be beneficial or valuable, and to develop products that communicate those critical value propositions to the customers who will recognize the benefits. As a result, the company has managed to maintain their traditional vegetarian and Buddhist customers, while also targeting early adopters of new products and health-conscious demographics by launching products with broadly popular flavors, enhanced nutritional profiles and eye-catching packaging.

Source: Future Meat Tmall Shop


Ningbo Sulian Food: Building Familiar Flavors and Accelerating the Supply Chain


Similar to Whole Perfect Food, Ningbo Sulian Food is a decade-old traditional mock meat supplier that now also offers an extensive range of plant-based products. Ningbo Sulian has prioritized building taste “familiarity” into their products, such as juicy and greasy fillings for buns and dumplings, thick-cut bacon slices for hotpot and thin-cut breakfast sandwiches.

The company is “poised for the whole plant-based supply chain, ranging from crop production, to protein extraction and processing, and plant-based end products”, according to Ningbo Sulian founder and chairman Mr. Zhang Xinliang. Instead of turning the plant-based industry in China on its head, Ningbo Sulian is working with partners like Shuangta Food—a leading pea protein producer and ingredient supplier for Beyond Meat—to streamline the runway for new product development and diversify their product portfolio, thus bringing higher-quality plant-based ingredients and products to the market.

Source: Ningbo Sulian Food


Challenges and Opportunities for Traditional Businesses and New Entrants


This fall, I attended the 2020 Future Food Forum in Shanghai, which was organized by our strategic partner—China Plant Based Foods Alliance (CPBFA). As the first event in China dedicated to alternative proteins, the Forum has been successfully held for the past three years and serves as a platform for dialogue and collaboration among the hundreds of stakeholders from various sectors. Here are some of this year’s major takeaways:

Companies interested in the Chinese market, first and foremost, should be aware of the many unique challenges they will encounter, from consumer perception and product R&D, to the supply chain and regulatory environment.

Challenge #1: Consumer perception 

The long-established plant-based tradition doesn’t automatically lead to high consumer acceptance of plant-based meat in China. Customers tend to be fickle about their food options. In order to pave the way for wider applications of plant-based meat and higher market penetration of particular products, it is important for companies to create and launch products that hit all of the right notes. If target groups have to change their eating or cooking habits in order to try plant-based meat, that would likely keep them from trying it again.

Challenge #2: Pinch point in R&D—mouthfeel instead of flavor

With a long and rich food culture history, Chinese people have highly developed expectations when it comes to food. The diverse flavors of current plant-based meat products have proven to be up to that standard, thanks to utilizations of Chinese seasonings. When it comes to achieving the right mouthfeel though, it requires a lot more effort in R&D. Varied ingredients and processing methods are necessary when refining formulations to find the best combination for any type of end products. The nuances of mouthfeel could be tailored to create different dining experiences. For example, a perfect plant-based beef slice for hotpot should be tender, fatty and prevented from easily falling apart when boiling in broth, while a similar product for a sandwich doesn’t require this durability.

Source: Shutterstock

Challenge #3: Unstable supply chains bring about cost fluctuation

Although China has a significant competitive advantage in terms of its ready availability of soy and pea protein ingredients, Ryan Xue, secretary-general of the CPBFA explained that “ The plant-based meat industry in China is still at an early stage, and the instability in the upper stream of supply chain (manufacturing and processing) has brought about cost fluctuation. But we believe that with capital injections into supply chain infrastructure (equipment, production lines, etc) and companies achieving scalability, more high-quality and cheaper plant-based meat products will be available in the market soon.” A good example is Starfield (the most well-funded plant-based meat startup in mainland China), which is working with the conventional meat giant CP Foods to utilize their idle equipment to ensure both product quality and increased production volumes.

Challenge #4: Regulatory standards—nomenclature and classification

Currently, plant-based meat and cultivated meat are both called “artificial meat” in Chinese, which is clearly not ideal for the long-term development of the entire alternative protein industry. There are ongoing regulatory discussions about different systems and standards to properly name and classify plant-based meat and differentiate it from traditional meat analogues. We should all keep a close eye on this for future updates.

At the same time, there are tons of untapped opportunities for both traditional businesses and new entrants.

