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The livestock industry puts more pollutants into the environment than cars and vans, and contributes significantly to green cover erosion and droughts than any other climate change-causing sources.

Researchers have found a way to help us enjoy meats we want to, but in an environmentally safer way: alternative meats, aka vegetarian, fake, or plant-based meat.

The alt-meat movement started several decades ago, but it really only took off as part of the ‘healthy alternative’ concept when US-based alt-meat company Beyond Meat went public on the NASDAQ in an eye-popping rally that has continued into 2020.

In India, EVO Foods, a plant-based liquid egg maker, spearheaded the conversation around alt-meats and vegetarian proteins. EVO Foods boasts marquee names in the global plant and cell-based food industry as investors, advisors, and mentors. They include US-Asia impact venture capital firm Big Idea Ventures (BIV) and Ryan Bethencourt, CEO of US-based clean protein dog food maker Wild Earth, which is backed by billionaire entrepreneurs and investors Peter Thiel and Mark Cuban.

The latest startup to join EVO in its aim to further the cause of safe, sustainable foods is Blue Tribe, a Mumbai-based startup founded by Sandeep Singh and Nikki Arora Singh.

Blue Tribe Founders Nikki Arora Singh and Sandeep Singh

Set up in 2019, the still-nascent but rapidly growing alt-meats venture launched its vegetarian chicken nuggets exactly a month ago, and has already received more traction than it had anticipated – including demand from a large luxury hotel chain and a few fast-food restaurants.

“The market for plant-based meats has grown in the West with companies like JUST, Beyond Meat, and Impossible. They have shown that it is possible to have a company that is good for business AND good for the environment. That’s the kind of success model we want to bring to India,” Sandeep tells YourStory.

Blue Tribe started working on R&D out of a lab in Mumbai in 2019, and is focused on replicating the characteristics of meat protein and fat via plant-based proteins extracted from plants such as soybean, peas, pulses, etc.

Dr Navneet Deora, the startup’s chief technology officer, heads the lab, along with consultant chef Nirvaan Thacker. Dr Navneet holds a PhD in food science and technology from IIT-Kharagpur, and has worked with companies such as Nestle and Jubliant in the fields of alternative meat and dairy, while Chef Nirvaan, an alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America, has collaborated with multiple restaurants and hotels in India.

The brains (and tastebuds) behind the taste, texture, and cooking properties of the startup’s existing and upcoming products, the duo has been looking for ways to develop alt-meats that closely resemble chicken and mutton – the two types of meat most widely eaten in India, as opposed to beef in the West.

Plant-based chicken dinners

Blue Tribe’s plant-based chicken nugget is made up of a blend of protein isolated from soybean and peas, as well as a fibre that helps give it a chicken meat-like texture.

Typically, each type of live meat comprises protein at the most basic level, which, when combined with animal fat, gives it a characteristic taste, texture and flavour.

“Our R&D breaks down the protein to its constituents, which we can then replicate from a plant-based source. Since each meat’s protein is different, we use different plant-based proteins to replicate the properties of the animal protein best,” Sandeep explains.

The alt-meat contains almost the same nutritional value as live meat, and is actually better because it is free of cholesterol, animal cruelty, antibiotic, and, of course, guilt.

Apart from nuggets, the startup plans to add plant protein-based kebabs, sausages, and burger patties, among others, to its pipeline. It will launch its minced chicken-alternative soon.

Blue Tribe’s plant-based minced chicken offering

Expanding reach and accelerating growth

Blue Tribe says its target audience is non-vegetarian consumers who want to make better choices for themselves by staying away from antibiotic and steroid-loaded meats, but don’t want to give up the taste of meat.

At present selling directly to customers in Mumbai and via some e-grocers, the startup has seen demand from luxury hotel chains, HoReCas, and QSRs. It plans to tap all formats of supply to increase its reach and accelerate growth.

“We want to get bigger and more approachable to everyone in the market,” Sandeep says.

The bootstrapped startup says its biggest competitor is the animal meat market. However, the same population makes for a potential clientele in the company, Sandeep adds.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that we have until 2030 to prevent global temperatures rising by 1.5 ◦C, after which severe impacts of climate change, such as prolonged droughts, floods, and climate refugee migration increase substantially.

With researchers estimating that the global plant-based meat market will grow at a CAGR of 12 percent to $3.39 billion by 2025, from $1.63 billion in 2019, the growth could allay some climate change concerns that stem from the livestock industry.

