Applications for San Francisco (Batch 12) extended AGAIN through September 30th, 2021!

How the “good” unicorn NotCo plans to make an even bigger impact on climate change

In an interview with Forbes “How NotCo Is Saving The Planet By Making Plants Taste Like Meat,” NotCo (IBSF05 2017) co-founder and CEO Matias Muchnick describes their process for using artificial intelligence algorithms to replace animal-based foods with sustainable plant-based alternatives. He also explains how the disruptive nature of their product has led the company to “be better” in all areas, including operations, supply chain, and packaging. Getting its start in the SOSV IndieBio program, NotCo has been funded by the likes of Tiger Global, Jeff Bezos Expeditions, and celebrities Lewis Hamilton, Roger Federer, and DJ Questlove, among others. Now valued at $1.5B, the company falls into the rare category of “good” unicorn, meaning it operates in service of at least one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. NotCo addresses two—responsible consumption and production and climate change. 

To reach maximum impact on climate change, Muchnick says the mass market is the key: “The thing is, if we just do a super plant-based, vegan, trendy, hipster well-being brand, we’re not going to move the needle of sustainability. We need to make a technology that will allow us to produce food products faster, better, more accurately, at less cost while using less resources. We need to be a mass market company, not niche.”

Khosla Ventures leads IndieBio’s Vertical Oceans’ seed round

TechCrunch reports that Indiebio’s Vertical Oceans (SOSV IBSF11 2021) raised a $3.5 million seed round led by major Silicon Valley fund Khosla Ventures with additional support from SOSV. Vertical Oceans aims to grow sustainable shrimp in huge ‘aqua towers’ inside cities explains how the funding will allow Vertical Oceans to scale its “location agnostic” shrimp farming method facility near downtown Singapore. 

Discussing how Vertical Oceans will compete in the $50 billion-a-year shrimp market, CEO John Diener said, it  “tastes like fresh shrimp from the ocean, that’s really hard to achieve consistently in a recirculating aquaculture system. Because our product is so high-quality and fresh, we can sell on par with fresh wild-caught versus farmed frozen shrimp. This higher price more than offsets the costs of going vertical and urban.”

UPSIDE Foods prepares to scale cell-based meat production for the world to see (and eat)

This recent article in The Economist “Meat no longer requires animal slaughter” explores the burgeoning cultured meat industry with a focus on UPSIDE Foods (SOSV IBSF02) and its founder and CEO Dr. Uma Valeti. 

The article tracks the emergence of  lab-cultured  proteins, like chicken, as a response to the moral issue of animal slaughter as well as the dire impact of animal husbandry on greenhouse gas emissions. The Economist wonders if firms like Upside Foods can attract consumers, and points out that Upside is shifting its focus from science to trust-building and education, starting with giant windows at its new facility in California’s East Bay through which the public can view production of lab-grown protein.

Excerpts from the article: 

“Today Upside Foods and its backers hope that lab-grown meat will not shield the revolution, but be the revolution—and in a much more appealing way. The company has broken ground on a new production facility in California’s East Bay. It is not alone. Nearly 100 firms are vying to be the first to bring cultured meat to market. Select locations—including a private club in Singapore and a test kitchen in Tel Aviv—serve it from time to time. But as yet it remains unavailable to the average diner.

“It is not hard to see why investors are excited. Demand for meat and fish is soaring, particularly among the rapidly growing middle classes in parts of the developing world. Making that meat the old-fashioned way uses a lot of land and produces giga-tonnes of greenhouse gas. Much of the fish people want is not caught sustainably, and some comes from endangered or threatened species. Plant-based substitutes can meet some of the increased demand, but currently they only really compete with processed products such as those based on mince. Growing meat directly from animal cells offers a way of squaring the circle, while also satisfying the moral demands of consumers uneasy about factory farming and animal slaughter. But it is a hugely ambitious undertaking.”

New Wave Foods’ shrimpless shrimp ready for prime time

Forbes’ article “Can Shrimpless Shrimp Catch Mainstream Consumers?” outlines the product development and funding story of SOSV IndieBio alum New Wave Foods, one of the first vegan seafood suppliers attempting the difficult-to-produce snap and flavor of shellfish. The article reports New Wave’s commitment to plant-based shrimp has held steady as the alternative seafood market has gone from “barely selling” to earning $500 million in funding.

With the help of $18 million in series A funding from America’s largest meatpacker, Tyson Foods, the startup’s first commercial-ready plant-based shrimp is being distributed to restaurants across the country. Watch this video interview with New Wave Foods CEO Mary McGovern, filmed while a chef prepared a dish using their product.

SOSV’s Perfect Day raises $350 million, reaches $1.5 billion valuation

The Wall Street Journal broke an exclusive on Perfect Day’s big fund raise and planned IPO. Perfect Day launched in Cork, Ireland in 2014 as part of SOSV’s now retired Rebel Bio program, and SOSV was its first investor. From the Wall Street Journal story:

“Perfect Day Inc. raised $350 million in a late-stage funding round, valuing the non-animal dairy startup at roughly $1.5 billion and setting the stage for an initial public offering.

“Singapore’s Temasek and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board led the Series D funding round for the California company, co-founders Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi told The Wall Street Journal. Other investors include Walt Disney Co. Executive Chairman Robert Iger.

“Since its founding in 2014, Perfect Day, which uses fermentation technology to produce animal-free dairy proteins and counts actor Leonardo DiCaprio as an adviser, has raised $750 million.”

IndieBio’s New Age Meats raises $25 million series A

To stand out in the increasingly crowded cultured-meat market, Berkeley-based New Age Meats, an IndieBio alum, aims to provide “the best of both worlds: the sensory experience and irreplaceable flavor of meat that’s safer and more sustainable than conventionally-grown meat.” That message helped the company raise a $25 million series A, according to a story published in TechCrunch today.

TechCrunch reported that Hanwha led the round and was joined by SOSV’s IndieBio, TechU Ventures, ff VC, and Siddhi Capital. CEO Brian Spears told TechCrunch that the company can now “go after our mission to become the largest and most innovative meat company on Earth,” and plans produce the company’s first product, pork sausage, next year.

The environmental benefits of Perfect Day’s animal-free dairy products

Cows — and the methane they produce — are a major contributor to the overall greenhouse gas emissions of the dairy sector. Taking them out of the equation could be a net environmental positive.

Alternative methods that use fermentation to produce dairy proteins could significantly cut the environmental cost of milk, cheese and ice cream.

In a study released first to Axios, independent researchers tapped by Perfect Day found the company’s process produced more than 90% less greenhouse gases, required 20% to 60% less energy, and used more than 96% less water per kilogram of protein produced compared to conventional bovine dairy protein.

SOSV Climate Tech 100 Startups value grows by 44% in 5 months

On Earth Day, April 22, 2021, SOSV published its SOSV Climate Tech 100 list, a collection of the top climate tech companies in our portfolio. The list was notable because the companies up to that point had raised $1.85 billion from investors (including $89 million from SOSV), and had a market cap in aggregate of $5.65 billion.

Techcrunch reported on those numbers and commented that SOSV’s “planetary health’ mission was “paying off.” We subsequently published detailed analyses of the list’s founders and investors, and we announced an Oct. 20–21 event called the SOSV Climate Tech Summit, aimed at helping the climate ecosystem move faster.

Now it’s nearly five months later, and the Climate Tech 100 list financials are due for an update. Thanks to the strength of the companies on the list as well as a powerful surge in climate tech venture investing, the financials for the 100 have taken a big step forward.

  • The SOSV Climate Tech 100 aggregate value has jumped from $5.7 billion to over $8.1 billion, an increase of 44%.
  • Total investment in the 100 increased $508 million to reach $2.36 billion, an increase of nearly 28%.
  • SOSV topped off its investments with $13.8M to reach $103 million, an increase of 15.5%.

Join IndieBio at the SOSV Climate Tech Summit

IndieBio will be a big part of the SOSV Climate Tech Summit on Oct. 20-21. The event is virtual and free. The summit’s purpose is to convene the founders, investors, technologists, corporates, media and anyone else keen to understand and accelerate the climate tech startup ecosystem. Read more about the event here. Register here.

Several IndieBio folks are a part in the programming, including Po Bronson, Arvind Gupta, Pae Wu and Gwen Cheni, and so are IndieBio alums like Dr. Uma Valeti, CEO and founder of UPSIDEFoods. There are also many speakers on the main stage, the majority in fact, who are not from SOSV and represent some the best minds at work across startup climate tech. You can see all the speakers announced so far here.

In order to help both founders and investors, one very special feature of the summit is a series of 18 breakout sessions dedicated to early stage investors, incubators and government agencies that have a strong track record working with pre-seed and seed climate tech startups. They range from SOSV’s IndieBio and HAX, to TechStars, The Engine, DVCV, MassChallenge, the NSF and ARPA-e, Greentown Labs, Energy Impact Partners, and more. Look for the full list to be published soon. The sessions will be led by senior partners at those outfits and focus on what they have to offer climate tech founders. The breakouts will be staged one after another so that founders can easily catch them all. The sessions will also be live with plenty of time for audience questions.

Finally, the summit will offer an Expo that features some of the top climate tech companies from all the programs that are offering breakout sessions. SOSV is offering Expo spots to all the companies that are part of the SOSV Climate Tech 100.

The SOSV team is working hard to produce a great event that really benefits everyone in the climate ecosystem who is working hard on breakthroughs that will help address climate change. Please join us at the event. It’s free and virtual. Register here.

This could be the milkiest vegan ice cream ever

“Perfect Day’s research found that its process generates 85 to 97 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional dairy production. It also doesn’t use any of the hormones or antibiotics (or, for that matter, land) needed to keep that immense livestock machine running. You won’t find any lactose or cholesterol, either.”

Gwen Cheni’s IndieBio Podcast: Pablo Zamora, PhD. Co-Founder of NotCo

Gwen speaks with Pablo Zamora, Co-Founder and original CSO of NotCo. From their website: “When we discovered removing animals from food production would protect the planet, the solution was simple: create an algorithm – that we named Giuseppe – who could learn infinite combinations of plants to replicate animal products, make them sustainable and taste even better. Now, for the sake of the planet, let’s reinvent the food industry — one delicious mouthful at a time.”

Podcast Episode: How to CSO a Unicorn

TRANSCRIPT BELOW

Pablo: At the initial moments of a startup, you have so a limited budget that you can not make mistakes. And if you made mistake, you need to [make that mistake] cheap and fast. 

Gwen: Hi everyone. On today’s podcast, we have Pablo Zamora, who was the co-founder original CSO of NotCo. Everyone’s probably heard of NotCo by now. It is has saturated the Chilean market, and now in the US market and can be found at a Whole Foods near you. So Pablo, welcome to the IndieBio podcast.

Pablo: Thank you Gwen for the introduction. 

Gwen: So Pablo, I have to tell a joke to everyone to start the podcast. So I was actually on a on a radio show with Pablo. And you know the letter Y is pronounced like a J in Spanish. So Pablo goes, “Oh Gwen got her start in jail.” And so I was thinking, “I’ve never been to jail!” Where is this coming from? So I went to Yale university. So Yale is pronounced like Jail in Spanish. It took me a second, but I very quickly said “no, no, I’ve never been to jail.” So that’s the little bit of Spanish lesson for everyone here. So Pablo, with that start, tell us about yourself. How did you get started with NotCo? How did you get that idea?

Pablo: So I started with NotCo six years ago. I think because the food industry was really static, and real innovation wasn’t there, at least in Latin America. When we started the company, the three founders, we met in the US. I was in California at UC Davis. My co-founder was at Berkeley taking some courses, and another one he was at Harvard. So we connect to each other in the US, and then suddenly we realized that innovation was required in a space where everybody can be a user, right? It could be tangible for everyone. And food industry was the first reaction that we get to, how we improve technology in a space that is kind of [backward] in that time, we were talking about 2015, 2014 we started a company and we decide to move it, three of us to Chile to start it here. Chile make a lot of sense for us because we were Chilean. So if we succeed or we fail, nothing happens because we get some kind of reputation over here. And at the same time, I think that we identify that new tools that they were available for other industries like biotech, biopharmaceutical or medicine weren’t there for the food industry.

So that’s how we ended up bringing to profile of deep science: I’m a biochemist, plant biochemist and with a lot of expertise in genomics, my co-founder Karim [Pichara], he was expert in machine learning for astronomy, um, use of data sets and creating algorithms for that kind of application.

So we bring together – and I always say that when we met Karim and we tried to pull together these two angles of food – it was a train 200 miles per hour, because we try to bring up a solution when the data was not there, we create some experimental data and then we use the optics of astronomy to resemble food. And that was pretty amazing at the beginning.