Opportunity #1: Plant-based meat snacks

To test the water and gauge consumer interest, plant-based meat snacks are popular options as the starting point in China. Earlier this year, Baicaowei—a leading Chinese snack brand—revealed its own plant-based sausage snack. Especially among younger generations, grab-and-go snacks that can power people through the day, or ready-to-heat meals at convenience stores, are much more attractive than frozen or ready-to-cook plant-based meat products. Snack time is anytime!

Opportunity #2: Effective positioning and product localisation

We all understand that effective product positioning and localisation are key to getting customers on board. Companies can create their positioning strategies by aligning product development and rollouts closely with local or Western food trends, desirable cooking techniques (stir-frying, steaming, stewing, roasting, etc.) and different types of meat (minced, sliced, diced, etc). A good example is Swedish plant-based dairy brand Oatly, which has used their barista-style products to open the coffee market and ride on the wave of China’s surging demand for coffee. It’s crucial to dive deep into target consumer segments (e.g. individuals, retailers, restaurants) and work on customized solutions to meet their demands.

Source: unsplash

Opportunity #3: A broad range of distribution channels

There is no doubt about it—China has a broad range of distribution channels for plant-based meat products. Online retailers and restaurants (dine-in, takeaway and delivery) are the most popular two, while convenience stores and supermarkets are on the rise.


Plant-based 2.0 in China: A new era of protein supply


The booming plant-based industry in China marks a new era of protein supply. Overseas consumer-facing brands like Beyond Meat and multinational upstream solution providers such as Cargill and DuPont have debuted products to pique the public’s curiosity. However, in China, many end-product categories are not yet mature in applications and we have seen gaps in product formulation, processing and manufacturing.

Technology and partnerships are paramount. We look forward to seeing more strategic companies, academic institutions and investors engage in supporting product R&D (with a focus on interdisciplinary research), localisation and fundamental infrastructure. There is still plenty of space for great plant-based products and solutions that can bring differentiated value to the table and ultimately win over consumers in the world’s largest and most sought-after market.

It’s hard to overstate what a record breaking year it has been for the alternative protein industry over the past 12 months, most especially in Asia where Green Queen Media is based. Just a couple of years ago, there were less than on major news story to report on a week, and as we appraoch the end of 2020, our alt protein news desk regularly publishes more than one headline a day. For the past few months, the Green Queen Media team along with APAC alt protein investor & Future Food Now newsletter publisher Michal Klar have been working together to gather data from alternative protein startups across the region in order to publish the first-ever total funding estimate for the space. The numbers are astonishing.

“The data we gathered clearly shows that the alt protein sector in Asia Pacific really took off during last the past 12 months. Investors increasingly recognise stellar growth opportunities in this region,” Klar told Green Queen. “We’ll need even more startup innovation to address the great challenges of our times, like climate change and food security. I am sure amazing APAC alt protein entrepreneurs will continue to come up with transformative ideas – and investors large and small will provide them with funding necessary to scale and succeed.”

At this point, some contextualisation on why the rise of alternative proteins has been so dramatic this past year would be helpful. The pandemic has made it all too obvious how precarious our global food systems are, and how dangerous our over-reliance on industrially reared-animal protein is. The awareness of our global climate crisis is an at all time high and the connection between what’s our plate and our individual carbon footprints in terms of emissions is now clear to millions. Time and time again, scientists and researchers are confirming that the biggest impact we can have as consumers is to reduce our consumption of meat and dairy. Cue a host of bright-eyed founders launching plant-based, cell-based, whole-food and fermentation-based alternatives.

Back in January, we published the Asia Alternative Protein Industry Report – New Decade, New Protein, at the time the first ever in-depth look at the industry (ex-Pacific). We profiled just under 25 startups and the largest funding round on record at the time was a seed of US$4.6 million. Today, less than 12 months later, the rounds are in the tens of millions as money is pouring into what some see as the biggest impact investment opportunity on record. Investors of all stripes are desperate to get involved and it’s easy to see why. After all, what’s more basic and tangible than what humanity eats, and who in their right mind doesn’t want to support a global food chain that’s ethical, sustainable, healthy and safe?

Source: Shiok Meats

APAC Alt Protein Funding: Key Stats & Totals

In the past 12 months, counting from mid November 2019 through mid November 2020, APAC alt protein startups have raised just over US$230 million in total from angel investors and funds, which is over 350% (4.5X) more than total funds raised over the previous three years combined.

The majority of funds went to plant-based companies with around 86% of funds, while cell-based and fermentation-based startups took in 14%. This is unsurprising, given that no cell-based products are available commercially anywhere and that regulatory frameworks are still being worked out. So far, only one fermentation tech startup in APAC has received funding.

