Podcast #49 Will Milligan founder of Extracellular speaks with Andrew D. Ive from Big Idea Ventures about Extracellular, the company that he founded to develop the technology for optimising cell culture media to generate effective cell growth at low cost.
Extracellular channels biology, digitalization, and biomanufacturing to advance biotechnology. Using their extensive experience in scaling up operations and a profound understanding of cellular behavior, they streamline the production of biomass for cultivated meat enterprises. Their commitment to digitalization is revolutionizing process development by harnessing vast datasets to expedite and improve decision-making on a large scale.
Big Idea Ventures has launched our very own podcast “The Big Idea Podcast: Food”. Each week Big Idea Ventures Founder Andrew D. Ive will speak with some of the most innovative minds in the food space and talk about the exciting projects they are a part of.
To listen to the episode click the links below!
To learn more about Extracellular, check out the links below!
Andrew D Ive 00:01
Welcome to the Big Idea podcast, where we focus on food. Today we’re talking to Will from Extracellular.com, based in the UK. He’s working with cell based companies around the world to help them scale up their technologies. So, great company, great conversation. We also mentioned some of the other companies in this space, optimized foods, shock, meat, and others. So if you’re interested in cellular agriculture, please do come and listen to our podcast today. With Will from Extracellular.com. Many thanks.
Andrew D Ive 00:47
Hi, Will, welcome to the Big Idea podcast where we focus on food. How are you today, sir?
Will Milligan 00:56
I’m doing great thanks, Andrew. Thanks for having me on this podcast.
Andrew D Ive 01:00
You’re very welcome. You’re very welcome. Happy New Year to you, which immediately dates the podcast if people are listening in, you know, in a year’s time or two years time, but Happy New Year 2023. I know it’s going to be a great one for Will Milligan and for extracurricular.com
Will Milligan 01:17
Andrew D Ive 01:19
I know, I was gonna check. I was checking whether you were listening. We actually did talk about extracellular before I came on. So I know exactly what it’s called. Extracurricular is not the right word extracellular is. Okay.
Will Milligan 01:36
It was an extra curricular activity for a couple of months before I really plunged first into it.
Andrew D Ive 01:46
It’s funny, because I’ve actually got the domain name and your website up at the same time as you. So I know exactly what it’s called. I wonder why that came out. That’s very weird. Okay, so let’s, let’s get going. Already managed to screw up my first podcast in 2023. Amazing. Let’s get it out the way and hopefully the rest is good. So Will, let’s get back to it. Tell us about extracellular.com. Tell us what you’re up to.
Will Milligan 02:19
Yeah, so extracellular is a scale up and development partner for cultivated meats. Around the world, there are more than 100 companies, as you well know, developing cultivated meats, sustainable and ethical source of nutrition to feed the planet more sustainably. And they’re all facing the same challenges. They all need to scale their manufacturing up hugely, they all need to reduce their costs, and we need to get these products to market as quickly as possible. That’s what extracellular wants to help with. We’re set out to really help all of these cultivated meat companies deliver on the potential of the technology.
Andrew D Ive 02:58
So last time I looked and there was a GFI spreadsheet somewhere, I think there was something like 300 Plus, maybe more now, cell based agriculture companies. So companies looking to solve a lot of challenges and scale up, you know, this new way of producing meat. So one of the things I’ve identified as part of the challenge of this whole new sort of category is the immaturity of the scale up infrastructure of the production infrastructure.
Andrew D Ive 03:36
It’s funny, because for the last, I don’t know, five or six years, people in the industry have been talking about, cell based the potential of cell based agriculture being two to three years out. And we’ve been hearing that over and over again, and then it seems like the goalposts just keep moving. But you’re banking on the time is now this is it, and by the way, I would wholeheartedly agree with you. So I’m really glad you’re out there building this, but tell us why now is the time for extracellular to be supporting those young companies on scale up and growing their cell based meat companies?
Will Milligan 04:17
Yeah, I think the reason why now is the time to do something in this space is because there are enough big companies that have really broken out the gates and tried to do something special and tried to really bring these cultivated meat products to markets. You’ve got Upside, Meatable, Most of meat, and they’re really laying the path for these hundreds of other companies that are developing technologies in the space.
Will Milligan 04:47
But, you know, they were leading the frontier and actually the technologies didn’t exist, the scale of what they needed just didn’t exist in the marketplace back then. So they had to do it themselves. They had to build their scale up capabilities, they had to develop their own media formulations. And they had to, you know, innovate on carriers and sales. But now that they’ve proven that there is real potential with this technology, more and more solutions are going to come to markets, and I think it doesn’t make sense for a lot of these cultivated meat companies, in particular, to build up this manufacturing and development capability themselves, because it’s hugely expensive.
Will Milligan 05:28
We need to get to the point where we’re proving the technology first, and that’s really what extracellular set out to do. And so, for instance, you know, we’re setting a bioreactor capability and development capability that dozens of cultivated meat companies can come and use before they can afford to spend that million 2 million 10 million on capex we can help get access to it, help them get access to it in their first months of companies setting up not in year 234.