Originally reason, for me at least, on my end was a pure academic exercise. And then we find out with the help ofMatias [Muchnick] that we can really build a business around it. 

Gwen:  So it sounds like the three co-founders were actually bicoastal. How did you find each other?

Pablo: I think it was funny, you know, because I was living in the US for, I dunno, nine years. And Karim, he was doing his postdoc at Harvard. He [was there for] a year and a half. But Matias had traveled to get some entrepreneurship courses in Berkeley, Stanford, these small programs, and then he moved to the east coast and he find out my name because the Chilean diaspora is kind of a small, and there were not too many Chileans working there and doing great stuff. And I was, at that time, getting a very senior position at Mars Incorporated doing pretty awesome and deep science project with plants and Matias wanted to contact someone with expertise in plant biotechnology mainly.  I think that he didn’t understand very well what was the type of expertise that he was looking for, but I was a Chilean, sitting there, leading a lab. So he contacted me and then he moved to Harvard, because a friend of his was an alumni, friend of Karim.  And of course Chileans, we love our country, we always communicate with our peers outside of Chile. So he was, I think contacting Chileans that came highly recommended. So he ended up contacting me and contacting Karim on the East Coast. 

Gwen: Got it. So I do know that hiring – both after the initial IndieBio stage or even during IndieBio – hiring is such an important role for both founders and VCs. So always I’m always asking for tips. How did you bridge that? And Pablo is super humble: NotCo, with their $235 million recent raise just became IndieBio’s first unicorn. Congratulations! 

Pablo: The decision of investing in it. 

Gwen: I always feel like it’s the team, right? There was a meme on Twitter recently of the real athletes and then the spectators that are watching it on TV or in the stands. But I really feel that as investors, that’s all we are is that we’re cheering you on. We’re helping you. We’re buying your schwag, but you know, we’re not the ones in the arena fighting.

Pablo: Yeah, but I think that particularly in the case of IndieBio, right? Because you, for example, you help with fundraising, but at the same time you have access to facilities. The iteration that happened internally really triggers a lot of progress, not just pure business side, but also the experimental one, and the experimental one with the interaction that you have with the mentors and everybody around the ecosystem have with IndieBio. We spend time in SF – New York didn’t exist at the time – I think it’s very fast how every iteration happened between the experimental and the business, because you are developing business skills all the time. In the case of our our CEO, Mathias is very smart and he learned pretty fast. But at the same time, you have a layer of experimental skills that you are improving and you are interacting with the business, in the day-by-day, very concentrated. Because when we were in Chile, of course, the team was in Chile, there is a lot of business to attend, including, how you hire people, how you build a business, how you build a lab, how you manufacture, how you contract services. So, I will say that the momentum of IndieBio is something that of course it’s very good for founders because you’re aligned with the founders. You need to be, really, at the end of the program. But at the same time, I think it gives some kind of peace for people that are sitting there, just thinking on executing what was proposed on the regional plan. And I think that that is very valuable because I for instance, I spent a lot of time with Matias in Japan, getting selected by endeavor. And I think at that week in Japan, just two of us working together helped me understand better my co-founder. And I think that is exactly what happened at IndieBio:when you spend more time with your co-founders and you try to map out how they think, how they take decisions, you know friends you could be, or how colleagues you could be. 

Gwen: Yeah, I think that is the differentiation between IndieBio and regular investors, whether it’s an angel investor or a seed fund. We really are free employees for six months for you. For some of our companies that just went through the batch, I literally sat in every large sales meeting with them and for them, because when you’re selling B2B, you might only have a dozen possible clients. And so you can’t burn any of those meetings. So I made sure to attend all of them. Because if you miss one of those opportunities, It’s jeopardizing the survival of your company. So totally agree with you on that. Thanks for pointing that out. We don’t see a lot of founders that really appreciate what we do, but you’re definitely very grateful for the people that help you. And maybe that’s why you guys are so successful, right? Is that people want to continue helping you guys.

Pablo: Even more! I remember that after we raised series A and B, and we needed to be back in the U S with the long run of growing in Chile and expanding to Brazil and Argentina. I remember the time that I went there, 2019 and the first door that I knocked on was IndieBio SF, because we needed to find space for working. And you said you were alumni like two, three years ago, but this is your space, you use it. And when you’re ready, you move on. So through IndieBio, we ended up in another place in San Francisco where everything is happening with big companies. But the first door we knocked on was IndieBio because we were involved in the past and that kind of continuity, it’s good because you have a partner overseas, in a case like our company based in Latin America.

Gwen: Yeah, that’s definitely been true: we’ve never kick out any of our alum companies. You essentially have free coworking spaces, in both San Francisco and New York now, which has a benefit. You have West Coast and East Coast. So let’s talk about the operating side of NotCo because you guys grew very quickly in Chile. How did you do that? And how did you pick Chile?

Pablo: I think for many reasons. First of all, I think that Chile is small enough as a country and it’s very organized in terms of retail. So if you are in the three main retailers, you concentrate like 80% of the market. And we have some retail that is very well organized and very innovative. So we have one specific brand called Jumbo, they are looking for brilliant products overall. So we have a small market, small enough to make a proof of concept, and at the same time, I will say smart retail for bringing in new concepts. And we aligned perfectly with them because we were the new kids on the block, with an aisle that was very depressed. The first product we launched was NotMayo, because people change their decision on the price point, based on how cheap was the competitor. So you didn’t have any attachment to the brand. So when we created the first product, I think that we make a lot of noise, because [we were] equal price from the competitors, and we were doing in-store tasting, and saying to people that [NotMayo] was exactly the same, but with no cholesterol, not saying that it was a better product, or anything like that. Very smart way of communicating this. So, I think that we broke some kind of cultural boundary of consumers saying that plant-based product was for vegan. And we never communicate that we were a vegan company, because vegan for a big retailer, you will be a niche product on their organic aisle. And we ended up working on the same aisle with the regular mayo, and nobody noticed because [our] competitors were based in Europe and another one with the R-and-D center in Brazil. So I think that we grew in market share, without the competitor [knowing] that we could be a good and strong player. So I think that combined many things: an organize market, a very good retailer mindset, an aisle that was very depressed, and in-store tasting, I think that was key because if you just leave your product there and [go] home, nobody will shift their decision based on a label. You need to test and interact. We, myself and my co-founders, we went to the supermarket and gave samples to them. And I think that makes some dynamic internally inside the supermarket, with how people interact with the product. And that was pure marketing, and Matias is brilliant there. Yeah, that’s how we grew and people started adopting without being vegan. So they go for X and they go for NotMayo. And that was perfect because we, in some way democratize how the plant-based food was perceived in the market. And we were very focused, I would say, in one supermarket, and with that case of success, we went to the second one and the third one, and negotiated better terms, and eventually grew nationally. But [Chile is] still one-third of California in population. So I think it was good for creating this narrative of the company. And with that enhanced experience, we are opening in more aggressive markets like Brazil and Argentina.

With regards to regulations and how we develop the product, if we want to develop the product internally and then ship it to other countries, or start operations in other countries. So that exercise of perceiving ourselves on a growing process, I would think that Chile helped us to [nail] down [a process]. If we make mistakes, it’s still a small market. If something happened in the aisle, we drove there and see what happened. And that was very cool. I think it, for me at least, made a lot of sense because I was in charge originally in the company of creating the science platform. And you have great universities, excellent, these student, a lot of PostDocs everywhere from Chile, from overseas that can flow back, and be back in the country. So the kind of people, the highly skilled people recruited for the company was already in the country. So that makes everything happen pretty fast. 

Gwen: So I just got a request to do a go-to-market and distribution session for the next batch. And I think I’m going to use what you just said. I think you summarized it really well. The number one thing it sounds like from what you said is, find a partner that has an unmet need, right? So if you’re knocking on doors, you want to knock on the easiest door. Somebody that is looking for the solution that you can deliver. And number two, is after you found the partner, the product that you picked is one with very little loyalty, right? And so that’s another easy product. So you want to find the easiest product there as well. And then I think number three that you mentioned, after you’ve done these two, you can’t just sit back and let the market do its work. You actually have to put in the sweat and maybe blood and tears to actually do the one-on-one product introduction to get the customers up the learning curve of what is this new product, have them try it. And then I guess the fourth thing, if possible, you’re hoping that the [distributor] that you’ve partnered with has enough market share such that if it works, you get enough growth right away. But I think of the four items that you mentioned, the fourth one is a nice to have, but not a must have, 

Pablo: Yeah, very good you explained it better than me. So number five, I will say – it was critical and not intentional – is the mainstream products, their R-and-D operations to challenge us wasn’t in the country. So we grew 1 point of market share to 2, 3, 4, 10, 12, 15, and the people [finally] noticed. What is happening in Chile, why we are losing market share why wouldn’t, why we don’t release our own plant-base? 

And when they went to launch their plant-based product, we were already on the top of the mind of every customer. So we created a brand very powerful, so people give loyalty to us. When they reacted, that was too late for them. When they released their plant-based product, we’ve already captured the people that want to jump into the plant-based. So we didn’t, I would say, lose market share because there were other plant-based from the current mainstream brands releasing product. And that was pretty awesome, because people start defending us, to say, this is what NotCo does, so why you are buying this other brand, if this concept belongs to NotCo. And that was great. And you can see it on the supermarket because I was, you know, as a customer seeing, looking at the aisle with the natural products for 20, 25 minutes and people make choices. And they choose this cool brand from this, how the people define us in the YouTube comment, overeducated hippies, right? That they were creating this concept of plant-based products. 

Gwen: I think that’s a really key point. I’ve actually heard the same thing, uh, from, uh, companies in Mexico, that if the product is made by an international manufacturer outside of the country, they’re not as quick to react, because they don’t have as many boots on the ground and this actually highlights the importance the numerous number of hours spent in the grocery stores, right? Your large international, global competitors didn’t do that. So they didn’t have boots on the ground. They weren’t able to react quickly and they, frankly, maybe you just didn’t care as much. I’m so glad to hear. You’re reiterating a lot of our points that we’ve been teaching our founders. 

On that part, I guess it’s always easier to raise when you’ve seen a lot of success, but any tips on fundraising.

Pablo: Yes, I’m helping right now because I’m not part of NotCo management team anymore. So I’m helping companies because I’m in Chile and my co-founders they’re in the U S growing this beautiful business. So I’m helping a lot of startups right now with fundraising. 

I think the lessons that we get from NotCo to exercise the strategy of fundraising, I think that the main lessons for me is, of course, not get easy money. First, people at the beginning, I remember giving a conference for a bank in Ecuador, and a millionaire in a private jet came in and said, I want to have 40% of your company. You will have $20 million dollars. And he had no clue on on CPG products, he had no clue about the technology. He had no clue, nothing. And that was the easy part, right? Getting the funding for an attractive idea, in some way, could be very easy. But you need to pick, very well, your investors. And the main strategy that I used, maybe my co-founder thinks differently, but people that are aligned with your purpose: it’s very important, right? People that are not just can understand your business, but aligned with what you want to change. My goal behind startups, and NotCo is one of them, but I co-founder other too, is to change culture in stuff that I believe that are not correct in society. So that notion need to be shared with your investors: they need to be aligned with the goals of your intervention in society in some way, right? This is very important because they will create empathy with you and they will try to fight with the same passion for that change of culture that you are pushing from your end. This the first one. 

And second one, they need to be hands on, your venture [investors] need to be hands-on. I remember that the first investor that we got was Kaszek, the largest venture fund in Latin America. And they were awesome. Not just because they helped us educate ourselves as a management team of a startup, but also they will really helpful in creating and open their own network to hire people, management, positions. If we travel to Buenos Aires for a meeting, we used their office. And we always were very welcomed by their team if we want to talk some strategies. So one dimension is the board of director role that they play, we were looking for people that can really support the operation in many dimensions. And I think VC was key in that role. And also we, we bring other people, right? The Craftory is a brand focused VC. And they were great as well. And keep moving with the rest of the investor. But I think that combination of aligned with your purpose and your goal and your vision is critical, and also that they have the perception that they need to be a partner with you, and they need to help you to grow, not just every month kicking your butt with question and creating new new strategies. 

Sometimes the projection of the company doesn’t accomplish what we promise. It’s normal. And having someone there sitting with you that you can call in the middle of the week without being in a board meeting saying, “man, I’m in trouble. You need to help me make a decision here.” That kind of a partnership role. I think it was critical, for not just to accomplish the economy part of the company, but also to create a culture internally, to create a kind of a way of seeing the business that can really help you to put in their current role as some responsibility of the success of the company. And that was great because if we want to open in Argentina, there will be a venture helping us to do that. If we move to Brazil, we have another connection to do that. So including office space, that is very simple, but imagine being a small company, open a new business in a country that you have no clue, and you don’t speak the same language. So that part of the growing, is with the venture. And I think we made great choices. 