According to the Good Food Institute, over US$1.5 billion has been invested into alternative proteins globally between January and July 2020. The vast majority of global totals belong to U.S.-based companies, with Impossible Foods accounting for US$700 million in 2020 alone, which is in line with our data, whereby a couple of larger superstar companies dominate the totals- in APAC, that’s Green Monday and v2food.

There are now over 70 startups in the APAC region. Given the number of new companies that were founded in 2020, we have no doubt that when we present our funding findings for 2021, there will be even more staggering growth and far more individual deals.

Source: v2food

Funding Highlights & Record-Breakers

Largest Single Raise in APAC Alt Protein (also largest Asia Alt Protein Raise): Green Monday, the plant-based market leader boasting an entire ecosystem including foodtech arm OmniFoods (maker of the OmniPork product series) and Green Common (retail, F&B and distribution) made history with their record-breaking US$70 million raise. Ex-Pacific, the round is Asia’s largest in the alt protein space.

Most Money Raised in APAC Alt Protein (also largest Australia/New Zealand Alt Protein Raise): In October 2020, Australian plant-based burger and mince meat alternative v2food raised US$55 million Series B, the largest Pacific plant-based meat and alt protein round in history, with notable investors such as Li Ka Shing’s Horizon Ventures and Singapore government-backed Temasek, both of which memorably backed Impossible Foods early on. This brings their 12 month investment total to US$80 million thanks to their US$25.3 million Series A from November 2019, bagging them the title of best-funded APAC alt protein startup of the year.v2food CEO Nick Hazell told Future Food Now that the company is poised for international expansion: “We have had a global view since our founding, and this investment and new backers will help us establish our business in Asia, Europe, and the rest of the world.”

Biggest Round In APAC Cell-Based: Singapore-based cultivated seafood pioneer Shiok Meats broke records with their September 2020 US$12.6 million Series A raise, the largest raise for a APAC cell-based company ever, this after announcing the largest seed in Asia alt protein last year, which also made headlines as the first major raise for an Asia headquartered cell-based startup and the first women-founded team in the alternative protein space to raise such an amount. If you’re counting (and we are), the young startup has amassed over US$20 million in investment dollars since its inception. Shiok Meats co-founder Sandhya Sriram told us it’s getting easier to fundraise in the region, stating that there is “definitely much more interest especially from Asian investors, which was not the case 2 years back.”

Second Largest Round in APAC Cell-Based: Japan’s Integriculture, whose wide range of products includes everything from cultured serum to cultivated steak, is another star in the making. After raising a record-breaking US$2.7 million seed in 2018, they closed a US$7.4 million Series A back in May 2020, at the time the largest round for a cell-based company in Asia. They also added US$2.2 million in government grant money to their coffers in September 2020 to build the country’s first cell-ag production facility.

Largest Round in China Alt Protein: the mainland’s Starfield Food Science & Technology completed a headline-worthy US$10 million Series A in August 2020 and then another Series A+ in late October (in fact they closed several rounds during the year but exact figures are undisclosed) to expand its plant-based meal alternatives in foodservice chains nationwide, making them the most well-funded Chinese alt protein startup. When asked if the company had faced any fundraising challenges, Starfield co-founder Chen Suiwen (陈穗文) told Klar in a statement that “to be honest, we did not have any challenges at the fundraising stage.”

Largest Round in Whole Foods Plant-Based: Singapore headquartered KARANA is one of the only startups in the APAC region focused on using whole plants, rather than isolates, for their meat alternative products, and in July 2020, they closed as US$ 1.7 million seed round.

Source: abillionveg

Funds, Accelerators & Other Notable Investment News

Also worth highlighting a slew of new venture capital funds that launched this year with an APAC alt protein investment remit, such as Lever VC Fund (US$23 million), the India-focused Big Idea Ventures x Ashika Group Fund (up to US$ 25 million), and several mainland China food tech interested entities such as Monde Nissin-backed Bits x Bites (up to US$ 70 million), Lever VC x Brinc’s Fund (US$ 5.65 million) and Dao Foods’ New China Venture Fund (US$ 2.2 million). In Pacific, the fund to look at is Blackbird Ventures, who just closed a fourth fund AU$ 500 million (US$ 366 million) in May 2020. While they are not exclusively focused on foodtech, we’re calling them out because they are invested in most of the Pacific alt protein pioneers.