Plant-based algae textile company Algaeing, led by CEO Renana Krebs, has won top prize at VWS Pathfinder, the world’s first global competition dedicated to female vegan founders. Taking home the winner’s reward package valued at over US$50,000, Krebs says that the startup will continue to accelerate the development of algae-powered sustainable solutions to green the textile industry.

VWS Pathfinder, organised by the Vegan Women Summit (VWS), took place virtually on Saturday (December 5), featuring 46 founders, investors and industry figures hailing from over 20 countries globally. Five finalists were handpicked among over 800 applications from 31 countries, including 60% women of colour entrepreneurs and more than a quarter of Black founders, to showcase their innovative plant-based solutions, ranging from food to fashion.

At Algaeing, we’ve patented a unique algae-based method to create and dye textiles, actively enabling sustainable manufacturing.

Renana Krebs, Co-Founder & CEO of Algaeing

Renana Krebs, CEO of Tel Aviv-based Algaeing, a firm developing algae-based sustainable bio-fibres in a 100% closed loop system, took home the winner’s prize. Valued at over US$50,000, it includes a US$10,000 cash reward sponsored by Purple Orange Ventures, US$35,000 worth of branding services from Evolution Bureau and more perks such as a global membership to WeWork office space.

Commenting on the win, Krebs said: “As an entrepreneur and a mother, I am honoured and thrilled that Algaeing has been selected the winner of the VWS Pathfinder Pitch Competition. At Algaeing, we’ve patented a unique algae-based method to create and dye textiles, actively enabling sustainable manufacturing.”

“We believe in being a force for good and are so excited to have the support of VWS Pathfinder so we can continue creating groundbreaking plant-based innovation solutions for a healthy environment for us and future generations,” Krebs added.

The other four finalists that Krebs competed against at the live pitch competition included Whistler-based Aki Kaltenbach, founder and CEO of plant-based seafood brand Save Da Sea FoodsAstrid Prajogo, founder and CEO of Shanghai’s peanut protein chicken startup HaoFoodCourtney Blagrove, co-founder of Whipped Urban Dessert Lab in New York; and Isabella Iglesias-Musachio, co-founder of Berlin-based mycelium alternative meat company Kinoko Labs.

The plant-based revolution is here — and it is being led by women. We are thrilled to announce Renana and Algaeing as our first VWS Pathfinder winner.

Jennifer Stojkovic, Founder, VWS

VWS Pathfinder also featured a keynote speech led by Miyoko Schinner, the founder and CEO of famed plant-based dairy brand Miyoko’s Creamery, together with Shama Sukul Lee, CEO of New Zealand-based vegan meat alternative startup Sunfed.

Other industry figures including Matilda Ho of China food tech venture fund Bits x Bites, actress and co-founder of Kinder Beauty Daniella Monet, and Denise Woodward of Partake Foods also participated in the event, alongside top investors and funds like Stray Dog CapitalVegInvestKBW Ventures and Big Idea Ventures.

Speaking about hosting the world’s first vegan founder pitch competition, Jennifer Stojkovic, founder of VWS, said: “The plant-based revolution is here — and it is being led by women. We are thrilled to announce Renana and Algaeing as our first VWS Pathfinder winner. Algaeing represents an exciting new area of innovation for plant-based founders. We received over 800 applications from 31 countries for this pitch competition and we can certainly say that the future of algae is very bright with pitches from many algae-based products ranging from fabrics to yogurts.”

HAE SoCal’s Food & Agtech Series is a three-part event focused on uncovering the future of food from the perspective of entrepreneurs and investors across the Harvard alumni community.

The second event The Future of Food: Investors’ Perspectives on Trends to Watch in 2021 features several prominent investors from across the food and agtech investor community to discuss what emerging trends we should watch for related to the food system – sustainability, carbon capture, changing consumer behavior and hot spots for innovation.

Panelists

Ariadne Caballero, Partner,SP Ventures

Alex Bondar, HBS’14, Partner,  Acre Venture Partners

Andrew Ive, HBS’97, Founder & Managing Partner at Big Idea Ventures

Moderator

Milena Bursztyn, ALM’11, Investor, Germin8 Ventures

When Laura Domigan started her research group at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, in 2015, she hoped to continue her work developing protocols for growing cell-based meat in the laboratory. But with funding for cultivated-meat research practically non-existent in academia at the time, Domigan pivoted to working on biomedical materials for use in tissue engineering. A protein biochemist by training, she focused her efforts on creating artificial corneas for eye surgery — a far cry from anything resembling a lab-grown steak.