Gwen: Yup. I totally underline everything that you’ve said. I always advise founders, “don’t think of it just as money, but as a co-builder with you.” And so it’s really easy to be on the board and demand everything. Much harder to sit side by side with the founder and say, “okay, how do we solve this together? Here are all the intros I’ll make for you. Here are the things I’m going to do to help you,” instead of just saying “you do this.” I totally a hundred percent agree with you. And sometimes I think investors underestimate the power of the intros: if you’ve been in the venture business for 20 years, you have contacts to make a huge difference in a company. And for anyone listening, who’s not from LATAM, Argentinian Spanish is very different from Chilean Spanish. When Pablo says two different language, that that’s what he meant. 

Pablo, Matias sort of scouted you out from the stories that I’ve heard. How did you know this is something that [would work]? The business founders have an idea. They have a grand vision, a CSO is such a key hire. How do you find the right one? And the same, the reverse is true, right? If you’re a scientist, oftentimes a lot of scientists don’t recognize the importance of the business side, especially on the pharma side. How do you find a good business executive that will get your product to market? I see a lot of failures on this part. 

Pablo: Very, very hard. I think it’s very hard because normally most of the venture doesn’t help to recruit good scientists because sometimes some investors [don’t see the science]. And I’m seeing this after my fundraising with NotCo. They see science like an excuse of building a brand. They don’t see a science has a deep part of the soul of a technological company. They love to mention that science is important, but they don’t want to invest because it’s too expensive and it’s too risky. I’m a scientist like you, I recognize that you are also a business woman. I think that we as scientists have some very important problems with ego, and it’s a hard to recognize that we need to build some people on the table to do what we don’t know how to do. And I will make the question on both sides when you are on the  business [side], and you try to convince the scientists, it will be always hard because the scientists will check your resume.

And your resume probably say nothing about what really you are in the business side. So this has happened to me with Matias. When the first time I met Mathias, he said, “Yeah, this is a idea with red hair, and I don’t have too many with red hair in my network, so he could be interesting, but I will contact my one of my PhD students and work with you in what we are planning, but I don’t have the time. And at that time, I was associate director of an innovation center with a forty-five scientists with a huge salary, with many labs. So I was very good in my position, working for UC (University of California) system. So building a new company was not something that I was looking for, because I got everything that I wanted at the time. And I was 35 or 34. Now my career was very crazy. So I was sitting in my lab in floor number 12 in a business district with a lot of brilliant scientists all over the world, and I was having this idea with Mathias and Karim to start something tangible in Chile. So my first reaction was, “yes, we can do this, but I will spend none of my time, I will spend zero time on this until we see if works or not.” So I contact someone in the university, “why you don’t help me to solve these couple of questions and see if that works, I will jump in and I will take the lead on this. And that was exactly what I did. 

And also Mathias remind me that at first, when we went back to Chile, he was calling me and [when I pick up the phone and see the name] Matias, “ah no, I don’t want to talk to this guy” because I was very busy. And I had in my hands a $35 million grant and needed to make too many things. So getting the attention of a scientist is not easy. So at the end, what happened is what we were proposing worked experimentally and they say, well, if this is work, this could be a game changer. So I decided to jump in and dedicate my time and put all my energy and my quality behind it.

This is my experience. And I have been approached by many business people across time. And that was the very first time that I talked to them deeply, to try to understand what they’re looking for. But of course, I was in my personal life. I was a scientist in a university, then I moved into the patents, knowledge and writing patents, then I moved to the private sector. I was leading an Institute of Advanced Research in a company. So my mindset was easy to jump into a startup because I was doing research for four years in the private sector. But if you want to convince someone in a university, [that’s] even harder, because their life is already solved, because they have their tenure track, they receive grants every year, they do whatever they want, they have two months of vacation. So dealing with that part of the scientist, I wouldn’t say is even harder, because maybe they know the science, but they are not familiar with the business. They don’t know how to execute the correct science for delivery, and not go too deep on the science to make papers, realizing what the company requires from you. So I will say that my recommendation for hiring CSOs is like always go to people on middle position in companies, on a startup, people that can really achieve in their minds about how to apply to business, not just apply like at a university, because someone else will take the post, and someone else will make it work. You need someone that has experience of delivering on very very tight budgets, with the right specific experiments that will allow you to move into the next level. And that experience is the private sector. There’s no way that you can have a game-changer CSO from a professor position because he will try to replicate whatever he does in the university, that is absolutely different to the one that you need to accomplish in the private sector. And of course, being a CSO, when you are a startup, you need to be the middle scientists that can learn, have experience, and can jump in into your startup with very good incentives, with stock option and bonus or something that would help him to move on from his current position. 

Gwen: How many years in the private sector do you think is enough to have learned those lessons after academia? And also, do you think private sector is sufficient or does it have to be a startup or innovation focused private sector?

Pablo: I would say the private sector will, if he is in a good position, private sector? will be enough. I think because also if you’re in a big company, not as a startup, you can bring your clients, you can bring your network, you can have access to big facilities. But sometimes when you’re a startup, you’re poor for the first 10 years. So you are kind of in a battle position, always fighting for the paying for experiments. So that going from startup to startup, sometimes you don’t have the vision of creating a business around science. So having been a scientist in a real strong consolidated company – of course maybe the person is less creative – but at least he has the view about how the system works, and eventually he will help you to create that kind of vision from your startup to the consolidated company.

So I will center timing for me at six months [to] change my mindset because … 

Gwen: I think you learn a little bit faster than … 

Pablo:  … maybe a few years, three, four years to get a good sense. What you can not do is like bring in a corporate guy that sees science has a commodity, as people in the private sector normally have that view. If you take that profile, you will make a big mistake because he will kill the startup. 

Gwen: Yeah, I think this is the reason why I just love IndieBio, is that one of our core thesis is that science is the asset here. My personal view is that the scientist is the IP, is more valuable than IP. What I’ve seen is that the scientists that wrote the patents, they can always figure out a way to get around it. So if you think that the patents are the assets, you’re wrong, it’s the scientists that are the real IP. So I totally agree with you on that part. So how long did it take for Mathias to wheel you out of your $35 million grant …

Pablo: I think a few months, three or four months. Because at the time, the company didn’t exist, was kind of a concept, but we were iterating. So Karim was doing some things, I was providing some data and helping to collect some data on the repositories, Karim was doing the first iteration, and Matias was experimenting in his kitchen.

So until we get good food, we decided to wait to create a company. When we say this is not disgusting, this tastes pretty good. Wow. This is amazing. So why wouldn’t we take a seat and create a company around it?

So it was funny because our experiments are eatable experiments. If you fail, it doesn’t matter because you eat it and if you don’t like it then move on. You’re not killing anyone, you know? It was funny because in my lab at NotCo at the time, there was no toxic compounds. So everything at the experimental site needs to be edible. So the molecular biology was in another lab, right? So easy because everybody can evaluate the successful experiments. People from marketing, people from the office, can have  an opinion  about it.

Gwen: Yeah, I am very jealous of the future-of-food companies. Their lab is their kitchen, so it sounds like fun. I think you mentioned something about recruiting a business co-founder or a CSO, but it also sounds like you also did a lot of the recruiting once you were in Chile. Any advice on how to build out a team, once you do raise your seed round or your Series A.

Pablo: I think that will depends upon how ambitious you want to be. First of all, if we bring someone from McKinsey and we were not able to pay his salary. The salary of a former McKinsey is the salary of the total team, makes no sense. So much experience at the beginning and so much reputation, sometimes it’s not good because when they perceive that the founders are not mature enough, that they will jeopardize their operation, because they will feel that they know more than the view that is implemented at that moment.

So later on, I will say that in my case, and I think it in any case, because we in some way have some sort of reputation on the science and technology side, we were the ones building our team with people that we really trust from our previous positions. So, I say this correctly because at the initial moments of a startup, you have such a limited budget that you can not make mistakes. And if you made mistake, you need it to be cheap and fast. You can not create very huge deep long-term experiment to demonstrate anything. You need to be very sharp, very efficient. And for that, I will say in my personal experience, I hired people that I most trust in my entire career. So I’d bring people from the US, I bring people from Chile. They were my peers, they were my colleagues, they were my students. And I bring them from everywhere, I [tell them] what we are building is so powerful that you will not regret on that decision. We have no much money to pay you, but you will be playing a role in a game-changer company. And why I’m saying that it’s a game-changer company, this is the data that we get. This is the kind of logic that we have behind the company. This is the technological platform that we want to build. The skillsets are required, but the mindset and the trust are equally important as the skillset.

So I will say at the beginning, only just two first employees, they were kind of agnostic on the search. The other ones they’re strategic, they are people that we trust and we give to them the role of building the platform that we want, because they are people that demonstrated in the past that they can do it in other positions, whether at a university, at a center, in another startup So I think that was a very, very, very critical: skills, trust and mindset. 

Gwen: Yeah, a hundred percent agree with what you’re saying is that the beginning stages of a startup, especially when you’re a sub 10 people, you’re very likely running on very low capital. So you’re not like a large company where, if the hire didn’t work out, you’ve wasted six months of salary. You don’t have that six months of salary. So it must be somebody that you trust. And also you don’t have the time to deal with personnel issues. I think another thing I’ve advised founders on hiring for a technical role, which is something that they probably don’t have from their own network, is that the person who’s asking you to match their current salary is likely not the right person, because they’re not giving up anything. They’re getting salary plus your stock. So don’t go for the mercenaries, go for the missionaries. 

Pablo: Right. True.

Gwen: Every guest [on the podcast] I always ask them, what topics do you want to talk about? And Pablo, despite being how smart he is, he has a big brain, but he has an even bigger heart. He said, I want to talk about how entrepreneurs founders can give back to their community. So I want to yield the rest of the time for you to talk about that.

Pablo: I think that for me, that is critical, right? If we want to move the economies, I think that startups are at the peak, the margin of the economy, important players. And for that, we need more NotCo’s, we need more, we need more.

And it’s not a matter of concentrated just for concentration, it’s being concentrated to distribute. And I think that the entrepreneurs, we get some kind of success, right? Success in the economical dimension is one type of success, but you need to have a vision that all the people need to come after you, and build that capacity, not just to move the economy, but also to create great jobs, to create knowledge as a pinnacle of moving societies. And for that, for me is critical. So right now I’m working from the municipality of my city, the city that I live. I live in the countryside and I decide to support the municipality and create an innovation department over here, and bring in the best startup that I know to, to try to create impact on the territory that I live.

I’m not saying that that is the way to go, but I think it’s good to read, to perceive that entrepreneurs have a way to go that can really have impact in many dimensions. And startup was one experience, but public policy could be a second one, helping other entrepreneurs could be a third one. Playing with people that are trying to build a business that are not technical, scientific driven companies. It’s important to give some tips. So I think that we need to have a vocation or some kind of empathy with the society and we have some entrepreneurs need to play that game as well. So what I’m doing in my day by day basis, not just sitting on boards and helping entrepreneurs, but also helping my neighborhood. I create a school for instance, for teaching kids, because I think that it’s key. Someone called me from Germany, from Netherlands, from Africa, I will find my time and I will talk to them because I think that is valuable for everyone to receive feedback that is not lessons. I spoke to a woman that is doing peptidomics, and I’m a biochemist, and I have no clue about the strategies for peptidomics for humans, but I think I have some view that can help that founder to shortcut some process that I struggled with myself in the past. So I think that we need to spend time in our life of giving back, and I have four hours a week on my calendar, blocked for anyone that want to talk to me for five or ten minutes. I am open to do it because it’s a great way to give back. And I decided to use the office of the municipality, mot because I’m an employee of the municipalities, because I have so many great people in my network that can support the municipality that in an hour I have a meeting with two startups that they want to pilot their product with this municipality. It’s very poor, I’m not sitting in New York. It’s a place that no one knows, but I think that everybody needs to [give back], it’s like going to military school for people from Israel, right? You hit [it big], you need to go there and you need to spend your time sharing your knowledge. And I think on my end is the only way to really move the engine in our space because people can can say, we rely on the government on pushing these ideas, but the government had no experience in reality of creating innovation on the ground. So the only people it’s the consolidated business: they have no idea of sharing that knowledge because they are concentrating [on business]. And you have this more democratic access to knowledge and capital that is entrepreneurship. And also we need to support each other.