On the accelerator side, Singapore-based Big Idea Ventures, Hong Kong’s Brinc, Singapore’s GROW and Thailand’s SPACE-F continue to be the best bets for founders and young startups to get started, with Big Idea Ventures offering the most cash (US$ 125,000 per company). A few of the leading startups startups managed to fill their coffers with government grants and startups competitions, with key governmental support for cell-based pioneers such as Turtle Tree Labs in Singapore and Integriculture in Japan, hinting at a possible regulatory path forward for lab grown alternatives in the the region. Turtle Tree Labs, one of the world’s leading cell-based dairy companies, also beat out 175,000 other competitors to win Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWS) in October 2020 for their lab-grown human breast and animal milk.

While we focused on alternative protein startups, it’s worth calling out that there were a few notable funding rounds in the non-product space with Singapore’s abillionveg closing a US$3 million pre-series A for its plant-based review app and community, now counting over 250,000 members worldwide, bringing their total funds raised to US$6 million.

APAC Alt Protein Total Funding 2020
Infographic by Green Queen Media & Michal Klar

Notes & Methodology

  • All funding figures confirmed in person and in writing with Green Queen Media’s Sonalie Figueiras or Michal Klar – some of the figures are off the record (ie not publicly disclosed) but the startups agreed to be included in the aggregate number.
  • Investment funding totals do not include accelerator funding, government grants or any competition prizes.
  • ATTN Editors: if you would like to publish these figures in your publication, credit must be given to both Green Queen and Michal Klar as the authors of this research and a link to this article and his newsletter included.
  • Green Queen Media is a slaughter-free publication and we do not consider insect protein as part of our alternative protein coverage.

Lead image courtesy of Green Monday.

Cultured meat, otherwise known as cultivated or cell-based meat, is an emerging technology which uses lab-grown cells to create products without requiring animal slaughter, potentially avoiding the environmental problems of conventional agriculture.

Unlike many of today’s meat alternatives, cultured meat has the potential to create a product that is completely identical to conventional meat, containing exactly the same cells and tissue, say researchers at IDTechEx.

Over the last five years, cultured meat has grown from almost nothing to over 50 companies racing to bring the first products to market, with close to a billion dollars having been invested in the space. The recent IDTechEx report, “Plant-Based and Cultured Meat 2020-2030”, explores the technologies and market factors that are shaping this emerging industry.

In late October, IDTechEx (virtually) attended the 2020 edition of the Cultured Meat Symposium (CMS20), an annual event that highlights industry innovations and insight around the space of cultured meat.

Throughout the three-day event, industry leaders and experts explored the state of the emerging industry, the challenges it still faces, and an outlook for the future of cell-based meats. Here are five things IDTechEx learned from this year’s event:

Cultured meat is closer than ever
Perhaps the most noticeable thing about CMS20 was how much more developed the industry has become over the last 12 months. Multiple companies have now developed prototype products – you can even apply to taste cultured chicken meat at SuperMeat’s “The Chicken” restaurant in Tel Aviv.

Alongside this, companies are moving closer to pilot and commercial-scale production; at CSM20 Memphis Meats discussed the factors that will determine success for cultured meat, focusing on scale of production, production cost, regulatory approval and consumer acceptance as key pillars in supporting a successful product.

Alongside advances in the industry has come an increased sense of openness. The cultured meat industry has historically been a very secretive industry, with companies striving to protect their IP by revealing little about the processes used to create the product. However, a noticeable trend at CM20 compared with events in previous years and other historic cultured meat conferences was cultured meat producers being increasingly open about their processes and the challenges they face. Companies such as Aleph Farms, Shiok Meats and Orbillion Bio discussed their use of scaffolds, starter cells and bioreactors for creating cultured meat products.

Although this is still some way off complete transparency, the increasing openness may reflect the progress towards commercialization achieved by the industry and suggest a more collaborative spirit that may be needed to address some of the big challenges facing cultured meat. As the industry gets closer towards commercial release and more patents are granted to cultured meat companies, this trend towards transparency is likely to continue.

An ecosystem is emerging around cultured meat
In the past, one of the biggest struggles facing the cultured meat industry was the lack of an ecosystem around it. There were no companies producing bioreactors or cell culture medium specifically for the needs of the cultured meat industry, meaning that cultured meat companies often had to do everything themselves, from cell banking to media formulation to bioreactor development. This made the process very slow, very expensive and very risky, while also requiring a lot of in-house expertise for companies that tended to be very small.