Still, she never gave up on her dream of studying in vitro meat. “I had to be super patient and keep trying,” Domigan says. And although it took several years, Domigan’s strategy eventually paid off.

Initially, she secured funding for a PhD student to begin developing formulations of nutrient media to grow cell-based meat. Then, in October 2020, a team led by Domigan won a multi-million dollar grant from the New Zealand and Singaporean governments to explore questions such as which cells are the best starting material for cultured meat, and is the nutritional profile of meat grown in a lab equivalent to the real thing. “There is so much research that needs to be done,” Domigan says. And much of it is only beginning to happen, at least in any sort of transparent way.

Investors have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into cultured-meat research in the past few years, bringing hype and breathless news coverage about an agricultural revolution that could bypass the environmental and animal-welfare issues of conventional meat production. One estimate by the consulting firm Kearney in Chicago, Illinois, suggests that 35% of all meat consumed globally by 2040 will be cultured — a change that is projected to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and antibiotic use. And thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which revealed crucial weaknesses in global food-supply chains, some people now expect the transition to cell-based meat to happen even faster.

Earlier this month, a US start-up called Eat Just announced that its chicken bites — which are 70% cultured chicken cells, with plant protein added for structure and flavour — had won regulatory approval for sale to consumers in Singapore, a global first for the cultivated-meat industry.

Scientists worry that the commercial push to bring palatable products to market means that fundamental studies are either not happening or remain cloaked in trade secrecy. Start-ups have made splashy demonstrations of their lab-grown chicken nuggets, pork sausages, steak strips and seafood dumplings. But these show only that companies “can do this on a small level”, says Abhi Kumar, a venture partner at Lever VC, a New York-based venture capital fund that focuses on alternative-protein start-ups. The challenge now, he says, is making it work at scale.

Improvements in cell source material and the nutrient media required to fuel cell growth are needed, as are scaffolds to support 3D tissue structures. Next-generation bioreactor platforms that can grow huge numbers of cells at high densities are also a must. These are costly undertakings — so much so that many in the field are dubious that private financing can support them, and still yield an affordable product.

That’s why leading thinkers in cellular agriculture, such as Erin Rees Clayton at the Good Food Institute (GFI), argue in favour of more open science and public investment. “There’s a need for public-sector research in these areas,” says Rees Clayton, who is associate director of science and technology at the GFI, a non-profit think tank in Washington DC. “There’s a lot of room in the pre-competitive space for more work to be done in an open way, so we can all benefit from it and move forward more quickly.”

To fill the funding gap, the GFI created a research-grant programme that has given out close to US$3 million over the past 2 years to 16 research teams working on cultivated-meat projects. Academic institutions are beginning to hire with the nascent discipline in mind — the Technical University of Munich in Germany, for example, is accepting applications for a professorship in cellular agriculture. And, as evidenced by Domigan’s funding success, governments too are heeding the call for financial support.

The field of cellular agriculture is beginning to take on some of its biggest scientific and engineering challenges, and scientists from a range of backgrounds are entering the fray.

“This cellular-agriculture research is the stuff that gets me up in the morning,” says Glenn Gaudette, a biomedical engineer at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. For almost 20 years he has studied scaffold technologies for heart-regeneration therapies; now he is applying his expertise to the problem of how to grow meat. “Does it pay the bills? No, not yet — hopefully, one day — but it’s really exciting.”

The fight for funding

In the early 2000s, the US space agency NASA briefly supported efforts to grow goldfish muscle in the lab as a potential source of protein for astronauts on long missions. A few years later, the Dutch government sponsored a €2-million ($2.3-million) project to cultivate pork meat from stem cells — research that, with an extra €250,000 infusion from Google co-founder Sergey Brin, eventually led to the field’s highest-profile moment so far, when vascular biologist Mark Post at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, unveiled the world’s first cultured burger, in 2013.

But aside from intermittent funding opportunities to explore the social ramifications of producing meat from cell cultures, there have been few other public grants for cultivated-meat research. Government bodies stayed away from the field in large part, says Kate Krueger, former research director at the non-profit organization New Harvest in Cambridge, Massachusetts, because the science was unproven and crossed disciplines in ways that defied the conventional dividing lines of funding-agency bureaucracy.