One of my goals with the companies that I’m [advising] right now, not related to food of course, because I am pretty respectful of NotCo, but it’s how we hire service of another startup, how we create business with them. If you need to go and screen for your diagnostic, you don’t need to go to the private consolidated Roche. You can go to a business that is equal to you and needs your support. So creating network it’s important. And helping each other is very, very critical for me. This is the way to make this ecosystem more dynamic. And also I am playing, I would say, an important role of building companies, right?

And that’s why I’m sitting in accelerators and company building programs, to help scientists, to change their mind and find co-founders, like exactly what we have been talking, and develop a business around their skills. Last year we create 12 companies that come in directly from universities, and we train scientists, we forced them to learn about business, look for co-founders, help them to create a business, talking with the university changing policies just to create a new company. And that was very successful. And now I’m starting a second process of that: it’s called APTA builder. And we plan to have another 12 companies, scientific based companies that are driven by a lot of fundamental research paid by all the citizens, because these are professors at universities. So I think that we need to, we need to play that role. Absolutely.

Gwen: I love what you said, and I wish there were more Pablo’s or everyone’s a Pablo. There are two quotes that I really like. One is, “service is the rent you paid to live on this earth.” And the second is “to whom much is given, much is expected.” And I think a lot of people, look at that quotation and think that much has given just means you were born rich. No, I think we’re all given so much. The fact that we have intelligence. The fact that we have drive and the fact that we have a willingness to make change, these are all gifts, right? And so it’s up to us to channel these gifts to make a difference. And I totally agree with you that if you want to make a difference in this world, startups actually might be the way to do it instead of waiting for bigger changes, you may be just have to start.

So last question is, what are three people you want to see me interview next?

Pablo:  I think that the three founders that really inspired me, one of them, the first one, we did a mentoring session. But at the end, I learned way more than that. What I teach, I think, or I try to propose to her. It’s a company it’s called Nuritas. It’s a scientist, brilliant scientists with a really great optic about pharmacology and human physiology. Overall. It’s called Nora Khalid. It’s is the first one. She’s great. She’s in the growing stage, but I would have $200 million revenue I still feel this is what I like most. She feel that still need to develop skills. They still need to learn. It’s on the learning curve. It’s a very successful business, but it still has a startup spirit. And that is great. 

The second one is a company that I know, because I’m very familiar with the technology, they are based on fertilizers, Pivot Bio.  They were raising, like I think $400 million for this round. There I worked on a technology exactly in the same one that they are leading here. That is how we can replace the use of nitrogen fertilizer to have very high impact on the environment, and how we reset the microbiome of crops of being not dependent of the nitrogen coming from the fertilizer. Microbes can do that work and fix the nitrogen from the air, like biological nitrogen fixation. And this is very deep revolutionary for agriculture. They call it the holy grail of agriculture. How we can change the way of making food, basically, on a species that they lose the ability of taking nitrogen from the air, because they don’t have the association with the right microbes. Pivot Bio is great. And the person is Karsten Temme, one of the founders, scientist brilliant as well. I have seen some of the lectures that he had done. 

And the third one is the founder of 23andme. They made an IPO like few months ago. I’m a user of 23andme from the very beginning. Speeding on that too, when they were in the first few months that they released when I was in California. And it’s still I’m impressed with what they have been doing, not just in terms of precision snips, like single nucleotide polymorphous, which is a tool for identifying stuff, but also because they train and educate the users. If you go to their webpage and you screen your data, you can look at the papers behind it, the scientists that discovered this. So it’s more than a service of providing you data. It’s a way of changing and bringing in science [to] every person that can use this platform. And that, that for me, it’s great because I think that they are doing better than universities of teaching. 

Gwen: Totally agree. One not well known fact about 23andme is that they actually store your genome for five years so that if they learn new things through GWAS studies and whatnot, they might actually re-sequence your genome or parts of your genome and tell you new things that they’ve learned.

Pablo: Exactly, and it happens very often by the way. 

Gwen: Yeah. So don’t think of it as, I just spent $2-300 dollars, they might update you in a few years with new data as well. Thank you so much, Pablo, for all the great lessons. I’m glad I’m not pointing our founders in the wrong direction. You’ve reiterated some of my advice. So I’ll definitely send this podcast to them as well. And thank you so much for your service to not just to Chile, but the probably globally, the startup world. 

Pablo: Great. Thank you Gwen. I think that was a very honest conversation. That was perfect. 

Gwen: Always. Thank you, Pablo.

This startup is creating ‘real’ dairy, without cows

Hong Kong (CNN)We’ve grown used to oat milk and soya milk — now a food-tech startup is taking alternative milk to the next level.California-based Perfect Day uses fungi to make dairy protein that is “molecularly identical” to the protein in cow’s milk, says co-founder Ryan Pandya. That means it can be used to make dairy products such as cheese and yogurt.

Synthetic biology could help business save the planet

Just five years ago, Uma Valeti, a cardiologist, Nicholas Genovese, an oncologist, and Will Clem, a biomedical engineer, quit their jobs to start Upside Foods in Berkeley. They developed a biological process to grow synthetic meat products by taking stem cells from animals and eggs; feeding those cells nutrients, carbohydrates, minerals, fats, and vitamins; and speeding up their growth in a bioreactor. Using this technique, Upside Foods has been able to produce beef, duck, and chicken at scale. 

Protera Announces Final Close of Its $10M Series A Led by Sofinnova Partners

Protera Announces Final Close of Its $10M Series A Led by Sofinnova Partners. AI-powered startup to use funds to advance its protein platform as company moves towards commercializing its product portfolio. Mexico’s Bimbo Group and the ICL Group join financing round.

NotCo gets its horn following $235M round to expand plant-based food products

By Christine Hall

NotCo, a food technology company making plant-based milk and meat replacements, wrapped up another funding round this year, a $235 million Series D round that gives it a $1.5 billion valuation.

Tiger Global led the round and was joined by new investors, including DFJ Growth Fund, the social impact foundation, ZOMA Lab; athletes Lewis Hamilton and Roger Federer; and musician and DJ Questlove. Follow-on investors included Bezos Expeditions, Enlightened Hospitality Investments, Future Positive, L Catterton, Kaszek Ventures, SOSV and Endeavour Catalyst.

This funding round follows an undisclosed investment in June from Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer through his firm EHI. In total, NotCo, with roots in both Chile and New York, has raised more than $350 million, founder and CEO Matias Muchnick told TechCrunch.

Currently, the company has four product lines: NotMilk, NotBurger and NotMeat, NoticeCream and NotMayo, which are available in the five countries of the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia.

Beeflow raises $8.3 million to save the bees AND put them to work

Bees are absolutely critical to the health of our agricultural system, ecosystem, and overall wellbeing as a species here on Earth. And yet bee populations are decreasing and extinction concerns are growing.

Beeflow, a startup that today announced the close of a $8.3 million Series A round, is looking to both save the bees and help farmers be more efficient and effective at the same time.

The startup uses proprietary scientific technology that essentially makes bees healthier, particularly in cold weather. A wealth of research led the company to understand that certain plant-based foods and molecules, when fed to the bees, can reduce the mortality rate of bees by up to 70 percent, and help them perform better in colder weather.

You might be wondering what I mean by performance. That’s fair.

Bees are the planet’s natural pollinators. They turn flowers into fruit, spreading pollen from one landing spot to another. Many farmers will ‘rent out’ bees from beekeepers to hang out on their farms and pollinate their plants. In almost every way, the effectiveness of this can’t be measured, and the bees themselves can’t truly be controlled.

Beeflow’s technology ensures that the bees are healthy and strong, and can fly up to 7x more during colder weather than they’d be able to without it. This means that those bees are much more likely to effectively and efficiently pollinate crops for the farmers.

Harmony Baby Nutrition: Formulas for Human Babies (not calves)

Harmony Baby Nutrition
Harmony Baby Nutrition

Harmony Baby Nutrition makes baby formula that more closely represents human breast milk than any other formula on the market. Their secret? Precise fermentation of human breast milk protein to replace commonly used cow’s milk. One in five infants has an allergy to cow’s milk protein, which means one in five infants cannot use standard baby formulas. Harmony’s formula creates a better option for parents of allergic babies, to offer a nutrition source similar to breast milk.

See Harmony Baby Nutrition at IndieBio New York Class Two Demo Day

We spoke with Harmony Baby Nutrition Founder & CEO Wendel de Oliveira Afonso to gain insight into his technology and motivation in building his startup.

What motivated you to start Harmony Baby Nutrition?

I’ve been in the baby nutrition space for a very long time, over 15 years. I used to produce formulas for babies using cow’s milk, the usual main ingredient. But here’s the problem: cow’s milk is different from human breast milk. Cow’s milk protein is fundamentally different from human breast milk protein—It’s for calves. The technology we have to produce baby formulas has changed, so why haven’t baby formulas? That’s the question I asked myself. 

On a personal level, I also have a baby, who is two years old now. She was a cow’s milk allergic baby. So, I do have both experiences that motivated me to say to myself, ‘listen, you need to do something.’ And that’s why I started Harmony.

What do you expect your first product to look like and how are you going to expand from there?

We are working on a baby formula that uses human breast milk proteins. And we want to go straight to the customers, because they want a better formula right now. 

What do we need?  We need credible experts. Picture yourself: You are a mother struggling to feed your baby. The baby cries and has a rash. You can’t sleep and you have to do something. Then you meet a top scientist like Dr. Victoria Martin from Harvard, one of Harmony’s advisors. And Dr. Martin tells you that Harmony’s formula will solve your problem. You will listen to her.

In the future, we will expand to formulas for babies of different ages. We can do it way better through Harmony technology compared to the current technology. Breast milk composition, such as cholesterol, changes a lot throughout the years. At Harmony, we can mimic the changes that happen in breast milk. We make formulas that are way more closer to the baby’s needs than what we have right now.

How is Harmony different from others that parents might use as an option?

What’s really different is the product itself. 

Currently, parents of cow’s milk allergic babies have few options. One option is formulas made from plant proteins, such as soybean proteins, but that’s not really optimal. 

Other options include formulas made out of hydrolyzed cow’s milk. This type of hypoallergenic formula eliminates the allergenic parts of the protein, but that is the only good thing about it. It smells bad and tastes bad. It also causes many side effects, such as diarrhea. 

Plus, these formula alternatives are really expensive, over $40 per can. Imagine paying for up to 10 cans per month, for 2 years or longer! It’s a heavy burden to the family. But that’s what we have. 

This is where Harmony is different, as we can replace all these generic products with a human breast milk formula. We can also price our product much more affordably, around $15 per can. That’s why Harmony is a game-changer in the baby nutrition space. 

What do you find most rewarding in your entrepreneurial journey?

I love technology, but for me, entrepreneurship is about people—people you work with, babies that you helped, struggling parents. At this very early company stage, it’s hard with so many ups and downs. I’m lucky to have amazing people working with me on a daily basis. They helped me a lot. And when I make a product that people like, it is the most rewarding feeling.That’s why I’m still an entrepreneur after all these years.

MicroTERRA: Feeding the World While Cleaning Water

MicroTERRA grows lemna with fish farmers to recycle pollution and feed the world. Lemna, also known as duck weed or water lentil, uses the nitrogen and phosphorus in the fish waste as fertilizer, preventing these nutrients from growing to toxic concentrations. It contains up to 40% protein and up to 25% pectin, an ingredient known in the food world for its great binding abilities. Using lemna, microTERRA creates nutritious, functional ingredients for the plant-based foods industry. The first microTERRA customers are the pet food producers, who require minimal processing of lemna meal to use it in pet food. They are also working with chefs to highlight their color- and taste-free ingredient in high-end plant-based foods.

See microTERRA at IndieBio New York Class Two Demo Day

We spoke with MicroTERRA Co-founder & CEO Marissa Cuevas to gain insight into her technology and motivation in building her startup.

What insight inspired you to start your company?

This idea of a circular economy, transforming residues into resources, is the key insight for me. 

I still remember one lecture when I heard that the next world crisis is going to be about water. It shocked me so much that I decided this is worth focusing my career on to solve it. 

70% of the world’s freshwater goes into agriculture. And it’s easy to create a solution to up-circuit or transform those residues into resources. If we focus on the majority, then we can make a difference. 

What is your go-to-market strategy?

I think this is an excellent question because this kind of questions and conversations will define if your business is alive or dead. 

For us, it’s about bringing a balance point between our vision and reality. On one hand, the more lemna we can produce and sell, the more water we can clean and save. So, we want markets that have high volumes. 

On the other hand, we have to go back to reality. We cannot produce very high volumes right now—so, we need to find a premium market. At the same time, we need to have the quality to sell to these premium markets. Because we are only a small startup, our products had to go through many iterations to reach that quality. 