The market was just too small to justify investment in product development from major bioreactor producers or chemical companies, or for new start-ups to form with the aim of serving the cultured meat industry.
However, this is beginning to change. At CMS20, major pharmaceutical company Merck KGaA gave a detailed presentation on its platform for cell culture media development, suggesting that major companies are beginning to take the cultured meat industry seriously.

Additionally, there is an increasing amount of new companies that focus on specific parts of the cultured meat value chain, e.g. developing bioreactors or cell banks aimed at the cultured meat industry. At CMS20, Orbillion Bio described its work on developing scalable, standardized cell lines for a variety of meat products. This could significantly accelerate product development in the cultured meat industry, where cell line isolation and cell bank development are often time-consuming and difficult tasks, with little public research to speed up the process.

This emerging ecosystem around cultured meat could really facilitate product development within the industry. It also highlights the growing opportunity within the cultured meat value chain.

The industry still faces big challenges
Although there is much optimism in the cultured meat industry, there are still several barriers that companies must overcome before they can release a commercial product. The main issue is likely cost, with a kilogram of cultured meat still costing thousands of dollars to produce.

The biggest cost component is cell culture media, the nutrient-rich serum used to feed the cells, which can cost over a hundred dollars per liter. However, there is no reason why it has to stay this way, and at CMS20, several companies spoke of their efforts to reduce the cost of growth media through food grade alternatives to ingredients and higher density bioreactors that could allow less media to be used.

Beyond this, there are further challenges. Current production methods for cultured animal cells still only exist at a small scale and reaching commercial scale will require time and investment into equipment development. Additionally, no jurisdiction in the world has yet approved cultured meat for commercial scale.

Given the novelty of the product, safety testing barriers may be very high and take years and millions of dollars to pass. Finally, consumers are notoriously skeptical of biotechnology in food and are not yet familiar with the concept of cultured meat. There is the risk that, even if products can be released commercially, few consumers will be willing to try them.

However, none of these barriers are insurmountable. The industry is well aware of these challenges, with much of CMS20 being dedicated to discussions around how to solve them. With increased collaboration and further investment, the industry is confident that it can make cultured meat a commercial success.

When will cultured meat see commercial release?
The main question on the lips of investors, journalists and the general public is when cultured meat will finally reach stores and restaurants. While few of the attendees at CMS20 were willing to commit to a firm date, there were a few common threads. Many of the companies presenting believe they will have commercial products ready within the next few years, although the consensus seems to be that it is more important to get the release right than to do it quickly.

Consumer acceptance and trust is paramount to the success of the industry and a single safety incident could set the industry back years. Developing a robust and transparent process is likely to be a bigger priority than a speedy commercial release.

It’s also important to bear in mind that no cultured meat product has achieved regulatory approval for commercial sale anywhere in the world. At the Symposium, speakers from Merck KGaA and the Good Food Institute discussed what might be needed to secure FDA and USDA approval in the US, as well as approval in the EU.

As a novel bioengineered food product, cultured meat could face high barriers in terms of safety testing, with approval in the US or EU taking at least two years. However, other regions could be more forthcoming.

Both Singapore and the UAE have prioritised increasing national food production and the Singaporean government has been vocal in its support of cultured meat. At CMS20, Andrew Ive from VC firm Big Idea Ventures cryptically remarked that he wouldn’t be surprised if cultured meat was approved in Singapore within the next six months.

Cultured meat could be well-suited for space travel
An interesting niche that cultured meat could fill in the near-to-distant future is in providing food for space travel. Food variety and choice is currently extremely limited in space travel, with crew members often losing weight and struggling to achieve adequate nutrition over long missions. This could become a major issue for long-term space missions, such as manned trips to Mars, and could limit the appeal of space tourism over the coming decades.

A system for producing high quality, fresh food in space could have a major benefit for the physical and psychological well-being of crew in space. Cultured meat could play a major role here – large quantities of tissue can be produced from a small number of starter cells and the components of growth media can be easily transported in powdered form and reconstituted with water on the production site.

In 2019, Israeli cultured meat start-up Aleph Farms became the first company to produce cultured meat in space, creating small-scale muscle tissue from bovine cells aboard the International Space Station, using equipment made by 3D Bioprinting Solutions. At CMS20, Aleph Farms CEO Didier Toubier discussed the company’s Aleph Zero program, which aims to establish cultured meat production equipment in extra-terrestrial environments.