Andrew D Ive 05:59
That’s fantastic. I’ve seen phases in this category in the cell based meat category, maybe four or five years ago, there were companies kind of coming through from a cell line perspective, I, you know, we’re going to do Turkey, we’re going to do beef, we’re going to do you know, whatever their particular cell line of choice was the blockers to scaling up the category, we’re still there. It was finding alternatives to FBS. It was scaffolding. You know, it was that there were different things that were still stopping the category from exploding and expanding from a volume perspective.
Andrew D Ive 06:47
Then I saw the phase of companies coming through solvers, focusing in on those blockers, and solving them. And that’s why I think we’re there now we’re seeing companies coming through now, who could literally be the next, you know, I hate to put it in these terms, but you know, JBS Tyson, that the kind of large meat producing companies of the future, using this far more sustainable sort of planet friendly technology to produce the meat that people want. What do you see as extracellular’s role? is it very much working with some of those younger companies to sort of prove the concept and then get the funding they need to get their companies going, but are you sort of the first stepping stone? Or how do you see your role in this industry over the next 5 to 10 years?
Will Milligan 07:45
Yeah, I think extracellular will be the leader in development, scale up and cultivated meat. The reason why I’m trying to position extracellular as that is because we have the opportunity to really identify the best technologies on the market and help companies to get their products through development and onto supermarket shelves and onto restaurant plates. And I think that covers, as you were mentioning, the small, medium and large businesses out there. So if you’re a small, cultivated meat business, or maybe you’re just spinning out of university, and you need that proof of concept data, to show that actually, your sales, your scaffold, your media works, well, we can help do that.
Will Milligan 08:27
Because we’ve got the right equipment and infrastructure. If you’re a medium business, and you’re trying to develop that first taste test, where that first product is sent out to potential partners or customers, then we can help do that with the bioreactors and with the equipment that we have here. And longer term, we hope to grow with the entire sector. So that if you are trying to bring your product to restaurants or supermarkets, that hopefully we’re the partner to help do that with you as well.
Andrew D Ive 08:58
Got it. And right now you’re based in the UK?
Will Milligan 09:04
Yeah, that’s right, in Bristol, in the southwest of England. So we’re in a life science incubator. Here, we’re alongside about 10 other biotech companies, but we’re not the only food tech company here, and some companies are working on agri tech stuff, but yeah, we’re set up in the southwest of England, and I think it positions us pretty uniquely around the world with the development work that we’re doing. It spans continents, so we can help companies in Asia, in Europe in the US develop their products or their formulations, that knowledge is transferable super easily. But we won’t stay in Bristol forever. We plan to grow to support the sector globally. So what you can do very easily is ship kilos or 10s or hundreds of kilos of cultivated meat product around the world. So we plan to build our capabilities out in those markets that are really relevant for cultivated meat companies to sell their products.
Andrew D Ive 10:04
Amazing. So I was going to ask you why there but I think you’ve just answered that you kind of preempted my my question.
Will Milligan 10:14
Still is a gem in biotech in my opinion, but not many people have identified it. We’ve got great universities around great infrastructure, the talent is amazing in the southwest of England, and it was voted the best place to live in the UK a couple of years ago. So I love being here, it’s got a great food scene as well. It’s also one of the vegan capitals of Europe. So if ever you want a good vegan meal Bristol’s a safe place to get it.
Andrew D Ive 10:43
Fantastic. And so, but from your point of view, this is one of the kind of areas or the nexus of being able to access Asia being able to access Europe, etc. So it’s a good location, but you’re extracellular, will be looking at other locations in the future? One of the things I’d like to do is if just in case there are any entrepreneurs who are focused on cell based agriculture listening in, how do you support them? Let’s kind of get a bit more nitty gritty in terms of what does extracellular actually do? And how can it help me if I’m a founder of a cell based company?
Will Milligan 11:24
Yeah, we have the right labs, the right equipment, the right people, and the right processes to develop cultivated meat products. So right now, in our labs, we’re currently doing experiments, baseline experiments with pig fat cells with cow muscle cells, we’ve got fish cells at the moment, we’ve got quail cells in our liquid nitrogen ready to go into culture. And what we’re trying to do is break ahead of the needs of the industry and demonstrate those baseline processes, for instance. And what I hope to do is if you’re a startup, and if you’re trying to figure out how to develop your process, well, we can help do it so much quicker than if you tried to do it yourself. Because we’ve got everything we need.
Will Milligan 12:15
If we get into the nitty gritty of it, if you’re, you know spinning out to the university, and you’ve got your great sale, you might have edited it in some way that makes it the tastiest, or the fastest growing or the most cost effective, but you still need to develop your serum free media formulation. Well, we have equipment to help formulate those new media formulations, and then we can put it in little bio reactors to see how those formulations compare to what you might have been doing in your university labs or in your spin out labs.