To find where the sweet spot is, we had to do a bunch of empathy interviews to find out who our potential customers are and what they are most excited about. Then we try to create the architecture for those people, and then replicate. 

We are also conscious that our go-to-market strategy will change over the lifetime of the startup. For example, we were so sure we wanted to sell first to the premium pet food market. We thought it’s easy and doesn’t require premium quality ingredients (no one minds if there’s a bit of green coloring remaining in the lemna meal). But we have recently seen a lot of excitement from plant-based restaurants, because our new ingredient offers a playground for them to build their amazing creations. 

To be a successful startup, you have to have a very flexible mind. And you have to hear your customers; they know better. 

What’s the most rewarding part in your entrepreneurial journey?

Transforming an idea into something tangible is so fascinating, magical, and inspiring. 

When we look back at our initial plans, it’s exciting to realize how much of those plans we have executed. We are closer to being a real company; we are starting to sell products. It’s really, really exciting! Knowing that these products, this company  originated from a thought—that is fascinating.   

How do you differentiate from your competitors?

Our differentiating factor is our innovative business model.  We grow lemna in existing aquafarms, and this allows us to produce lemna in a sustainable, affordable, and scalable way. We don’t have a lot of capital expenditure, and we can add new farms very quickly. In fact, we have a waiting list of farmers who want to work with us. 

What does the future of food and agriculture look like in 5-10 years?

Food and agriculture tech must come together. In terms of food, we need to move toward sustainable solutions, not only for the planet but for our own health. In addition, we also need to make it affordable for everyone. 

In terms of agriculture tech, I believe that we are moving towards more regenerative agriculture systems. We need to look at ecosystems and how to enable their health while producing food.

Food Tech Futures: What’s Next for Biotech?

Traditionally, humans have exploited biology to produce appealing foods via selective breeding of livestock and crops. Yet there remains an unmet demand for sustainably sourced, optimally nutritious foods–a demand that can only be met with biotechnology. Food biotechnology unites the best of what biotech has to offer by providing solutions for both human and planetary health, so it’s no wonder that the food sector, of all sectors of biotech, has taken off.

At Unexpected Biotech, IndieBio SF Managing Director Po Bronson sat down with 2 well-established innovators (and IndieBio alumni!) to discuss what makes biotechnology uniquely suited to satiate current and future consumers appetites.

Watch the recording or read our summary to find out:

See the future of biotech at IndieBio Demo Days!

Biotechnology removes inefficiency

Most of the energy that we invest into livestock is lost as heat, leaving only a small fraction in the meat, eggs, and dairy products that we consume. “When you use inefficient machines, you get the consequences [of inefficiencies]­: deforestation, water scarcity, loss of species, etc. All of those consequences are coming because of the middleman,” says Mattais Muchnick, CEO of NotCo. At NotCo, scientists created an algorithm that learns what combination of plants can replicate animal products, thereby removing middlemen (animals) from food production.

Similar to Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, NotCo is not inventing entirely new foods, but they are creating alternatives. The success of these companies lies in the fact that they do not ask consumers to change their tastes, but rather they ask only that consumers embrace a sustainable replacement for foods they already love. 

“To this new generation of products, plant-based cannot be the value proposition, it has to be the taste. Otherwise, we won’t ever get to the mass market,” says Muchnick.  With this in mind, NotCo produced NOTMILK, a sustainable plant-based milk alternative that delivers the rich taste and creamy texture of cow’s milk. NOTMILK is currently available on shelves and in coffee shops across the United States and South America, making it easy for consumers to make the switch to plant-based foods and support planetary health. 

Food tech products are more sustainable… and better for you?

Consumers are not only looking for products that deliver the taste and texture of traditional foods; they also demand products that provide the same, or better, nutritional value as animal products. Namely, consumers look at protein content. Protein content to date has been limited to those derived from livestock animals in order to facilitate large-scale production.

Now that we’re not limited to what you can take from a cow, a pig, a chicken, or fish, you can actually find the active component that confers some of these health benefits

Alex Lorestani, Geltor CEO

“What if we weren’t beholden to these sources of protein we have today,” asks Alex Lorestani, CEO and cofounder of Geltor, “but instead we go out and find the best proteins for the job that the consumers [need]?” In his quest for precision nutrition, Lorestani discovered that the best proteins were most often not those served up by industrially farmed animals.

For example, collagen protein is well known for its benefits to skin, hair, and gut health. “Now that we’re not limited to what you can take from a cow, a pig, a chicken, or fish, you can actually find the active component that confers some of these health benefits.” says Lorestani.

Once these bioactive compounds are identified, Geltor unites biological insight and animal-free fermentation processes to create their sustainable, functionally-optimized protein products. Removing the animal from production thus not only supports planetary health, but also increases food functionality to support human health.

What space for future innovation in food tech?

Animal-free food products are already in our homes, our grocery stores, and our favorite restaurants, in part thanks to IndieBio companies like Geltor and NotCo. In the shadows of well-established food biotech companies, what space is left for new startups? 

Just like the biotechnology that supports food products, consumer tastes are dynamic and constantly searching for what’s next. Consumers make the decision to support new products at every meal, three times a day, 365 days of the year, so a small shift in consumer behavior can have a big effect on product success. 

With consideration of consumer palettes in mind, Muchnick imparts to future entrepreneurs: “If you execute better than the rest, you will become a good contender. At the end of the day, it’s not going to be a game of winner takes all.” Food is subjective and people prefer options. There’s more than one option for animal-based products, so why shouldn’t there be more than one option for the alternatives? 

“We’re in the very early phases of biology continuing to transform industries globally,” says Lorestani. “The way that your idea gets expressed and ultimately molded into an amazing company is going to change in ways that you might not be able to anticipate—so go for it!”

Read more from the IndieBio-produced event, Unexpected Biotech

Unexpected Biotech

New York biotechnology is building the world of tomorrow and improving human and planetary health. IndieBio NY hosted “Unexpected Biotech: Innovative Technologies Emerging from New York Life Sciences,” to showcase the many sectors in which biology can be turned into technology.

Summaries and recordings from the event are linked below.

See the future of biotech at IndieBio Demo Days!

Innovation Success Stories: Building Big Biotech in New York

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Hear how one New York biotech company leveraged previously undiscovered connections between the brain and the gut, in this fireside chat with the CEO of Kallyope.

Speakers
  • Michael Aberman, SOSV
  • Nancy Thornberry, Kallyope

Manufacturing in the New Bioeconomy

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The manufacturing industry is undergoing a radical shift. Hear how New York is leading the change in bioproduction.

Speakers
  • Stephen Chambers, SOSV
  • Stuart Wilkinson, BioBrew
  • Will Canine, Opentrons

Building Greener with Biology

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Biotech creates the opportunity to build a more sustainable infrastructure and eliminate our dependence on petrochemicals. Learn which industries are shifting, which are ripe for disruption, and how partnering for growth can lead to success.

Speakers
  • Gwen Cheni, SOSV
  • Suzanne Lee, Biofabricate
  • Eben Bayer, Ecovative Design and Atlast Foods

The Future of New York Biotechnology

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New York offers biotechnology companies unmatched access to top talent, financing, and technical capabilities. Join this discussion as two biotechnology companies discuss what the city has to offer and what they need out of a tech base.

Speakers
  • Po Bronson, SOSV
  • Matias Muchnick, NotCo
  • Alex Lorestani, Geltor

Climate Tech Investing

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New York Venture Capital is committed to creating a healthier planet. Listen to the investor perspective on the most promising life science technologies in this space.

Speakers
  • Sean O’Sullivan, SOSV
  • Dan Altschuler Malek, Unovis Asset Management
  • Lauren Rodriguez, ZX Ventures

Could This Be the Lab-Made Dinner Party of Our Future?

A slew of start-ups are engineering faux meats, eggs and dairy products that conjure a time when we move from farm-to-table to lab-to-table.

Amy Lombard for The New York Times

I spend nearly as much time talking about how I want to stop eating meat as I do eating it. I care about animals and the environment and, even more, virtue signaling about how much I care about animals and the environment. I just don’t want to make any effort or sacrifice any pleasure.

Lucky for me, a slew of venture-backed companies want to help me with my lazy altruism. They envision a world where we sit down for dinner and brag that no animals were harmed in the production of this carbon-neutral porterhouse. They want to Impossible Burger our entire diet. They want me to shift from farm-to-table to lab-to-table.

It’s beginning to work. Consumer sales of the increasingly impressive simulacra of meat, eggs and dairy products grew 24 percent from 2015 to 2020, according to the market research company NPD Group — and 89 percent of those people are, like me, not vegetarians.

Kraken Sense: Pathogens Have Nowhere Else to Hide

A considerable amount of effort is taken to make sure that the water that is used to process and rinse your produce is clean and clear of pathogens like salmonella and legionella. Even with all the regulations that are imposed on our food supply chain to prevent such outbreaks, we are still not impervious to these bacterial threats. The affects not only public health, but also environmental, as millions of pounds of food are thrown away because of the scare. The primary reason is that the current methods for testing are too slow and too cumbersome to alert us fast enough. We sit down with Nisha Sarveswaran to talk about her innovative platform to disrupt the water testing market.

How did you first become interested in water safety? What life experiences led you to this?

Water quality has always been a passion of mine. I was born in Sri Lanka and I knew many people who didn’t have access to clean water, so I have always been conscious of the importance of safe water access. Our continuous progress is only ensured if we can properly manage our basic resources, and having safe water is critical to everyone.

I learned about the importance of water testing while doing research on pathogen-related illnesses and food recalls. It became clear to me that the present testing methods, developed more than fifty years ago, cannot meet the water and food supply challenges of 21st century.

Why not?

The current best practice is to take a sample of water, culture it in the lab for three days and have a trained technician examine the results to determine the presence and the extend of the contamination in the original sample. With our just-in-time logistics network, the produce collected and tested today may already be in the grocery store three days from now, so the current testing methodology takes too long and too limiting in scope.

With our real-time detection methodology, we can identify the contamination issue at the source and prevent the costly recalls that we are always hearing about on the news.

What’s special about your technology?

Ours uses a system based on antibodies on a carbon nanotube, which are tiny materials with very interesting properties. With our specific treatment and manufacturing methods we are able to create thin, narrow, electrically conductive strips with embedded antibodies specific to certain bacteria and even strains. When exposed to water samples that contain the target bacteria, the electrical signal changes in a very unique way, and that allows us to detect the presence and concentration of the bacteria that we want to detect.

Because we are measuring the signals immediately as water is passed through, we can essentially detect pathogens in real time. The only limit is how fast we can concentrate the water, and how fast the antibodies bind to the pathogens to get a noticeable change in our signal. This real time signal means that you can catch pathogens before the food even leaves the door of your facility. Compare that to having to get a water sample, and literally shipping it to a testing facility.

Incredible, that must really save a lot of time and money!

Yes! People need to understand that it’s not just about how many people get food poisoning. Just think about how much perfectly good produce out there gets thrown out because of a bad apple in the market (pun intended).

How do you mean?

For example, once a bad batch of romaine lettuce leaves a facility, it’s hard to track where all of it goes after, and once a few people get sick from it, the entire industry panics and avoids romaine lettuce, which kills the prices and puts the entire romaine market in shock (for good reason). This scare translates to hundreds of millions of dollars of food wasted, which is not only an environmental waste, but also a waste considering how many people are currently food insecure.

Interesting! So this isn’t just about people getting food poisoning, you’re saying this is a much bigger supply chain efficiency problem?

Food consumption is growing rapidly with our rising population and increasing prosperity. Our resources and supply chain will become more strain and will require modern solutions to identify the potential contaminations in real-time. The sensors that are able to detect harmful bacteria, in as little time as possible, are becoming more and more important to ensure food safety.

Moreover, by detecting contamination early, we are not only able to prevent costly recalls and associated health implications, but can also significantly reduce the food waste by providing alternative utilization for food that is no longer fit for human consumption. Currently the food waste from the supply chain accounts for 6% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Our solution will ensure that the food that is distributed is safe and thus will also reduce the food waste that happens in the supply chain due to recalls.

You’re not a one-trick pony are you? I assume you can test for multiple pathogens?

We are building a multi-pathogen lab-on-a-chip system that can detect multiple pathogens simultaneously in real time. The remarkable advantage of our approach, other than the real-time capability, is that if there are antibodies available for a certain pathogen, we can build a sensor that can detect it and add it to our list of capabilities.

This work however goes beyond simply creating new sensors. In order to ensure that the results can get to the right hands in as little time as possible we have also developed automated water sampling systems and AI based machine learning algorithms running on our cloud platform that can interpret the sensor data and send the results in seconds.

Looks like you can cover a really broad spectrum of pathogens, but how fast can you make a test for other pathogens?