Looking into the more distant future, Integriculture CEO Yuki Hanyu described a variety of imaginative ways that cultured meat could be produced in space, helping to feed burgeoning extra-terrestrial colonies.

The cultured meat space is moving rapidly, with many in the industry believing it could disrupt the trillion dollar global meat market.

Singapore is a prime business destination and many global companies — from America to China — have all flocked to our island nation to set up their businesses here.

However, this year has been a rather rocky one with economies heading south and businesses struggling to stay afloat.

Despite the pandemic, there are some companies in Singapore that have managed to overcome the odds and managed to raise funding, make acquisitions, and have seen significant growth.

Therefore, here are our bets on these 10 thriving companies in Singapore that are bound to make bigger waves in the year ahead:

1. Grab

grab founders
Image Credit: Nikkei Asian Review

Grab has become a household name in Singapore, and is no longer just a ride-hailing company. It has diversified its offerings to include food delivery and even financial services.

Most recently, it has introduced a micro-investment platform and a ‘pay later’ feature to enhance its suite of financial offerings.

In August, Grab raised US$200 million from South Korean private equity firm STIC Investments, bringing its total funding to over US$10 billion.

In terms of future investments, Alibaba is allegedly in talks to invest S$4.1 billion in Grab, and Singtel too may commit over S$600 million its digital bank venture.

Grab president Ming Maa recently announced that the company’s revenue has bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. Moving forward, he said that the company will focus on expanding its financial services and merchants services business.

2. ShopBack

shopback joel leong
Image Credit: ShopBack

The cashback startup recently sold off its stake in financial platform Seedly to Hong Kong-based CompareAsiaGroup, though it did not disclose the selling price.

The sale comes two years after ShopBack acquired Seedly to venture into the personal finance space. Founded in 2016, Seedly claims to have over 1.1 million unique monthly visitors to its personal finance community platform.

Following the sale, ShopBack said that it will continue to run as an independently branded standalone platform and plans to collaborate with more business and build up more product features.

ShopBack has aggressively expanded to Korea and Vietnam this year despite the pandemic, and saw a significant surge in demand due to the e-commerce boom.

3. Carousell

Image Credit: Carousell

Carousell raised US$80 million from South Korean tech giant Naver in September, bringing its valuation to US$900 million.

Although it’s not yet profitable, it is fast rising to join the rankings of a unicorn company in Southeast Asia.

It saw more than a billion dollars worth of transactions on its platform between February and June, and plans to double down on its Services category in 2021. This includes home services like plumbing, house cleaning and maintaining air conditioners.

According to Carousell co-founder Quek Siu Rui, their goal is to get the company to profitability in the next three to four years and exit by 2024.

4. Ninja Van

ninja van founders
Image Credit: Ninja Van

Ninja Van raised US$279 million in April and its valuation currently stands at US$740 million.

The Singapore-based company has raised a total of US$400 million since it was launched in 2014.

The potential unicorn currently operates in six markets: Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

It works with e-commerce firms including Alibaba Group’s Lazada, Indonesia’s Tokopedia and Sea’s Shopee; and has clocked an increase of 2.5 times in parcel volume over the past few months following the surge in demand for e-commerce.

5. ONE Championship

one championship chatri sityodtong
Image Credit: Will Baxter via Financial Times

ONE Championship raised US$70 million in June and its valuation has already surpassed US$1 billion, coining it a unicorn company.

Today, it is Asia’s largest global sports media property with over 2.7 billion potential viewers across 130 countries.

Although the pandemic has halted their live stadium events, they are literally fighting back by moving their scheduled events to closed-door, audience-free setups instead.

To keep things going, the company has also shifted to creating content for its YouTube channel and Instagram account, and have hit “record highs in social media and digital viewership“.

They also have plans in the pipeline to film a new reality TV series called ‘The Apprentice’ with ONE Championship founder and CEO, Chatri Sityodtong, as the host. The winner will get a US$250,000 job at their Singapore headquarters.

6. Sunseap

Image Credit: Asean Records Organization

Sunseap raised S$50 million funding in January and another S$100 million as part of its Series D funding the following month.

The homegrown solar energy provider has won many government tenders and is already powering Singapore’s Apple store.

It will also be supplying solar energy for Facebook’s operations in Singapore, including its first custom-built data centre in Asia.