Andrew D Ive 12:45
And what’s the business model? How do people who want to work with you, pay you? how do they afford to do it? Is it a gazillion dollars for everything you do or what?
Will Milligan 12:58
Yeah, we’re set up to try and help all kinds of businesses at whatever stage they’re at. So we go out and try and get government grants, for instance, to help those early stage companies that are developing formulations. And so we’re developing species specific formulations at the moment that we can potentially license in. So we’re doing all the upfront research, the government in the UK is helping fund it. And that might shortcut development timelines by 12 months or 18 months. And we might be able to license that without those companies spending a penny.
Will Milligan 13:31
if you need a specific process developed, and you want to retain all of that know how, then we can develop that for you and on a fee for service model. So you pay for us to develop that. And you know, confidentiality is a big issue in the cultivated meat space. I like to be as open and collaborative as possible, but sometimes it’s not the strategic decision of a company. So the way we try to operate is on a need to know basis. So if you want us to develop a process with your novel sales, or your novel media, you can blind it and we can do that optimization for you, and we will return the results and you can unblind it for yourself.
Andrew D Ive 14:10
Okay, so sorry, I’m sort of wanting to just make sure I nail this for people listening because I’m not sure I fully get it. So it could just be because it’s early morning and I need more coffee. Usually, one way of charging is by working with a company to help apply for grants, and those grants will cover the expenditure of working with you and scaling up or moving their business forward. So you know, there’s grant support and grant access is one way. If a company has already gone through, for example, an equity round and they’ve already got some degree of capital behind them a little bit of a war chest. Is it a fee for service or is it a kind of retainer. I’m just sort of trying to get my head around the kind of financial side just a little bit. Because yeah, absolutely. If I’m a founder, this is an important kind of question for me, right?
Will Milligan 15:12
Yeah, sure. Yeah. So like you said, there’s the grant funding option, where we can develop products and potentially license it to them. There’s a fee for service model, where we will scope out what kind of work you need, and deliver it against certain work packages, and milestones. And then we can support them on that development journey. So yeah, there’s those basic two models with their grant funding and licensing, or with the pre service.
Andrew D Ive 15:43
And we’re seeing larger companies starting to touch this space, starting to take a look at this space, is there some kind of support for working with a larger company that’s starting to dip it’s toe in the water with cellular?
Will Milligan 16:00
What kind of companies have you got in mind?
Andrew D Ive 16:03
I mean, for example, traditional meat companies, traditional meat companies are wondering if this is something to be scared of, or something to grab a hold off and see this as one more opportunity to build their business in the future. I’m wondering if larger companies are coming to you and saying hey, can you help us to kind of get our head around the potential of this thing and, and maybe start sort of talking us through? Or even working with us on some way?
Will Milligan 16:34
Yeah, we’re starting to have these discussions. As a small startup, we have our own business to get off the ground and running, but already some of the bigger companies are trying to figure out, okay, find building large scale equipment for the cultivated meat sector? How do we develop it? And how do we test it without cultivated meat products? How do you know how cultivated meat performs in extruder technology, for instance, or in a new bioreactor technology?
Will Milligan 17:05
Imagine you’re a flavor house, or if you’re developing products with a sector, and you want to know actually how I can integrate my already existing product into the cultivated meat sector, will you need product to test it with. And we’re starting to see a lot of these large corporates try to understand how best to play in the cultivated meat space. And you know, there are very few companies out there to really provide that large quantity of material to do it. And that’s what we hope to provide as well.
Andrew D Ive 17:37
Okay. So in terms of the future, you mentioned, Bristol is where you are, you’ve also mentioned your startup. How do you see the next year or two going? Is it focused very much on where you are and sort of building the business? Or do you see the need to start touching some of the other ecosystems as far as cell AG is concerned, because there are different places around the world, sort of building out these capabilities, and I think extracellular has the potential to be, you know, in some cases, the glue for some of these young companies in many places around the world, not just the UK.
Will Milligan 18:24
Yeah, so our focus is definitely going to be in the cultivated meat space for the next 12 months for sure. I see it as as our responsibility as extracellular to use our experience and understanding and biotech to support these companies get to market as quickly as possible. Because ultimately, we need more sustainable ways of living on the planet, we need new solutions in foods and we’ve got another 2 billion mouths to feed over the next 20 to 30 years, and a population that will eat more meat.
Will Milligan 18:56
So I’m trying to approach this as ambitiously as possible, so that we’re kind of fulfilling the potential of this technology. That means that we’re trying to grow as quickly as possible, move as quickly as possible. We were one person, it was just me about three months ago, and now we’re 10 to 11 people and we’ll probably be 25 to 30 by the end of the year. At the very least, the intention is for us to have a larger scale warehouse. We’re currently in an incubator right now, but the plan is to move into our own building in the next 12 months or so, so that we can scale up quicker than any other cultivated meat company and help more caltivated meat companies develop their products and really, you know, support these companies globally.