A culture dish containing lab-grown meat

Producing products such as the lab-grown meat burger at scale is still a long way from reality. Credit: David Parry/PA Images/Alamy

“Cellular agriculture falls into this funding no-man’s land between biomedical research and agricultural research,” says Krueger, who now runs a consulting firm, also in Cambridge, centred around cellular agriculture.

Money from the GFI and New Harvest has plugged the funding gap to some extent. But the situation is changing. As scientific interest in the subject grows and grant applications increase, governments have begun to inject more cash into the field. Several large grants have been issued in the past few months alone. In November, for example, the government agency Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship began funding a €2.1-million, 4-year project called CUSTOMEAT, run by scientists at Ghent University and KU Leuven, both in Belgium. In the United States, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded around $3.5 million in September to back a cultivated-meat consortium at the University of California, Davis, for the next five years.

“Our hope is that we can provide basic knowledge and build a trained workforce,” says chemical engineer David Block, who is leading the Davis effort. “Those are the kinds of things that you need to grow an industry.”

Experts say that many cultivated-meat companies will probably over-promise and under-deliver. But academic science can help “keep credibility alive,” says Johannes le Coutre, who led a research group at the Swiss food giant Nestlé before joining the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, in 2019 to run a lab dedicated to cellular agriculture.

Amy Rowat, a biophysicist at the University of California, Los Angeles, notes that academia also offers the intellectual freedom for researchers to work on exploratory projects, using expertise in basic science to come up with innovative ways of thinking, or to tackle questions not directly related to product development but still significant to the overall domain. And according to David Kaplan, a bioengineer at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, the next generation of scientists entering the field are “totally motivated to make a difference”.

“I have never seen such driven, passionate students in all my decades of doing this,” he says. Andrew Stout is a case in point. A PhD student in Kaplan’s lab, Stout is rethinking the entire process of cellular agriculture, starting with the most basic ingredient: the muscle cells themselves.

Most companies growing lab meat either use cells taken directly from animal biopsies or cell lines that have spontaneously become immortal through natural mutations that allow indefinite proliferation in the lab. Few firms will consider genetically manipulating the cells for optimal performance because of a fear of consumer backlash. But Stout realized that genetic engineering offered a path to achieving the nutritional promise of cultivated meat.

Starting material

He inserted three genes into cow muscle cells1. Each encoded an enzyme involved in the synthesis of an antioxidant that mitigates diseases associated with consuming red and processed meats, such as colon cancer. The enzymes might also help with the manufacture of cultured meat, because the unstable molecules that antioxidants attack reduce the proliferation of some lab-grown cells. If consumers are willing to accept these types of DNA enhancement, “genetic and metabolic engineering can offer a lot of impact and benefit to cultured meat”, Stout says, “and could even allow us to create novel foods that we couldn’t get any other way”.

Other researchers are reconsidering whether the cells that go into cultivated-meat products need to come from species that are already commonly consumed in Western cultures. For example, Natalie Rubio, another Tufts graduate student, has explored growing meat from insect cells to create products that can be designed to taste like crab, prawns and other seafood. Using muscle cells from fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster)2 and the caterpillar of the moth Manduca sexta, Rubio showed that insect cells are easier and cheaper to grow than cells from conventional livestock species, and might also have nutritional advantages.

Ka Yi Ling and Sandhya Sriram stand next to each other

Ka Yi Ling and Sandhya Sriram are co-founders of Shiok Meats in Singapore.

Meanwhile, other scientists hope to rally the research community around the idea of cell-based zebrafish fillets, at least as a vehicle for accelerating advances in the field. The zebrafish (Danio rerio) is an established model organism for studying the genetic, neuronal and behavioural basis of disease. Alain Rostain, executive director of Clean Research, a non-profit organization in New York, now wants to make it the go-to species for basic-research projects in cellular agriculture as well. “There’s a lot of fundamental understanding that’s not there yet,” he says. “We need the participation of a lot of people to just think freely through the science together.”

And, as Rostain and his colleagues have described3, researchers can benefit from the extensive molecular toolkit already established for zebrafish. Plus, as a lean fish with little fat content in the muscle, zebrafish fillets should be easier to produce than comparable lab-grown cuts of fat-laced salmon, tuna, beef or pork. Cultivated zebrafish will probably taste similar to white fish, such as cod or haddock, Rostain says, and discoveries made with zebrafish should translate to any other edible species.