Recently, Sunseap set up a new green mobility business arm, which aims to install 10,000 electric vehicle (EV) charging points in Singapore by 2030.

Judging by the government’s strong push for sustainable solutions and EV adoption, Sunseap is definitely on track to seeing a strong growth in the year ahead.

7. Shiok Meats

shiok meats
Image Credit: Shiok Meats

Shiok Meats, the world’s first cell-based crustacean meat company, raised US$3 million in June and another US$12.6 million in September.

Its latest round of funding will contribute towards building the first-of-its-kind commercial pilot plant in Singapore, from which it plans to launch its minced shrimp product in 2022.

This puts the startup on schedule to become the first company in the world to have a fully functioning commercial pilot plant for cell-based crustacean production.

Singapore aims to produce almost a third of the food that it requires by 2030, which has led to a renewed interest in food technology startups such as Shiok Meats.

Moreover, with the increased demand in meat substitutes, Shiok Meats is bound to see a stronger traction in the near future.

8. StashAway

Image Credit: StashAway

StashAway raised US$16 million in July, and assets under its management have grown more than 330 per cent in the last year.

Beyond being an investment management platform, StashAway has branched out into financial education with StashAway Academy.

The company plans to expand into a few other countries, though it did not reveal where it’s eyeing for now.

What’s clear however is that they have been seeing steady growth since more people are now thinking about their personal finances in view of the market volatility and the overall uncertainty brought about by the pandemic.

9. darius chan
Image Credit: High Net Worth

99 Group, which operates property portal, has recently acquired property platform and real estate data provider Singapore Real Estate Exchange (SRX) for an undisclosed sum.

As part of the acquisition, 99 Group will acquire all the shares in SRX’s parent company Streetsine Singapore.

The move will bring SRX under the same umbrella as other Singapore property platforms and

According to 99 Group, this acquisition will create a widened pool of listings, information and data tools, enabling it to offer consumers and real estate professionals in Singapore better value and more competitive packages.

To support its growth, also recently announced that it is hiring 100 tech staff across its Singapore and Indonesia offices over the next year.

Moreover, the property resale market in Singapore is at an all-time high now, so it’s no surprise that property startups like is thriving during this period.

10. Hoolah

Image Credit: Stuart Thornton via Medium

Founded in 2018, hoolah brought the instalment-based payment concept to Singapore to help online retailers solve the problem of abandoned shopping carts.

Their service also provides an alternative payment option, besides credit cards, for consumers to purchase big-ticket items as soon as they want.

It raised an eight-figure funding in March to fuel expansion, and has recently expanded into Malaysia.

It has almost 1,000 retail store partners and are cleverly tapping into a growing millennial demand in Asia to ‘buy now, pay later’.

Embrace The Waves

Small and medium-sized enterprises are the real drivers of our economy. Some have been able to ride the wave better than others; some are being driven to the brink of destruction, while others are adapting and flourishing.

Like many aspects of life, in the time of COVID-19, the pandemic also presents a business opportunity.

A key benefit of running a smaller enterprise is its agility and ability to quickly adapt. Amidst the chaos, some stealthy business owners are doing just that — adapting their strategies, their sales channels and their entire ethos to reevaluate, remodel and realign.

This remarkable ability to adapt and pivot has helped both leaders and their businesses evolve and thus survive.

Featured Image Credit: Grab, Carousell, ShopBack, Ninja Van, One Championship, Sunseap, Shiok Meats, StashAway,, Hoolah

Launched this month, Jellatech is a new biotech startup specialising in creating animal-free and slaughter-free collagen and gelatin by growing cells in a bioreactor. The company says that its ingredients will be purer, safer and more sustainable than its conventionally-made counterparts, and can be applied to remove animals from multiple supply chains, from the food sector to cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.

Headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina with an R&D base in Wageningen, Netherlands, home to one of Europe’s leading food science centres, Jellatech is a new biotech firm focused on producing pure animal-free collagen and gelatin. Created by two female co-founders, Stephanie Michelsen and Kylie van Deinsen-Hesp, the startup wants to leverage cellular agriculture to eliminate the use of animals in the manufacturing of these ingredients.

Instead of isolating and purifying collagen and gelatin from animals we grow it – using cells in a bioreactor. We don’t require acres of land, live animals, shipping, slaughtering and various complicated processes to produce collagen.