Andrew D Ive 19:46
So I’m interested. Historically, the UK has been a buyer center. A lot of the sort of innovations have started in that country and we’ve we have had a strong industry I’m sorry, a strong sort of ecosystem around biotech cell from a cell ag perspective, probably the first mover has been Singapore in the last few years. And that’s becoming quite a hub of activity, bringing founders and scientists and so on together around that category. Where else do you think extracellular needs to be? Over the next five plus years? UK? Obviously, you’ve put the flag firmly in the UK there. Where else do you think it’s important to extracellular to be?
Will Milligan 20:39
Yeah, if you look around the world and see those markets that are really investing in cultivated meat, and need those solutions, it’s the likes of you mentioned Singapore, you’ve got Israel as well, the United States, and Switzerland is investing hugely in it, you’ve got some of the founding IP in the technology in the Netherlands, for instance. So geographically around the world, there are a number of countries that are well positioned to really progress this, you know, sustainable food solution quicker than anywhere else. The UK, I think, is a really interesting one in that it has the potential to really use its historical experience in biotech, and create a really great player in the bio economy here.
Will Milligan 21:26
So there are a number of companies of cultivated meat companies in the UK who are coordinating to try and grow the potential of this in the UK. And but it takes engaging with government. Because really, that’s going to be the thing that dictates whether it’s successful or not, can we get these products approved? And to consumers an effective way in a safe way? Can we build the right infrastructure and the right capabilities in the right facilities in the UK? And, you know, I’m working with a number of other companies to help progress that.
Andrew D Ive 22:02
So I think there’s, I’ve always thought of it as sort of two or three streams that are necessary to build this industry. One is the regulatory. And we’ve seen the regulatory environment shift in Singapore, opening it up quite, quite extensively, which is fantastic. I think we’re seeing the US is you know, when they didn’t have any questions for, for upside, you know, I think there’s things happening that are showing, from a regulatory perspective, it’s going in the right direction. Now, then you’ve got the potential of the technology, how is the technology actually ready for scale?
Andrew D Ive 22:49
Over the last, I would say three or four years, it hasn’t been, it’s only been in the last 12 months, where I’ve started to see some of those blockers, as I mentioned, getting solved. And there’s a company out there evolved meats, for example, that just skipped straight over scaffold, they just didn’t even worry about it as a kind of a as a necessary piece of the puzzle. And they just and their technology is just mind blowing to me. But anyway, the third piece of the puzzle is scale up. So once upon a time, it was can we do these things? Now we know we can, I don’t think we’ve really had anyone focusing on and I was gonna say, we haven’t had anyone focusing on getting to, you know, a million tons of this stuff.
Andrew D Ive 23:47
But we did, we have had a few companies who have sort of gone or taken an agnostic approach, and said, what we need to do is bring together the best technologies across the entire value chain, and bring them together. But there is a question here somewhere, I’ll figure it out, honestly, I promise. So I think the regulatory environment is getting there. I really do. I think in the next 12 months, the regulatory environment will be will be much better for everyone in this industry. I think we’ve sold some of the blockers, which is if not all, Now, not all of them, but some of the blockers, but this is all very much at the small scale.
Andrew D Ive 24:26
You guys are really starting to think about and work on how do you scale this in so that it actually becomes a real product that has a real difference that can make a real difference in the world because it’s in in the kind of volumes that mean something how do we how do we make that first, that third piece happen? That scale up piece happened because the meat industry is a disassembly business, it’s a put an animal in one end We’ll cut it up and take the pieces out the other end. cell based agriculture cell based meat is a gross assembly business where we’re building something, we’re creating something we’re not breaking it down, we’re building it up. It’s a very different process and a very different business model. And I don’t know anyone’s thought about how to make it 100 tons, or 1000 tons a week. Yet, how do we get there?
Will Milligan 25:31
Yeah, I think that the biggest thing we need to get to those large scales is a mindset shift, more than anything else. I think, when I reflect on what the human race has achieved over the past three years through the pandemic, we really set ourselves a challenge to come up with some really fantastic safety solutions, diagnostic solutions, and therapeutics in lightspeed time, right? Because we knew that we had to figure out how to save patients lives and that was a complete mindset shift such shift for developing products, I think we need to do the same thing with these cultivated meat products.
Will Milligan 26:17
So when I set up my labs, I was thinking, what do bioreactor do, I need to demonstrate what I did was a mindset shift. Small scale is now 200 litres, right? And that would be massive scale coming from research. So what some person might consider 100 millibar, your reactor I start thinking in the 200 meters. And I’m thinking, Okay, over the next 12 24 36 months, how do I get from 100 to 1000 to 10,000, as quickly as possible. And I think a lot of people are focused on developing technology solutions without thinking about that large scale, and we kind of need to treat cellular agriculture in general, like we treated the pandemic, we need to come up with really radical innovative ways of moving super quickly to come up with great solutions.