Regardless of the starting material, all cells will require an optimized growth medium — the rich broth of chemicals and proteins needed to support proliferation and differentiation. Companies have already devised ways to eliminate the nutrient-rich fetal bovine blood that is the cornerstone of most in vitro culture media, creating the slaughter-free products that the industry demands. But this serum-free media is too expensive for cultivated meat to be affordable on the supermarket shelves. “It’s difficult to find a cost-efficient option,” says Ka Yi Ling, chief scientific officer at Shiok Meats, a cell-based seafood company in Singapore.

Media matters

According to an analysis by the GFI4, growth media currently make up the bulk of total production costs for cultivated meat, and proteins known as growth factors are the most expensive ingredient. Costs are coming down, as start-ups dedicated to serving the cellular-agriculture industry devise ways to manufacture these products. But as Matt Anderson-Baron, co-founder and chief scientific officer at one such company, Future Fields in Edmonton, Canada, concedes, “There’s still so much to be done on the optimization and discovery front.”

Assuming researchers find the right cell line and growth medium combination, they then have to grow those cells on a scaffold — ideally one that is edible so that it doesn’t have to be removed from the final product. For ground-meat products, such as burgers and sausages, small beads known as microcarriers can provide the surface properties needed by most muscle and fat cells for growth. But for anything with a more complex meat structure — a steak or an Iberian ham, for example — a more sophisticated tissue-engineering approach is required.

One option comes from a team at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bioengineer Kevin Kit Parker and his colleagues have developed a spinning technique that works like a candy-floss machine to extrude long, thin fibres from gelatin5. The researchers put the gelatin, a protein product derived from collagen, into their machine and produced tiny threads — narrower than the width of a hair — that closely matched the architecture of fibres found in muscle tissue.

Last year, Parker and his colleagues showed that rabbit and cow muscle cells grown on the fibrous gelatin line up with the proper orientation6. The cells were still not as densely packed as real muscle, but Parker, together with three of his postdocs and students, has since created a company called Boston Meats to improve the technology further. “Now, with our scaffolds,” he says, “you can move from hamburger to fillet.”

Elsewhere, researchers have made scaffolds out of foods such as textured soya protein and various vegetables stripped of their cellular material so that only supporting structural sugar molecules and proteins remain. At the University of Ottawa in Canada, for example, biophysicist Andrew Pelling and his students have taken decellularized stalks of celery and shown that the grooves created by its natural structure help to promote the patterning and alignment of muscle cells7. And at Worcester Polytechnic, Gaudette’s team has grown fat and muscle cells on cell-free spinach leaves — the plant’s branching network of delicate veins provide ideal conduits for the nutrient medium to reach every cultivated meat cell.

Because muscle and fat cells require different growth media, however, researchers typically culture the two cell types separately, each on its own scaffold in a different nutrient bath. Some researchers, including Rowat, have devised strategies to then interlace the muscle and fat to achieve the flavour of a well-marbled steak. “The cells actually fuse together with the other partnering scaffold type on the time scale of hours to form these composite structures,” Rowat explains. In unpublished work, she has created miniature marbled steaks out of mouse and rabbit cells, and has begun to work with cells from pigs and cows, as well.

But even with the latest scaffolding strategies, some muscle biologists worry that key aspects of tissue physiology are still being discounted. “This incredible focus that we have as an industry on cell division ignores fusion and maturation,” says James Ryall, chief scientific officer at Vow, a start-up in Sydney working on cell-based meat from animals such as kangaroo and alpaca.

To form muscle tissue, thousands of individual precursor cells must first fuse together to become long myotubes. These cells require physical stimuli to mature into myofibres. Only then will muscle grown in the laboratory have the texture and nutritional properties of real meat, says Lieven Thorrez, a muscle-tissue engineer at the Kortrijk campus of KU Leuven. “And that is a process that takes time. You cannot just differentiate cells over a period of a few days and say the myofibres will be the same as those found in an adult animal,” he says. “That is largely overlooked.”

Scaling up

With so many scientific issues to resolve, cell-based meat research, whether in academic or private labs, remains at the experimental stage. For commercial viability, the industry will need to find ways to produce tissue at a massive, and unprecedented, scale.

Tissue engineer Che Connon at Newcastle University, UK, estimates that feeding the world’s population with lab-grown meat would necessitate building systems for growing on the order of a septillion (1024) cells annually, something that is not possible with the types of batch bioprocessing techniques currently used in mammalian-cell-based manufacturing. Global capacity could fulfil about one-billionth of that requirement. “It’s a massive limiting factor,” says Connon, who has developed a type of continuous cell-bioreactor platform that he plans to commercialize through a spin-off company called CellulaREvolution.