Stephanie Michelsen, Co-Founder & CEO of Jellatech

These two ingredients – collagen and gelatin – are widely used across F&B, skincare and cosmetics and medical and pharmaceutical industries, and make up a global market worth US$3.5 billion dollars with a compound annual growth rate of 9%, making the opportunity for disrupting its animal-dependent supply chain huge.

“Instead of isolating and purifying collagen and gelatin from animals we grow it – using cells in a bioreactor. We don’t require acres of land, live animals, shipping, slaughtering and various complicated processes to produce collagen,” explains CEO and co-founder Michelsen. “With our proprietary method we design, grow and purify collagen and gelatin, all in the same place.”

“Because we have complete control over all stages of the process, the collagen we produce will also be safer, purer, and of higher quality than that extracted from animal carcasses,” adds co-founder and head of science van Deinsen-Hesp.

According to Jellatech, who is supported by New York and Singapore-based accelerator and venture capital fund Big Idea Ventures (BIV) and Sustainable Food Ventures, an alternative protein-focused rolling fund launched by Wild Earth co-founder and CEO Ryan Bethencourt and former food scientist at Finless Foods Mariliis Holm, the new company is the world’s first dedicated cell-cultured collagen and gelatin ingredient startup.

Speaking about the investment, Bethencourt said: “We’re excited to be investing and backing two incredible scientist entrepreneurs on a mission to end the use of animals for collagen and gelatin in the cosmetics and food industries, using cell-based alternatives to animal products is a game changer for our planet and for the animals.”

Because we have complete control over all stages of the process, the collagen we produce will also be safer, purer, and of higher quality than that extracted from animal carcasses.

Kylie van Deinsen-Hesp, Co-Founder & Head of Science at Jellatech

“Jellatech’s approach eradicates the traditional complex steps to purify, concentrate, and dry gelatin from fish skins, bovine bone, and porcine skins,” remarked Andrew D. Ive, managing director and general partner at BIV.

While specifically the first cell-cultured collagen and gelatin ingredient startup, Jellatech is not the only player working to create slaughter-free alternatives for traditionally animal-based ingredients. Biodesign startup Geltor, for instance, uses fermentation technology to create protein ingredients that are clinically demonstrated for high performance and have managed to develop a number of collagen replacement products including HumaColl21 and Collume.

On the heels of its headline-making US$91.3 million Series B funding round, the company says it will be expanding its “Ingredients-as-a-Service” platform in order to meet the growing demand from global consumer goods companies for animal-free ingredients, driven by increasing consumer preferences for ethical and environmentally-friendly products.

Lead image courtesy of Jellatech.

As a part of the Upcycled Food Association’s Annual Membership Meeting, The Future of the Upcycled Food Industry was an opportunity to reflect on a year of being in business and to share upcycled food industry news and accomplishments. There was a keynote address from Christopher Davila, Innovation Program Manager at Whole Foods, and mini-presentations from innovative upcycled food companies.

Most folks are probably familiar with gelatin from making Jell-O as a kid. (It’s fun!) But gelatin is an ingredient actually used to make a variety of food products such as certain candiesyogurts, cream cheese and even wine. The process of making gelatin is definitely not vegan, as it requires the boiling of skin, cartilage and bones of animals. (Not as much fun!)

Jellatech, a startup that just came out of stealth last week, is looking to change that by creating animal-free, cell culture-based gelatin and collagen. In other words, the company grows gelatin, slaughter-free, in a bioreactor (hat tip to CellAgri). Jellatech says that because the company designs, grows and purifies gelatin in the same place, it can better ensure quality, purity and sustainability.

In a world where companies are using labs to create cell-based beefcell-based chicken and cell-based fish, creating cell-based gelatin seems like a no-brainer.

The knock on those cell-based meats, however, has been whether they will ever reach a big enough scale to bring the cost down enough to make it viable (though others disagree). Additionally, there are regulatory issues and potentially public perception problems around eating “lab-grown” facsimiles of the “real” thing.

In this regard then, Jellatech’s decision to go after an ingredient like gelatin seems like a smart play (Geltor is basically doing the same thing). While it will still have regulatory issues to overcome, it’s not a standalone item that people will eat. Instead, it would be an unsung ingredient that goes into other, presumably more delicious products like gummi bears.

Jellatech has already made a proof-of-concept jelly made from cell-based marine collagen that was processed into gelatin. The company expects it will be 18 months before its first commercial-grade product is available.

Lorem ipsum | Vietnam |

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