Andrew D Ive 27:13
I think that’s right. I think it’s the start of the process. So the mindset shift needs to happen, but we’ve seen companies in the plant based space, and obviously this isn’t the plant based space, but we’ve seen companies in the plant based space, who can’t get their head around the fact that they are a food company, they think of themselves as a technology company and there’s a difference. We need to bring people to the table who may not be biotechnologists who may not have the experience of cellular biology, any of those things, but they know how to build a production facility for food. They know how to to build the processes, the flows, you know, the large scale equipment, and ultimately, then be producing X number of millions of tons of food X, whatever that X might be on an annual basis.
Andrew D Ive 28:22
So it’s kind of the mindset shift. That’s a difficult episode, isn’t it? The mind set shift is incredibly important, and it’s the first thing that needs to happen, but what I think we need to do is make sure that we’re bringing all of the right people together, where we say, Okay, we’re going to need a facility and this facility looks different to anything we’ve ever done before at this kind of scale. You know, humanity has never built a cellular meat production facility that can produce x number of millions of tonnes on an annual basis. Right. So how do we do it?
Andrew D Ive 29:04
Okay, so we get the scientists, and we get the the folks who know how to set up food production facilities, we need to make sure that it’s plugged in, that the regulatory environment conforms and health and safety and you know, so there are lots of different players. It’s a really fascinating problem to solve and it’s going to be exciting. It’s not, and we don’t even know yet whether the technology that we’re playing with, and I hate to say playing with because we’re not playing with it with we’re super serious about it, but I hate that the technology we’re working with, we don’t know if it’s going to scale yet it should do. But we don’t know if it’s going to scale yet.
Andrew D Ive 29:51
This kind of volume that the meat industry is dealing with on a day to day basis with traditional meat and another great thing about this is it’s going to be a whole new industry and whichever country decides to grab a hold of this, and to just jump in and make it happen, they could be, you know, a significant slice of the global volume of this product.
Andrew D Ive 29:51
Over the next X number of decades, it’s going to happen, it’s going to take one government to say, we are going to be the cell based meat producing experts of the world and we’re going to build this, you know, 200,000 square foot facility somewhere, and we’re going to bring all the right people together, and we’re going to make this happen. Believe it or not, I think extracellular is way ahead of pretty much anybody else out there in terms of thinking through the foundation of this whole new business, right?
Yes we think so too and the kind of people that we’re looking to build our team with, you know, we have people from biotech companies, yes, but also, you know, large corporate food manufacturers already, we have hired in our first three months of really building out our team, we hired someone from FMCG, company, multibillion dollar company, who’s built facilities for ice cream, and ketchup and mayonnaise. Because we know that actually, to deliver solutions in this sector, we’re going to have to radically think about the facility of the future, and what kind of equipment we need, what kind of technologies we need to develop, and how we really make it scale. So we hope that we can help the whole industry achieve their goals.
Andrew D Ive 31:56
How do you? How do you, and now I’m sort of focusing in on some of the challenges you might have had setting up your own business, because some of the people listening apart from my, you know, my grandmother and my aunt might actually be founders of companies. How do you go from one person? Three months ago to 10 people? Three months later, how do you do that? How do you do that?
Will Milligan 32:27
You need to be pretty relentless about the vision, you really need to be fully committed to doing something and I think you need to believe in your vision and your idea. And, you know, the best people to help judge whether that idea is a good one or not, are the people who join your team, because they’re leaving behind probably a pretty secure job, to jump on board and help you try and achieve something, your investors who are backing you with their money when they could put that money somewhere else. Because what you’re telling them they believe in, and you really need to fully commit to what you’re doing.
Will Milligan 33:14
Building a team is really interesting, because every time you bring someone in, you give away some responsibility, you have to delegate you have to trust in them. It’s not an easy thing but I’ve always taken the approach of trying to hire people to make yourself redundant as quickly as possible. So every job that I have, I think, oh, yeah, you don’t want to let go of those kinds of things that you enjoy doing, or that you think you can do better than anyone else, make yourself redundant. And that will free you up to continue thinking about division, thinking about the challenges and trying to progress the whole company and the ideas forward.
Andrew D Ive 33:58
Now, you’ve felt you’ve added nine people to the team if you’re at 10. Now, over three months. Have you had any hiring challenges yet? Have you recruited someone and then realized quite quickly that they are not a perfect fit, whether it’s culturally or, you know, in terms of capabilities?
Will Milligan 34:23
We haven’t had those challenges just yet but you know, I’ve worked in companies where you’ve had them before, and they’re not the nicest conversations to have, I think, in trying to grow a business from nothing to something. The biggest or the least the most challenging thing I’ve had to do is try and find a co founder. Now I started this as a solo founder and I didn’t realize why people said that starting as a solo founder was a bad idea until probably about six months. I spent a good bit of time after, you know, six months and the stresses of trying to get something off the ground, and realizing that actually I need some help and support.
Will Milligan 35:11
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what that support would look like because if you’re thinking about starting up a business, as a sole founder, the thing that you need from a co founder is someone to listen to you and to bounce off, and to vent to, and to kind of share the bad times and share the good times that you don’t have when you’re the only person in the room. And I found that from an old colleague of mine, who was willing to leave her very, very comfortable job that paid very, very well, and join a crazy startup with big ambitions, and share the load with me.