Meanwhile, computer scientist Simon Kahan, president of life-sciences software company Biocellion SPC in Seattle, is leading a team called the Cultivated Meat Modeling Consortium that formed in 2019 with the aim of optimizing bioprocessing techniques through modelling techniques. With funding from the German technology company Merck, the consortium has developed a proof-of-concept model of a stirred-tank bioreactor, involving little more than a spinning rotor and free-floating minute beads for growing muscle cells.

The bioreactor might be fairly rudimentary, but the consortium’s computer modelling is anything but. The simulations of fluid dynamics and cellular biomechanics have revealed a central challenge to growing muscle or fat cells at scale. “You have these two competing interests,” says Kahan. To support nutrient and gas exchange, “you’re trying to keep things well mixed while at same time trying to subject the cells to very little mechanical fluid stress”. With input from industry partners, the consortium plans to build more complexity into its models to inform the design of bioreactors in the real world.

Block’s group, with its large NSF grant, isn’t even attempting to work on bioreactor designs; there is plenty to keep his team busy tackling the issues of cell lines, media and scaffolds, as well as conducting feasibility assessments of the cell-based meat industry. “To me,” says Block, “it’s not clear yet that this is going to be a viable alternative” — whether from a technical, economic or sustainable standpoint. But with each new grant or research team entering the field, the goal of a perfectly grilled, medium-rare steak grown from cells gets a little closer to becoming a reality.

Hailey Swartz is the co-founder and president of Actual Veggies

Hi I am Hailey, the president and co- founder of Actual Veggies. We make burgers with fresh veggies that are large, filling and colorful. Our burgers are made for people who not only want to eat plant- based, but want foods made with only natural and whole ingredients- the veggie celebrators of the world.

Jason, our CEO and my co-founder and I started Actual Veggies in March 2020 – yes, that March 2020. This was shortly after he went plant- based for health reasons and realized he needed a replacement for his favorite food – the burger. While Beyond/ Impossible were good occasionally, he soon learned it also wasn’t very healthy- they are very processed and filled with sodium. He wanted a gourmet veggie burger like the kind you get at a fancy restaurant, one that actually doesn’t mask the taste of vegetables but instead showcases their deliciousness. The traditional veggie burgers in the frozen aisle of grocery didn’t cut it either.

I had recently left Alibaba B2B, helping small businesses and entrepreneurs take their concept from idea to sales and was ready to do the same with my own vision. A health conscious, whole foods enthusiast myself once I learned the problem from Jason, I immediately wanted to work with him on executing the vision.

A gourmet, fresh and naturally colorful veggie burger that you could get at retail, built a team -my brother :heart_eyes: and head of supply chain, Alex Swartz and our chef Joel Davis, who has his own business cooking for fancy people in Hollywood and more importantly had gone to school w me since kindergarten, and raised some money from the best accelerator in the world- Big Idea Ventures.

Anyways 7 months later, I am getting a chance to reflect on where we are- all of our accomplishments and lessons learned and wow what a whirlwind.

  • We made four insanely delicious veggie burgers (thanks Joel!)
  • We graduated from our accelerator
  • We moved from our commercial kitchen to a co- packer
  • We shipped our first order

Now for the major lesson:

In an effort to get into stores quickly and get our next round of funding as soon as possible, we shipped samples that were not ready. We fixed the problem In September but that was at the cost of stopping all operations and going back to the drawing board. This could have been alleviated with:

  • Extensive product testing up front
  • Much better communication as a team
  • Setting realistic timelines and goals and supporting each other to stick to them
  • Taking time to be grateful and celebrating our wins

I can honestly say that watching us solve this problem together makes me confident we can get through anything and oh, I’m quite sure that there will be more problems to solve.

Nevertheless, we are so excited to bring natural, whole plant- based products to you and can’t wait for you to get a taste of Actual Veggies!

A hype or THE future? In this event, we deep dive into the alternative protein landscape, as experts share their viewpoints on the trends and tech in this area. In this exciting event, we explore various facets of cultured meat, from serum-free media, to next-generation scaffolds, to seafood cell lines, to tissue engineering & meatcuts technology.