We can develop a new sensor in under 2 months, for example having developed the E. coli sensor we have spent some of the time at IndieBio developing Legionella sensor. This process will only accelerate as our first sensors enter the market and the process of creating new sensors becomes more established.

So is the speed at which KrakenSense is testing going to be the new standard for water testing? Are we going to see you guys across the entire supply chain?

We are working on developing protocols to help increase food safety testing and establish our methodology as the new standard for water testing. We really think that the water testing market won’t be the same after a few facilities can test in real time.

It’s like Amazon’s 2-day shipping: Once people start to get used to the speed, they just can’t imagine going to a much slower system… likewise, we think once we have a few pilots and customers, the rest of the market will start to find their conventional way of testing really outdated, and will want to come to us. In the near future, we see our solutions being present across the supply chain from early detection on the farms, to critical supply chain points that are highly susceptible to contamination.

So what’s on your roadmap now?

We are raising the seed round to further develop the lab on the chip system, expand our detectable bacteria capabilities, and pilot our solution with several key customers that will demonstrate the concept to the industry in general. At the same time, we are developing a suite of tools that will be used in tying it all together with blockchain technology so that every supplier has constant traceability in their food supply chain in real time.

Liberum: Automating Protein Production

When we think of synthetic biology, we often think of synthetic DNA. However, the purpose of the DNA is often to make protein. Today we can order DNA overnight for cheap, but producing protein takes at least two weeks of lab work with various instruments and techniques. Liberum aims to free researchers from the tedious task of turning DNA into protein and make experiments faster and cheaper. I chatted with Liberum’s CEO, Aidan Tinafar.

How important is protein for biological research and production?

When most people hear the word protein, they immediately think of food. Proteins are far more than food. They are used as therapeutics, industrial catalysts, biomedical research tools, materials for manufacturing and additives in consumer goods just to name a few. Insulin is a protein. Chymosin, the enzyme that enables cheesemaking is a protein. Silk is two proteins combined.

Imagine if you could come up with a type of material that you could design with vastly diverse physical and chemical properties for a whole host of applications. Ideally, you would want this material to have three properties. First, you would want to be able to make the material from a small set of inputs that are readily available. Second, you would want to be able to control the properties of the material in a tunable or programmable fashion. And third, you would want the production process to be sustainable and capable of being integrated into pre-existing environmentally-friendly modes of production. Protein is that type of material.

Proteins are strings of building blocks called amino acids that are folded and held together such that they enable certain functions. Combinatorial combinations of 20 amino acids give rise to all the breathtaking diversity we see in nature. The type and order of amino acids are generally encoded within the DNA of an organism. A single cell such as an E. coli bacterium requires a couple thousand different proteins to carry out its biological activity. These proteins can act individually or in concert as networks.

One way to take advantage of proteins is to piggyback on an existing living organism. For example, we can use yeast to make beer without having to deal with its proteins on a granular level. We can also benefit from extracts, secretions or purified proteins from organisms found in nature.

In the 70s, we began gaining a grasp on being able to mix and match these wild-type proteins between organisms through somatic fusions and recombinant technologies. During the same decade, chemical synthesis of a complete gene was demonstrated for the first time. Shortly after, in the 80s, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was invented allowing us to make billions of identical copies of these chemically derived sequences. Together, these technologies enable us to go from a digital DNA sequence stored on a computer to a designer protein within weeks. At Liberum, we significantly speed up this process, so that we can create better products faster.

These breakthroughs have already brought about the synthetic biology revolution with a total market size worth hundreds of billions of dollars and rapidly growing. For example, the size of the recombinant therapeutics market alone is now over 100 billion dollars. There are two factors that have hidden this revolution in plain sight. Firstly, cultural taboos surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have incentivized many to categorize these products as natural rather than engineered ones. More importantly, the wide range of applications of these technologies make the market appear highly fragmented. End products include anything from extracts and purified proteins to small molecules, cell lines and other goods and services that use these as intermediates. While apps of the internet revolution came to most through their screens, proteins that lead the synthetic biology revolution touch people’s lives in so many ways that make them hard to categorize as a single class. Massive shifts are often harder to observe.

What are the bottlenecks in creating protein today and how is your technology solving those bottlenecks?

Making protein using biology is hard. For every idea, for every iteration, you have to re-engineer the genetics of living cells, grow them, break them open and purify. This process is very hands-on. You need to keep coming back to it over a week or two. The process also requires expertise and expensive equipment that take up a lot of space. Even if you outsource the work to a contract research organization, you are still bound by similar timelines, plus the duration of shipping. Liberum speeds up and automates the protein manufacturing process in a miniaturized device without having the need to re-engineer any living cells. We do it all in a cell-free system that contains the same powerful enzymatic machinery used by cells.

Now you may wonder, why can we not chemically synthesize these proteins; what is so special about using biology to accomplish protein manufacturing? The problem with chemical synthesis of proteins is really two-fold. First, the error rate for state-of-the-art chemical amino acid incorporation hovers around 1%. This means that for an average bacterial protein of 320 amino acids in length, only about 4% of the final mixture would contain the correct sequence. More importantly, proper folding of amino acid chains into functioning proteins tends to be trickier in chemical systems. A system that more closely resembles biological conditions, such as a cell-free protein expression system, can avoid these problems.

Technical challenges of making proteins aside, there is a deeper conceptual issue at play. We can certainly make a protein of a specific function starting from a working DNA blueprint, but designing that blueprint is far from trivial. While rational and modular protein designs can be highly informative, they are rarely strictly prescriptive. One often needs to screen sizable libraries of designs to optimize for a specific function. Even if we take wild-type sequences from organisms in nature, there is still room for validation and screening of homologues. Unless and until we have computational means that can predictably design for functionality in silico, protein prototyping remains an indispensable tool for protein engineering.

How might your company change the way we produce protein?

We want to enable protein manufacturing at small scale with minimal time and capital investment on the part of our customers. The key insight for our business model is that we have separated the fermentation process from the act of protein production. This allows us to operate as a utility company that delivers protein production capacity to our clients on-demand. Our device and cartridges are merely the last mile. The infrastructure we build to enable this capacity is where much of the value we provide will be generated.

Once our customers have ordered and amplified their template DNA, they can simply place it inside one of our cartridges and produce their desired protein with a push of a button. Having the capacity in their own labs will allow them to optimize the desired conditions. It also provides control and rapid turnaround to enable more bright ideas to see the light of day.

What lessons have you learned transitioning from scientist to entrepreneur during the IndieBio program?

Put the customer first. Science is just the tool we use to serve our customers and the community at large. The value of our company is a function of the value we create for our customers and other stakeholders in the community.

What does the next year look like for Liberum?

Rapid iteration cycles to loop in customer feedback has been in our company’s DNA from the very early days. Our goal over the next year is to build our infrastructure such that we can bring the power of cell-free protein expression to thousands of labs around the world at very affordable prices. We will continue to build upon enhancing user experience through further iterations of the device and cartridges. Our goal is to wrap up alpha and beta testing as soon as possible so that we can launch our product within the next year.

BioFeyn: Making Eating Healthy Fish Sustainable

BioFeyn is a company that aims to make farmed fish a truly sustainable practice. We spoke with CEO Timothy Bouley to learn more about how nanotechnology can create better fish. 

Watch and read an abbreviated version of the conversation below.

What are the problems with current farmed fish practices?

There are many ingredients used in fish feed; the kind of fish that we eat most frequently are ocean predators, things like salmon. Salmon naturally eat other animals and so salmon feed often includes other fish; the fish in this feed is often caught from the open ocean, depleting wild populations and contributing to overfishing. The FIFO, which is the “fish in, fish out” ratio, for a species like salmon, that can be more than one. By putting more fish into the system than you’re producing, the system is not efficient.

There’s also an incredible amount of waste associated with this process due to the excess nutrients that are dumped into the fish pens, which then goes into the environment. Additionally, a lot of fish die, adding to environmental contamination.

BioFeyn is taking the latest science from human biomedicine and applying to the space of aquaculture, or farmed fish. Our team is unique in that each of us come from the world of human biomedicine—I’m a medical doctor, my cofounder Umberto is a nanotechnologist and our other cofounder Marie-Christine Imbert is a molecular biologist—and we are taking some of these latest technologies and simply applying them to the word of aquaculture, where there’s ample opportunity to scale up these biotechnological developments.

What can you tell us about your Feyn products?

Essentially it’s a capsule, on the nanoscale, that encapsulates existing ingredients, such as nutrients or medicines, that can be used in aquaculture to greatly increase their efficiency and improve overall sustainability in the field. Our Feyns are made of all natural ingredients, all already approved ingredients in this space.

We’re focussing on high-value ingredients that are already in fish food but are delivered very inefficiently. One example is omega-3 fatty acids; everyone knows that these are why we eat fish, to get the omega-3s and gain cardiovascular health and brain health. The problem is that salmon get omega-3 fatty acid by eating other fish. We can encapsulate it and include it in salmon feed, increasing feeding efficiency by an order of magnitude, tenfold. This increase in omega-3s is passed on to a customer that eats BioFeyn-treated fish feed.

We’re looking to encapsulate many different ingredients, part of how we determine what the characteristics of a successful Feyn. Number one, we look for things that are expensive. Number two, ingredients that are marine-derived that have a secondary, more sustainable means of production. 

For example, previously omega-3s have come from smaller fish to the salmon, but the natural environmental source of omega-3 fatty acids is in fact algae, and the smaller fish that eat algae pass that up the food chain, eventually reaching salmon. New ingredient companies are farming algae, and these omega-3s can be taken directly from algae and inserted into the fish feed, bypassing the need for wild-caught fish. The problem is that these omega-3s can be very expensive, and our method increases the efficiency tenfold. We can make it cost effective to use an ingredient that benefits fish, farmer, and consumer.

We can make it cost effective to use an ingredient that benefits fish, farmer, and consumer.

How will BioFeyn get its product to the fish?

There are many different ways to address this, one of which is going directly to feed producers; these folks have global reach to the farmers of the world. There are many, many tens of thousands of fish farmers, shrimp farmers, crustacean farmers around the world, and there are many, many fewer feed producers. Working directly with the feed producers is the most efficient way to reach as many farmers as possible.

That said, there is a path to working with farmers either individually or through trade organizations that represent a number of farmers and developing specialized products for farmers. 

What other products might BioFeyn use its technology to produce?

We have a roadmap for how our platform technology, where our nanocapsules can encapsulate a number of different ingredients. That includes probiotics, essential oils, that includes medicines that are approved in aquaculture. This is really key: there are a lot of medicines that work for some of the trickier fish diseases that are heavily regulated and can, of course, cause environmental pollution; with our technology, we can massively increase the efficiency and reduce the amount needed.

Down the horizon, in the future, we imagine encapsulating antigens as well, with some potential to developing vaccines. So you know, basically the spectrum of aquatic animal health that we think can be addressed with our encapsulation technology. We anticipate the technology will reach a point where it is fully modular and we have recipes for any challenge in this space, whether it be nutritional or infectious.

The ocean is the lifeblood of all life on Earth. All humans are three-quarters salt water. We came out of the ocean and there’s so much that can be done with understanding the marine environment and combining it with the latest biotechnologies that can be used for human and oceanic health.

Learn more about BioFeyn and all of IndieBio New York Class 1 companies at Demo Day.

Multus Media: Enabling the Food of the Future

Multus Media is a company producing the key ingredient to allow cultivated meat to become affordable and accessible to everyone. We spoke to CEO Cai Linton about his entrepreneurial journey.

Watch and read a lightly edited version of the conversation below.

What is cultivated meat?

Conventional meat and cultivated meat actually produce the same end product. They both produce burgers, sausages, steaks, and fillets. The difference between the two is the production system. Instead of producing these meats through an animal, all we do with cultivated meat is to take a cellular sample from an animal without having to kill the animal. It’s grown in bioreactors, similar to how we brew beer, but using these cells instead of yeast. The cells are then packaged into meats to create the same product.

Cultivated meat processes solve the environmental and ethical problems associated with meat consumption, to alleviate the environmental damage and greenhouse gas production associated with livestock and conventional agriculture, as well as the heavy antibiotic use, large areas of rainforest cut down to support livestock, and microplastic contamination, among other problems. Within bioreactors, you’re only producing the meat that will actually build and eat, by feeding them the exact nutrients and supporting their growth environment with very little waste.

Why isn’t cultivated meat available at the market?

My co-founders and I wondered what challenges stood in front of producing cultivated meat at high scale. We kept seeing again and again that the biggest bottleneck that is preventing this industry from commercializing is the cost of production—specifically, the cost of the growth media.