Andrew D Ive 35:57
It’s funny, because I’ve started three or four different companies, in my career and in the first couple, I ended up taking, you know, starting the companies with best friends, and the relationships didn’t survive. Mainly because being a best friend or a friend, is not necessarily an ideal filter for whether that person’s the perfect co founder or not. In some instances, it just didn’t, it wasn’t, it wasn’t a good fit. If they’re listening, you know, I love you guys. But you know, we probably both figured out it wasn’t a perfect fit.
Andrew D Ive 36:47
So one of the things, one of the mistakes I’ve made in recruitment over building multiple teams over the years, is it’s very easy to find people and be comfortable with people who are like you who have the same sort of Outlook, who have to some degree, the same skill sets but what you end up with is a company filled with people like yourself in some way. And what I’ve realized over time is that what makes a successful company is a diversity of skill set, experience, opinion, people who disagree, people who are prepared to challenge each other assumptions made, etc.
Andrew D Ive 37:33
Now, you obviously need people who are very much committed to the mission, the success of the company, who focused on delivering big ideas to the world in one way or another but I’m just sort of wondering about that, you know, 10 people in three months? That’s, that’s not crazy. I get it. But do you think that is your role? I mean, let me ask a different question. Over the next, you know, two, three years, do you think that bringing in as many people as possible is going to be a challenge? Or do you see it just as this is a space where there’s a lot of excitement, a lot of innovation, it’s truly changing the world, and it’s going to be quite easy to find great people.
Will Milligan 38:26
Yeah. When I look at my team, now I see, you know, a diversity of ideas of experience of interest of personalities and I fully agree with you, you need to have that diversity in your team, or else you’re just basically fulfilling one part, one person thinks it’s the right idea. You need those people to challenge the status quo to challenge your thinking and to build the best version of what you’re building.
Will Milligan 39:05
I think the most important thing is to hire on values before you hire on skills, and so we have some value tests when we are screening for candidates and we will turn away candidates with fantastic experience. You know, somebody who comes who can run a 200 liter bioreactor or 1000 liter bioreactor over and over again, but if they don’t pass the values test, we won’t even interview them. And I think that’s the most important thing to do because you’re working for a startup is, you know, as much a privilege as anything else. And what you need to do, I think, as a CEO or as a founder is to protect the people that you’ve brought in, and really focus on the vision. And if you bring in someone with great skills, but maybe the wrong kind of values, then you’re you’re kind of tarnishing that opportunity, or you’re tarnishing that fun startup driven on great mission and you need to think about that before you bring in the wrong kind of talent.
Andrew D Ive 40:23
I think you’re exactly right, I really do. Having people with the right values is fundamental. If you get the culture, right, everything else works, ultimately. What are you most excited about for extracellular and your team at the moment, and over the next, you know, foreseeable, what’s really making you jump out of bed in the morning and run down the street before you’re fully clothed?
Will Milligan 40:59
The ideas that the team have to really accelerate the whole development cycle. It is really exciting. We’re trying to come up with ways to cut 12 18 24 months of development down to a few months and it’s hugely challenging. We’re trying to pull all of this experience, all these capabilities together. So on the technology front, that’s really exciting. I absolutely love looking at the development of the team, you know, some people who have come in, this is their first job and they’ve gained what looks like years of experience in only three months here and seeing them grow so quickly, seeing that they have the potential to go on and do something huge, is really exciting as well, that probably gets me out of bed more than anything else.
Will Milligan 41:54
I rely on my team so much and I know they’re going to you know, stay as long as they want to stay. But then they’ll want to do something amazing after this if they want to. And I really hope to kind of support them and their journey as well. So like helping the team, is it a big thing that I really look forward to over the next few months.
Andrew D Ive 42:15
And what do you think is one of the bigger challenges for you? Or what are some of the kinds of things that you know you need to solve? I’m guessing, given the sort of global macro economic situation, we’re currently in at 2023 fundraising for everyone, not just extracellular is going to be more challenging than it was 12 months ago and more challenging than it was 24 months ago. But from your point of view, is fundraising one of the challenges? Or have you guys nailed that but there’s other things to worry about?
Will Milligan 42:56
Yeah, I think. So I started extracellular about 10 months ago and it was looking pretty good out there. Over the past 12 months, it’s just got tougher and tougher and tougher, but I would far rather have started a business in the last 6 to 12 months, than, you know, a year or two before because I think, you know, to go back to that tongue twister, the mindset shifts. I think we are thinking about growing our business in a very different way today than we would have 12 months ago.
Will Milligan 43:28
We’re thinking about how to be hipsters, hackers and hustlers basically, how do you take a million pound budget and and do five or 10 million pounds worth of stuff with it? That’s how we’re trying to approach it and I think the adjustments in the valuations of companies or how companies have to fundraise now, I think it’s fair, because I think we need to develop cost effective, sustainable solutions and we’re not going to do that by ploughing billions and billions of dollars into relatively modest value products. I think we need to be a little bit more creative with it, and I relish the challenge.