 

Speakers:

  1. Prof. Can Akcali, Chief science officer, Biftek.Co
  2. Vinayaka Srinivas, Co-Founder, GaiaFoods
  3. Mihir Pershad, Co-Founder & CEO, Umami Meats
  4. Shujian Ong, Co-founder & Director of Research and Development, Ants Innovate

Host & Moderator:

  • Jie Ai Lim, Ecosystem Development, NUS Enterprise
  • Matthew Zhao, Food Scientist at Big Idea Ventures

About the Distinguished Speakers:

Prof. Can Akcali is the chief science officer of Biftek INC that develops growth medium to make cultured meat affordable. He has a MD degree from Ankara University and PhD degree from University of Cincinnati, Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology. He worked as a professor in Bilkent University Molecular Biology and Genetics Department. Currently he is vice president in Stem Cell Institute in Ankara University. Prof. Akcali is the recipient of Novartis Science Award, Vehbi Koç Health Award, Gordon Research Conference Award. He is the author of many scientific papers and book chapters. He has been an advisor of numerous graduate students.

Vinayaka Srinivas (Vin) is the CEO & Co-Founder Gaia foods Vin’s mission is to help transition the world from producing and consuming butchered meat to a more sustainable, Clean and environmentally friendly cultured meat. Vin is a scientist by training and has over 10+ years of experience in stem and muscle cell research. He obtained his PhD in National University of Singapore and then went onto work in DUKE-NUS medical school to work on independent projects pertaining to muscle stem cell Biology.

Mihir Pershad is the Co-Founder & CEO of Umami Meats. A serial entrepreneur, Mihir Pershad has founded or scaled technology startups in the medical device, biotechnology, aquaculture, and education sectors. Pershad is currently the CEO of Umami Meats, a cultivated seafood startup, as well as Venture Partner at Early Charm Ventures, which partners with university professors to commercialize their innovations. Pershad has a passion for building businesses that create transformative global change. Pershad’s debut book Cultivated Abundance shows driven entrepreneurs how to maximize their impact on our world’s biggest problems.

Shujian Ong is the Co-founder & Director of Research and Development, Ants Innovate. He Shujian studied Life Sciences at the National University of Singapore and was an A*STAR scholar. He led a research team for 3 years and is now Co-founder and Director of Research and Development at Ants Innovate. He leads the development of key cultivated meat technologies to push the alternative meat industry towards the next generation of whole meat cuts.

Dr Matthew Zhao is the Food Scientist at Big Idea Ventures, a venture capital firm which invests in future food technologies in the alternative protein ecosystem. His technical expertise includes specialisation in post-harvest technology, food packaging and processing, and shelf-life evaluation. Under his guidance, several companies were successful in adopting innovative novel technology, solutions and processes to commercialise their product with better nutritional value, a stable shelf-life among other value-added functional properties. He holds a PhD in Food Technology from Massey University, New Zealand.

 

About NUS Enterprise: NUS Enterprise plays a pivotal role in advancing innovation and entrepreneurship at NUS and beyond. It actively promotes entrepreneurship and cultivates global mind-sets and talents through the synergies of experiential entrepreneurial education, active industry partnerships for technology and commercialisation, holistic entrepreneurship support and catalytic entrepreneurship outreach. Its initiatives and global connections support a range of entrepreneurial journeys and foster ecosystem building in new markets. As Asia’s Thought Leader for Innovation & Enterprise, it augments and complements the University’s academic programmes and acts as a unique bridge to industry well beyond Singapore’s shores.

About Big Idea Ventures: Big Idea Ventures is solving the world’s greatest challenges by supporting the best entrepreneurs. We’re a venture capital fund and startup accelerator investing in and accelerating top performers in the new food space. Our first fund, The New Protein Fund (size $50M), is investing in the most innovative companies working on plant-based foods/ingredients, food technology, and alternative proteins. We combine capital, partnerships, and mentorship to support and grow the world’s most compelling plant-based food and alternative protein companies.

  • Covid-19 has put the spotlight on food security concerns, increasing interest in the alternative protein industry
  • On Wednesday (Dec 2), Singapore became the first country to approve the sale of lab-grown meat
  • Alternative protein-focused venture capital firm Big Idea Ventures said its fund has more than doubled in size since Covid-19
  • Despite challenges, investor interest has increased as well, said alternative protein startups

SINGAPORE — Since Covid-19, the size of venture capital firm Big Idea Ventures’ New Protein Fund has more than doubled to approximately US$40 million (S$53 million), said the company’s founder and managing general partner Andrew Ive.