The cost of growth media takes up more than 80% of production costs right now, and current solutions are more tailored to pharmaceutical products. There isn’t a solution that not only uses animal-free components but is able to reach the performance scale and cost requirements of the cultivated meat industry.

What is different about how Multus Media creates growth nutrients?

Most media contain serum derived from animal blood, which is used in biomedical research or biopharmaceutical production to grow mammalian cells. Serum contains a concoction of proteins and salts and other nutrients that mimic the growth environment, and in that sense, it is very good.

The downside of serum is that it is an unethical byproduct of the livestock industry. It’s not very scalable and also offers batch-to-batch variability, which isn’t good when you’re trying to produce a consistent product at scale. 

What we’re doing is taking these components that exist within animal serum and producing them without animals.

What we’re doing is taking these components that exist within animal serum and producing them without animals. We use yeast as a production system, again similar to how beer is brewed, but our yeast produce specific proteins. We then combine the proteins and other factors into formulations that make it a similar growth-promoting substance, but in a way that can be scaled and doesn’t use animal components.

Conventional serum-free media that exists is designed for a very specific use case using highly purified individual ingredients. This makes existing media both not useful for looking at a number of cell types and also very expensive.

What is your first product and what does it do?

We’re initially creating a universal serum for mammalian cells, Proliferum M. Not only will this benefit bovine, but also sheep or porcine cells as well. We can take a step further and look specifically at either individual cell lines or a group of cell lines that a cultivated meat company may be using, and so tailor our media for this specific use case.

We’re optimizing formulation today to give high performance across a number of different variants within a million cells, as well as low cost. 

Our products after that will be expanded into products that support chicken and duck as well. Then, also different types of seafood. We’re looking toward developing products for those different types and seeing what we can do to innovate novel proteins.

What is novel about the Multus Media approach?

We’re working in an area that hasn’t been researched much in the biomedical sphere: the ability to identify the key components for cultured meat and to bring these components in a way that is a real solution.

What we’re doing with our protein engineering is taking these natural proteins and changing a few amino acids within a sequence to enhance their performance characteristics. This will benefit the industry by effectively increasing the performance of the growth media, which will reduce the amount (and expense!) of growth factor components that you need. We’re excited to showcase the performance of our medium at Demo Day!

What is your hope for the future of Multus Media and the cultivated meat industry?

In 5 years, I hope that cultivated meat has really started to make an impact on the traditional meat industry and is available to mass, mass amounts of people. By starting early, we hope Multus Media is in a position where we can service the whole industry and start increasing scale. We’ll be looking at our production of products across the line, replacing for different parts of the production process. The initial stem cells may need different serum than cells differentiated into muscles or connective tissue, but all products will need to allow the whole industry to commercialize at a profitable price point. 

Learn more about Multus Media and all of IndieBio New York Class 1 companies at Demo Day.

The Future of the Planet: Food Systems

Po Bronson, Managing Director at IndieBio hosted this panel featuring Special Guests:

Bruce Friedrich, Co-founder and Executive Director of The Good Food Institute (GFI), Christine Moseley, Founder & CEO of Full Harvest, Tom Tomich, Founder of the Food Systems Lab at UC Davis, &  James Joaquin, Co-Founder & Managing Director at Obvious Ventures.  Thank you all for joining us!

“Grocery stores once felt abundantly restocked, that was until COVID-19 hit our food systems. Restaurants closed, plant workers contracted the virus, milk was poured out, rice piled up at ports, hogs were asphyxiated.

In reaction, IndieBio asked today’s food pioneers and leaders – What will the future of our food systems look like and how will our food security be impacted?

The Current Food Situation

Christine Moseley, founder and CEO of Full Harvest, first saw the food waste problem at a lettuce farm.

“I watched as they were harvesting only 25 to 30% of the romaine head to perfectly bag it for grocery stores and let up to 75% fall to the ground, even before it reached the consumer,” Moseley said.

A study conducted by Santa Clara University in 2019 found that one-third of all edible produce in the US doesn’t leave the farm. “It’s purely just because of access, or it’s just not perfectly shaped for retailers.”

Tom Tomich, Founder of the Food Systems Lab at UC Davis and Professor at the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, extended on access to transparency. “The food system is about profits, and it’s also about power. You need to bring in ontologies that allow us to understand more about, well – Who’s pulling the levers? Who’s got the power here?”

Bruce Friedrich, Co-founder and Executive Director of The Good Food Institute explained, “the meat industry is a big part of the problem in terms of inefficiency and in terms the range of environmental harms.”

He explained the inherent contradictions in our eating behaviors to environmental needs. Basically, most people know that slaughterhouses are not sustainable.

“Yet per capita, meat consumption just goes up and up and up… 2019 was the highest it has been in recorded history,” explained Friedrich.

“There’s something about human physiology. We like meat, we want to eat meat, we want the sensory experience of meat,” continued Friedrich. “So rather than continuing to beat our head against this wall… let’s change the meat.”

“We need products that taste the same or better, and that costs the same or less. That’s the Holy grail,” said Friedrich.

Launching our Minds and Stomaches into the Future

One solution has been cellular meat, which allows meat cells to grow without complications of animal welfare.

“That’s going to take a long time to scale,” mentioned James Joaquin, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Obvious Ventures. “But there’s some of our greatest minds working on it.”

 “The excitement around regenerative agriculture is getting us past this monoculture, of how efficiently can we grow corn and soybeans?”

Joaquin mentioned lupini beans from Europe and duckweeds from water.

Then there’s the world of mushrooms. “There’s a startup called Meati, growing mycelium root systems to create this really textured fibrous kind of substrate,” explained Joaquin. “You can then season and flavor to create a whole cut meat alternative.”

Moseley, who’s business seeks to solve farm food waste with technology, mentioned experimental methods of fermentation and preservation including, IQF freezing, pureeing, and powdering.

“I think a lot that can, will, and needs to be done not only for nutrition purposes and extracting things out of it as much as possible, but making it last as long as possible,” Moseley explained.

With emerging technologies at our fingertips, collaborations will widen our culinary experience – that is as long as it tastes good.”

Summary by Emily Quiles

IndieBio Call for Applications

SOSV Announces Launch of IndieBio New York

— World’s leading life sciences accelerator expands to New York City —
— Call for Applications Open Now —

(NEW YORK, January 7th, 10:30am EST) — SOSV, the world’s most active investor in both life sciences and hardware, announced that the inaugural cohort of IndieBio New York will start in Manhattan in May 2020, with applications being accepted beginning today.  

“We’re doubling down on life sciences,” said Sean O’Sullivan, founder and Managing General Partner of SOSV. “We are looking to bring what IndieBio has created for the California life science industry to the East Coast. New York is a great hub for life sciences research and financing, and will be a natural center for life science startups.”

SOSV created the world’s first life sciences accelerator in 2014, and in the past five years has backed nearly 200 life science startups with a combined valuation of over $3 billion, raising more than $700 million, and employing over 2,000 people. This number includes pioneering deep-tech startups like Memphis Meats (cellular agriculture), Prellis Biologics (human tissue engineering), Synthex (cancer therapeutics), NotCo (plant-based animal-free food products), and Perfect Day (milk without the cow).

Sweetening an already attractive deal – Up to $2 million per therapeutics startup

SOSV’s IndieBio already has the most competitive terms in the industry, funding 20 to 30 life science startups each year in their program with $250,000 in exchange for a small equity position in the teams. With IndieBio now in New York and San Francisco, SOSV will double the number of startups funded and will also trial a therapeutics track that will fund up to $2,000,000 per startup accepted into the program. This will be the first time an accelerator anywhere has offered such a cash-rich package of benefits.

“We’ve seen a lot of success with our therapeutics startups already,” said Arvind Gupta, SOSV General Partner and founder of IndieBio in San Francisco. “Yet therapeutics companies often require more animal and safety studies in order to de-risk the startups for later-stage capital and unlock huge value creation. We want to see what will happen to our deal flow by offering up to 8 times the capital for an initial group of startups.”

Upon success, IndieBio will expand the therapeutics funding track to as many as 12 therapeutic startups per year across both San Francisco and New York. Therapeutic startups in the program will receive up to two years of wet lab facility, coworking space, and mentoring access to on-staff PhD scientists. SOSV will be building out a 24,000 square foot lab and co-working space for their NY-based startups, more than doubling their space in New York City as part of this expansion.

Solving Global Challenges With Hands-On Support

SOSV invests over $10 million annually in infrastructure — building out and running wet labs, electronic labs, and mechanical facilities, in addition to  offering on-site support teams of dozens of experts, engineers and PhD scientists. The benefits of these programs help startups with accelerated product development and increased access to an ecosystem of corporations, investors and over 1,000 specialized mentors.

“This year nearly $1 billion will go into SOSV-backed companies from VCs and corporate investors,” said O’Sullivan. “On top of the $65 million SOSV invests directly into our startups every year, SOSV’s deep-tech startups are getting huge funding leverage from our syndicate of VCs, angels and corporates.”

SOSV closed the $277 million SOSV IV fund in December 2019. From this fund, SOSV both provides accelerator funding as well as provides post-accelerator follow-on funding of $200k to $2 million per startup, per round, for all startups which go through SOSV programs. 

Call for Applications Solving for Human and Planetary Health

Startups can apply for IndieBio New York’s first cohort until March 1st, 2020 at http://indiebio.co/apply. The program kicks off in April 2020.

Additional Portfolio Highlights

In the life sciences arena, SOSV invests in human and planetary health, as an early investor in plant-based foods, cellular agriculture, computational biology and regenerative medicine.

SOSV is a pioneer in ‘clean food’ and cellular agriculture with investments in Geltor (animal-free collagen), Clara Foods (egg proteins), and Abbot’s Butcher (plant-based meat). SOSV was the initial investor in Jungla (A.I.-driven genomics), acquired in July 2019 by Invitae (Nasdaq: NVTA).  

Therapeutics has always been the core application of biotech, and SOSV has remained one of the industry’s most active funds, investing in cancer therapeutics (Filtricine, A2A Pharma), new modalities for autoimmune diseases (Diadem, DNA Lite), regenerative medicine (Membio, BioAesthetics), and gene delivery (Serenity).

About the IndieBio New York program

IndieBio New York has been created with the support of New York State’s Life Science Initiative, administered by Empire State Development. New York State will invest up to $25 million over five and a half years in support of IndieBio’s work connecting life science entrepreneurs with the tools and resources needed to move their discoveries out of the lab and into the marketplace. The Partnership Fund for New York City will invest $10 million into the startups coming through the program. SOSV also plans to invest an additional $60 million or more into the IndieBio New York startups. 

The program will work alongside New York’s leading academic institutions to commercialize both local and global inventions. Startups funded by IndieBio New York must relocate to New York for the duration of the program, and can leverage the extensive resources of the east coast life sciences industry.

About SOSV

SOSV manages over $700 million with a portfolio of over 900 startups. Managing Partner Sean O’Sullivan created the firm in 1995 after the IPO of MapInfo, the startup he co-founded that pioneered street mapping on computers. In 2010, SOSV opened Chinaccelerator, the first accelerator program in China, and was the first to create accelerators in hardware (HAX) and life sciences (IndieBio). Today, the firm has eight general partners amongst a 110-person staff across nine locations in the US, Europe and Asia.

In both 2018 and 2019, three of SOSV’s startups were selected each year as creators of the Top Inventions of the Year by TIME Magazine, a feat unparalleled by any Fortune 500 company or any other VC. 

For further information: Kayla.Liederbach@sosv.com

The Most Incredible Technology You’ve Never Seen

Guest post By Bryan Johnson, founder of Kernel, OS Fund, and Braintree

Saving the world (or some subset of people in it) is in vogue among the world’s wealthiest.

Jeff Bezos has a rocket company, Blue Origin. Bezos believes our future is extraterrestrial, and his rocket company exists because he thinks the price for getting anything off this rock is too damn high.

Bezos is not alone. Elon Musk is also building huge, reusable rockets. He wants to see humans fly to Mars, initially on a lark but eventually for forever.

This type of long-term thinking about the future of our species coupled with serious investment is important. But Bezos and Musk (and most other investors) are missing the most significant — and smallest — technological opportunity to save humanity.

No one has captured this tech blindspot better than my friend and Ginkgo Bioworks Co-Founder Jason Kelly. He did it by showing an image like this:

“What’s the most advanced piece of technology you see on this desk?,” Kelly asked his audience. The correct answer is in green.

A $4 houseplant is one of the most astonishing objects ever assembled. It’s a biodegradable, carbon-capturing, self-replicating, solar-powered work of art. Have you ever bought an electronic gadget that even comes close?