Andrew D Ive 44:13
It’s I think that’s fantastic. I think you’re absolutely right, the great thing is, because we’re all having to tighten our belts, it means we’re needing to get more creative, we needed to be smarter about how we do this thing. Now, one thing that’s interesting is, over the last five plus years, it was the large food companies that were in the protein category, and who are investing in this category. They know that this is a trillion dollar category, they know that the market for protein is just enormous. It’s a global need. So a lot of the money that comes flowing in from an investment perspective, were these large protein companies who wanted to grab hold of the opportunity and weren’t afraid of it.
Andrew D Ive 45:01
They weren’t thinking this is competitive, they were thinking this is another opportunity to progress in our own protein category. Over the last, I would say, 18 months, I’ve been hearing from governments that they see this as a significant opportunity, not necessarily because they want to own the protein category or the protein market, but because they see this as a technology that will be able to sustainably provide food security for their people, for potentially decades ahead. So I think governments are starting to get involved in putting investment dollars into this space.
Andrew D Ive 45:47
Even beyond what the large food companies were were doing. So it’s going to be super exciting. I’m sort of running down the middle of the street as well. We’ve made 30 Plus investments in the cellular agriculture space. Over the last three, four years, I think we’ve probably made more investments in this space, from a numbers perspective, than anybody else in the world. So we’re all in on cell and cell AG. If anyone’s listening, and I say if anyone’s listening, because, you know, I don’t know if they are, if anyone’s listening, how do they help you? How do they help extracellular go change the world and do all the things that you can do? What kind of support and help are you looking for?
Will Milligan 46:42
Now? I think it’s about helping people in general, I think we need to be far more open and collaborative, on what we’re doing. One of the things that I want to do, is share what kind of data we’re generating in our labs, far more openly than typical cultivated meat companies do at the moment. For reasons, I mean, it’s a commercial region as well and we need to share that we can do what we say we can do. But it also helps set the benchmark and we’re looking for partners and collaborators to do that with as well.
Will Milligan 47:19
So if you’re looking to do the same kind of research that we’re doing, on cultivated meat, and if you’re happy to be open about what you’re doing, then we’d love to collaborate with you because ultimately, we hope to bring together the best technology and do something really special with it and we want to work with the right kind of partners to do that. Whether it’s a commercial brand and collaboration fronts are just generating data, but really, we want to see this whole sector progress.
Andrew D Ive 47:48
So I’m guessing there’s a sort of research and academic aspect where you’d love to collaborate by the sounds of it. There are various companies who are starting to get involved in thinking through the scale up of the technology. So there’s the potential to partner with some of these food companies. I’m guessing as the funding continues, you’re building the team, looking at places outside of the UK. So I’m guessing teammates and recruitment is a way that people can engage with you, if there’s someone that wants to make a difference and do something fun in this category.
Will Milligan 48:31
Absolutely. We’re always recruiting in this space, and you know, you’ve hit the nail on the head, we have huge ambitions. This is a global need and it’s a global market, and we want to help it globally. We always have job applications open on our websites, there’s always a speculative appeal application open. If anyone thinks that they have the right kind of background or experience and really wants to work in this space, there’s always that job application open on extracellular.com, so go and feel free to submit, why you think you’re the right person to help this sector and help extracellular achieve our goals and it’s such an exciting and mission driven career to jump into. Every one of the team absolutely loves the kind of challenges that they’re facing now, and long may continue.
Andrew D Ive 49:28
So, extracellular is e x, t r a, c E, L L u L A r.com. Yeah. How else? And you mentioned people can come to that website and reach out via extracellular.com. Are you guys available? Are you available on any other platforms if people want to reach out in another way?
Will Milligan 49:56
Absolutely. LinkedIn is probably the easiest way to find us, or you can always email us at email@example.com. Spelt like it’s spelt in the dictionary. So just AutoCorrect and it will get there, and they’re the best ways to reach out to us.
Andrew D Ive 50:14
Fantastic. Well, is there any question that you wanted me to ask that I didn’t think about because I’m just too slow this morning.
Will Milligan 50:24
Everyone always asks When can I eat it? I’m sure you have you tried cultivated meat Andrew
Andrew D Ive 50:32
Me? Yeah, of course I have. Yeah,
Will Milligan 50:34
I haven’t. I went to Singapore and I spent weeks ahead of time trying to find out where I could try the stuff and I couldn’t find a single place. So everyone usually asks, When can I eat it. Well we’re aiming to do a taste test in the next 12 months. So we are really focused on trying to build the right kind of facilities, and develop the right kind of processes to a large enough scale to host a big taste testing. So I hope that within the next 12 months is not just me that gets to enjoy it here at extracellular, it’s the whole team, the people who have supported us on our journey and yeah, some of the key people that would love to try it.