The Temasek Holdings-backed firm launched its fund in March 2019 with a goal of closing US$50 million by March next year.

It invests in alternative protein companies that focus on cell- and plant-based foods and related technologies. In Singapore, it has invested in Gaia Foods, Karana, LVL Life, Confetti Fine Foods and Shiok Meats.

The alternative protein sector was already on an upward trend before Covid-19, said Mr Ive. “But we’ve seen a lot more investor interest since the pandemic,” he said. “A lot more people are getting involved in this space. They see why it’s important.

“It’s probably the most transformative change in the food industry in a hundred years.”

With the disruption of commodity supply chains, more spotlight has been placed on food security.“This has raised the growth potential for the alternative protein sector, as countries become more receptive to the development of novel foods to complement traditional food sources,” said Mr Johnny Teo, executive director for food, healthcare and biomedical at Enterprise Singapore.

On Wednesday (Dec 2), Singapore became the first country in the world to allow the sale of cultured meat — also sometimes referred to as cell-based or lab-grown meat.

Cultured meat is grown in a lab by isolating animal cells from a source and replicating them in a cell culture, making it a novel food that does not have a history of being consumed by humans.

Other than cell-based meat companies, plant-based food companies are also deepening their footprints in Singapore. Products from plant-based food companies Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat can be found in selected restaurants, and the former made its products available in supermarkets in October.

COVID-19 INCREASED INVESTOR INTEREST, VALIDATED NECESSITY OF TECHNOLOGIES

Homegrown alternative protein companies attested to the positive effects of Covid-19 on interest in the industry.

“It helps validate the necessity of our technologies,” said Mr Eugene Wang, co-founder and chief executive officer of Sophie’s Bionutrients, which uses microalgae to make plant-based protein. “Food security and supply chain disruptions were the key issues we were trying to address from the very beginning of the development of these technologies.”

Dr Vinayaka Srinivas, founder of cell-based red meat startup Gaia Foods, said that while some investors are conserving cash due to the uncertainty of Covid-19, many have realised that the industry is important.

“We are in a very sweet, lucky spot,” he said. “We are actually not aggressively going for investors, because we are still making sure we have everything ready from our side, but we are getting a lot of calls from investors.”

For jackfruit-based meat substitute startup Karana, the pandemic and news of its S$2.3 million funding round in July led to more investor interest as well.

Karana co-founder Dan Riegler said: “I think it would be much easier to talk about the number of people who are not actively interested in this space at this point.”

In June, cell-based seafood startup Shiok Meats bagged a S$4 million investment, and subsequently raised S$17.3 million in September.

STARTUPS FACED WORKPLACE RESTRICTIONS, SUPPLY CHAIN DISRUPTIONS

Shiok Meats’ investments were secured despite the difficulties of fundraising amid a pandemic. “It was hard as we could not meet many investors in person or they couldn’t visit our space,” said Dr Sandhya Sriram, co-founder and chief executive officer of Shiok Meats.

The pandemic also dealt other challenges to alternative protein companies.

Both Shiok Meats and Gaia Foods had to slow down research and development due to workplace restrictions, which prevented them from making full use of their labs.

The team from Karana could not travel to Sri Lanka, where it sources its jackfruit, and food manufacturers took more safety precautions, which led to delays of “at least a few months”.

“We’ve just been focused on managing everything that is in our control, and pushing things that we can as much as possible, but accepting that it’s a pretty unprecedented time,” said Mr Riegler. “We’ve just had to adapt as the situation warranted.”

Another challenge for the alternative protein industry is pricing, as most such companies are still small scale startups.

“It’s going to be hard to compete with a lot of existing products, especially the meat industry, on price,” said Mr Riegler, referring to plant-based products like Karana’s.

Dr Srinivas also said that it will take “some more years” for cell-based meat prices to go down.

Other obstacles to commercialisation include lack of widespread understanding about cell-based meat, he said. “That’s why we are also helping the Government to frame the regulatory framework so that they can understand and educate (the public),” he added.

Going forward, some local alternative protein companies are approaching the early stages of commercialisation in spite of challenges caused by Covid-19.

Karana, for instance, intends to launch its product with selected restaurants in January. Shiok Meats plans to use its latest investment to build a commercial pilot plant and launch its minced shrimp product in 2022.

Lorem ipsum | Vietnam | cesiscompany.vn

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