Andrew D Ive 51:17
So I’ve been fortunate enough to try it and the funny thing is, it tasted exactly like you would expect. I meet people who are new to this category, we’re not creating a plant based something that looks like and tastes a little bit like this is under the microscope, bioidentical with traditional meat. So there’s actually no reason why it should taste any different than the meat, you would get off of an animal.
Andrew D Ive 51:49
I’ve also been lucky enough to try cell based caviar. Found out we have a company in our previous cohort called Optimized Foods and they created a cell based caviar that they’re bringing to market and it is amazing. Beluga caviar is one of the most expensive food products in the world and these guys have figured out how to make it using cellular technology. So some cool stuff going on in the space.
Will Milligan 52:24
I think that the high value cultivated products, and particularly the ones with the largest ethical considerations, will be the ones that have the biggest impact soonest. Caviar is one, it’s hugely expensive. It’s also got other applications and cosmetics and nutraceuticals so that’s a great route for those breakout products, but ultimately, those technologies and those innovations, I hope to see feed through to the foods that we eat every day.
Andrew D Ive 52:53
You’ve got Gourmet as well in Paris, who are on the foie gras side, one of the most expensive unstructured meat products in the world foie gras, which is obviously banned in many places because of how you need to mistreat the animal to get there. So gourmet in France has solved and is solving that sort of equation. So amazing.
Andrew D Ive 53:20
Extracellular.com Will, you’re a rock star, I’m really excited about what you’ve managed to do in such a short period of time. Huge applause and thank you and if anyone wants to reach out to Will act extracellular.com For some reason, my brain just keeps saying that other word I said right back at the beginning. I don’t know why.
Will Milligan 53:47
It’s all right. We’ll need a few extra extracurricular activities in our life right.
Andrew D Ive 53:53
Let’s not leave that as the thing people remember because that will lodge in their brain and extracellular will disappear. So extracellular.com, email is firstname.lastname@example.org and LinkedIn to reach out to Will Milligan mi ll i g a n, the amazing founder of extracellular.
Andrew D Ive 54:16
Well, thank you so much for for coming on today. I really do appreciate it.
Will Milligan 54:20
Thanks, Andrew. Okay.
Andrew D Ive 54:25
Thanks for coming along to the podcast today. Hope you enjoyed the conversation with Will from extracellular. I made a bit of a snafu at the beginning of that podcast where I got the name wrong. Again, need a little bit more coffee sometimes. Okay, so, start up 2023. We’ve got a lot of fun things happening. A lot of fun things to do. Please come along to our podcasts in future. Love to get your engagement love to get your comments. If you want to reach out to Will at extracellular, it’s extracellular.com also on LinkedIn. I think those are the best ways.
Andrew D Ive 55:03
He also gave his email address as email@example.com. If you want to reach out to me, Andrew, I have been your host today from Big Idea Ventures. Our web address is bigideaventures.com. I’m also on LinkedIn, Andrew Ive. That’s it. That’s our day.
Andrew D Ive 55:22
If you need to get a hold of us, please do reach out. We want to talk to anyone who’s interested in making a more sustainable food system by bringing new technologies to market or feeding the 10 billion in the future. Of building ecosystems where we’re bringing scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators, large food companies together, etc. To make a difference. So that’s it. I look forward to catching up with you in the future. Please do reach out. This was the Big Idea podcast where we focus on food. Thanks again to Will from extracellular. Andrew Ive, signing off…. have a great day!
Extracellular channels biology, digitalization, and biomanufacturing to advance biotechnology. Using their extensive experience in scaling up operations and a profound understanding of cellular behavior, they streamline the production of biomass for cultivated meat enterprises. Their commitment to digitalization is revolutionizing process development by harnessing vast datasets to expedite and improve decision-making on a large scale.
Big Idea Ventures
Big Idea Ventures is the world’s most active investor in FoodTech – our goal is to invest in the best Food and Agri-Tech companies globally. The company has contributed to the development of the growing alternative protein industry since its inception and has become a global leader in food innovation. BIV is backed by a strong network of strategic partners including AAK, Avril, Bühler, Givaudan, Temasek Holdings, and Tyson Ventures, and is partnering with governments around the world working on food security and new food ecosystems. The firm has offices in New York, Paris, and Singapore and has invested in more than 100 companies across 25 countries.
Big Idea Podcast: Food Host
Andrew founded Big Idea Ventures to help solve the world’s biggest challenges by supporting the world’s best entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers. Andrew is responsible for investing and building companies across alternative protein, food tech, and agtech sectors. Andrew works with investors, corporations, and governments to invest and build the most transformative companies and ecosystems around the world. Serving on the Tufts Nutrition Council advisory board, and a Friedman School Entrepreneurship Advisor, Andrew is a Harvard Business School graduate and Procter & Gamble brand management trained. Andrew has invested in more early-stage / pre-seed food companies than most other investors worldwide. Big Idea Ventures has teams and offices in New York, Singapore and Paris.
© Big Idea Ventures LLC 2021