The mind-bending fact that a common shrub is more advanced than the latest MacBook Pro is overlooked by almost everyone. We fail to see it for a simple reason: the coolest parts of a plant can’t be seen. Not with the naked eye, at least.

It’s at the molecular level that plants fix CO2, soak up sunlight and churn out nutrients that we can eat. Way down at the level of atoms and molecules, the most mundane living objects are doing things that our best engineers can only dream of.

Small solutions to big problems

Humanity faces enormous, imminent challenges. The way we use energy is poisoning the planet, we are on track to use up many of our most important non-renewable resources, and we are ill prepared for the next inevitable global pandemic. And that’s just a small sampling of the challenges we see coming; there are dozens more around corners we can’t see around.

Major advances in deep tech – the marriage of hard sciences and emerging technology –  is going to be critical if humanity is to survive these challenges and thrive, but most of the money in the world is maintained or managed by people who do not have formal scientific training. For example, just 5% of the Forbes richest 400 people have formal scientific training. Most therefore invest in things they’re familiar with, like real estate, software and finance.

I founded OS Fund to support the scientists entrepreneurs bringing deep tech to market; leveraging hard sciences and technology to rewrite the basic operating systems of our world. Atoms, molecules, genes and proteins can be designed like never before. The biological world has already demonstrated what’s possible on this scale — if we’re going to aim big as a species, it’s time we think small.

At OS Fund, we don’t invest in particular problems. Instead of trying to solve energy or climate change or the spread of disease, we invest in the foundational technology that could be applied to solve all problems. In the same way that early computer companies like Intel, Apple and Microsoft helped spawn the modern era of computing, we aim to do the same thing with atoms, molecules, organisms and complex systems.

The scientists at Ginkgo Bioworks, one of the first companies in the OS Fund ecosystem, are charting their way by designing bacteria that puff out perfume, crops that fertilize themselves, gut microbes to make medicine, and much more. With three highly automated foundries up and running, the company is poised to upset almost every industry you can think of.

Arzeda, another OS Fund company, is using computers to design new genetically-encoded nanomachines, otherwise known as proteins. Although most of us know proteins only as food, these intricate biological objects actually do almost all the work needed to keep cells alive. Designing new proteins from scratch will let humanity play by biology’s rules, meaning we can design our way to better food, fuels and chemicals in the greenest way possible.

Another OS Fund company rewriting our world is NuMat, where they’re  arranging atoms in MOFs (metal organic frameworks) to create the most powerful sponges you’ve never heard of. NuMat works at the intersection of high-performance computing, chemistry, and hardware systems to design and manufacture materials that can filter non-renewable material like xenon out of thin air.

But wait, I can hear you thinking, isn’t AI going to eliminate the need for this kind of innovation?

That may be the grandest challenge of them all. How are we as a species going to thrive in a world where artificial intelligence can do more even than our best minds? The answer again requires innovation at the molecular level.

I started Kernel, a neuroenhancement company, personally investing $100M, to help ensure that humans and AI evolve together. We are working at the bleeding edge of neuroscience, solid-state quantum devices, materials science, and photonics to develop the science and brain interface products to allow people to bring their brains “online,” and use that data to radically improve themselves. Radical human cognitive improvement is a requirement if humanity is going to thrive in the future we are barrelling toward. We are a few tools away from an evolutionary leap; what’s on the other side of it is beyond what we can possibly imagine.

Investing in huge rockets, brain interfaces and tiny molecules isn’t actually that different. Developing a green global economy and exploring beyond our pale blue dot are complementary — not competing — visions of the future. It’s time investments in our future here on Earth get the attention and scale afforded those focused on our future in the cosmos.

New Age Meats: Leading a Cultural Shift in Protein Production

Cell-based meats, or clean meats, can alleviate pressures on the environment, end animal suffering, and produce sustainable protein for the growing world population. Yet, we are still far away from making cell-based meats a reality due to technological challenges. New Age Meats is tackling these challenges with automation and data to accelerate product development and bring pork sausages to market sooner. We chatted with Brian Spears, CEO of New Age Meats.

How did you become interested in the cell-based meat field?

I left my last company because — although it was extremely interesting, with great customers and cool technology — it wasn’t having a tremendous social impact. I’ve always believed in having a social impact mission. During my time at that company, I started other nonprofits, but they typically got the dregs of my time and energy. So, my conviction has been that your company should be a vehicle for how you see the world. I sold my ownership of that company, I’m still on great terms with my former co-founder, but I needed a technology or industry that was benefiting from this three-way collision of what I’m really good at, what I really care about, and what the world needs. I looked at industries that were making transformations to make the world a better place, and the more I learned about cell-based meat, the more it excited me.

Cell-based meat simultaneously solves big problems around the environment, human health, animal welfare, and food security. It’s also just really cool. It’s what we’re eating for the next century, what we’re eating in space stations, and on Mars. The more I researched it, the more I just thought it was amazing. I became involved with the Good Food Institute (GFI) and New Harvest in early 2017 and learned a lot about the space. GFI has an entrepreneur forum to meet potential co-founders. I started to look for co-founders, and that’s how I met Andra.

What are you building, what’s exciting about it, what’s your company focused on, and what’s special about it?

We make meat from animal cells instead of animal slaughter. We work on pork, which we chose because of the massive amount of research that’s been done on pork cell lines. There’s no animal that we consume in mass that has had more research done on it than pork.

Our big differentiator benefits from our team’s background: automation and data science. I have 12 years of industry experience automating deep research labs like NASA, US national labs, the Canadian Research Council, and the University of Texas. In those cases we put in hardware acquisition points to acquire more data and then assemble the data to make data-based decisions. Essentially that’s how you make research faster, and how you uncover connections that you didn’t know existed previously. So that’s on the deep research side. On the product side — with customers like Cisco, 3M, and GE — we ask, how do you then take that research and make products better and faster? How do you accelerate the pipeline from R&D to production?

We actually started our life as a company together in November — as a horizontal company. We looked at the industry and evaluated where we could provide value. We talked to probably 150 people in existing cell-based meat companies, as well as academic researchers and nonprofit advocates. We found that people liked our vision of how to engineer biology using data science and automation, but as an incremental improvement, they didn’t see that it was pivotal to their success.

Andra’s degree from the University of Oxford is in interdisciplinary biosciences, so she took a lot of courses in engineering, statistics, math, and hardware acquisition in order to understand all the tools that she could use as a biologist to do better research.

Despite our backgrounds, when we approached companies, they just didn’t catch our vision. We were also looking at all the other companies that were providing technology and tools for human tissue engineering — like cell lines, the scaffolding, and the bioreactors. We were evaluating their capacity to re-engineer their technology to come into our market, because if they were well poised to do that, then that’s probably not a place we would provide unique value. We took a full view of the R&D to product pipeline. With this understanding and with our unique differentiators, we saw that we worked best as a vertically integrated company. So in April, we decided to deliver pork to people using our technology.

If you succeed, how do you think you will change the food industry landscape?

We can make tastier, healthier, and more sustainable meat. The way that meat is made now is kind of a race to the bottom. There is an appetite for really cheap meat. You have industrial animal agriculture that is creating more and more negative externalities for the world: climate change, deforestation, species lost, human health concerns like antibiotic-resistant infections, concentrated animal feedlots or feed sheds, which means poor animal welfare. We can change all that.

There’s only so much you can engineer an animal to give you different tastes, textures and food experiences. With cell-based meat, we control the entire environment in which we grow our cells. This means we can start with the perception of how humans enjoy meat, and then craft our meat to deliver new, interesting, better experiences. We can also take away a lot of the negative human health aspects I mentioned before. This world of cell-based meat is obviously much better for animals. They will be able to live their own natural lives.

What are the lessons learned coming from your old company to New Age Meats as CEO?

My last company was a bootstrapped company, and we took no outside investment. So from the very beginning, we had customers and we grew in accordance with their demands. If we had a big customer pulling us in a certain direction, it made sense for us as a business to go in that direction. We were constantly changing in order to adapt to our big customers, because we were so driven by these short-term returns on investment. This meant that sometimes we traded a clear vision for the future of our company with short term gains. And then when those customers suddenly canceled a contract because they had cutbacks, we were stuck with a product so tailored to their use case that we couldn’t use it with other customers without extensive rework.

I have a friend outside of Silicon Valley, in Chicago. We were recently chatting and he started to poke fun at Silicon Valley companies, saying that we don’t actually care about money or return on investment. We just care about these crazy ideas.

I’ve learned so much in the past two years moving into investor backed startups. In Silicon Valley, investors want me to come in and say, “Hey, the world currently looks a certain way, but it doesn’t have to. I see the way the world can be, and I see a pathway for my company to come in and be the catalyst to make it that way. So, after the existing ecosystem is disrupted, we’ll be the one standing there in the new future.” They want to give me the money so that I can follow that vision and not be pulled in different directions, and in so doing, make a product that changes the world.

In the short term, what are the important milestones and achievements you’re looking to hit as a company?

We’re raising 3 million dollars for a seed round. We have five scientific milestones that we’re going to hit, and we have seven business and product milestones. The science milestones include making progress on the cell lines and the infrastructure with the bioreactors. Then on the business/product side, we ask, What do our customers want? What is it that we’re delivering to them? And how do we make tastes and experiences that speak to them?

That leads to product definition. What is in the product that we’re going to make? When we make our bioreactors or cultivators, what will the production facility look like? And then, what is the experience the consumers are going to be having? We’ll design all of that, so that when we go to Series A, will be able to execute on that plan.

We are leading a cultural shift. People have been increasingly eating animals from factory farms. We’re going to change that. We’re going to shift consumption to meat that’s tastier, healthier, and more sustainable. To do that, we’re having that conversation with the public early and often.

Watch New Age Meats pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday Nov. 6th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

NovoNutrients: making food from CO2

As the world’s population continues to balloon, demand for seafood is going with it. Aquaculture is the primary method to meet demand, but relies on feeding billions of small fish to larger fish. A process that is inherently unsustainable and is only getting worse as ocean fish supply dwindles. NovoNutrients is looking to solve this problem with a radically different approach, growing high-quality bacterial protein from waste Carbon Dioxide.

I chatted with David Tze, Co-Founder and CEO of NovoNutrients about his origins, problems in the aquaculture industry, and how they plan on disrupting the feed market.

How did you first become interested in aquaculture?

I first became interested in aquaculture by reading an article in Wired magazine. It was the May 2004 issue and there was a story about the blue revolution, which was the first time I saw the pioneering work being done in offshore aquaculture. More importantly, it was the first time I really saw the supply and demand trends in global seafood. An exploding middle class was demanding a huge increase in seafood supply and aquaculture was the only way to meet it.

So you got interested in aquaculture, but how did you transition to NovoNutrients?

It was a quite a long journey for me in that the introduction to aquaculture was in 2004 and I didn’t meet NovoNutrients’ inventor until 2017. So, during those thirteen years, the first company I started in aquaculture was actually an investment management company. I had been working in the early days of the commercial internet and it wasn’t clear how I was going to get into the aquaculture business. It wasn’t until a colleague came to talk to me about another entrepreneurial opportunity and we unexpectedly realized we had independently developed an identical interest in aquaculture. He’s a very successful serial entrepreneur named Jared Polis, now the Democratic nominee for governor of Colorado.

I started as the aquaculture investing arm of his family office. About a year later we formalized it into a venture fund, brought in outside limited partners, and rolled some of the investments we’d already made into the fund. For about twelve years, I built up this small portfolio in the aquaculture value chain that included feed ingredients. This put me on the path that led me to encounter NovoNutrients in January of 2017.

When you met NovoNutrients, what really stood out and what was the hook for this company?

There are really three important things about the company, two of which were things that I was looking for and the third which really surprised me in in a positive way. It was a company that was focused on producing protein for aquaculture and also taking the microbial approach. Knowing that the smaller simpler organisms are generally better at growth and at using inexpensive feedstocks, that was clearly the right approach. The pleasant surprise, which I later discovered, was that NovNutrients was making their protein for aquafeed largely from untreated industrial emissions of CO2.

CO2? That blew my mind. Partially because of the sustainability angle and the part it could play in creating carbon negative feeds to help address climate change, but also because, in my previous experience with a portfolio company doing a feed ingredient, one of the main challenges is inconsistency in the supply of feedstocks. That previous company used beer brewing wastewater as feedstock. It was surprisingly variable in quantity, quality, and contaminants. On the flip side, these carbon dioxide streams were going to be much more voluminous, consistent, and cheaper. It very compelling, and I got on the phone immediately, launching into the first real conversation in what would be a long series of calls and visits leading up to me coming on board as CEO. We announced my role in early October of 2017, at the SynBioBeta conference.

You touched on bacteria and untreated carbon dioxide. Could you give us a quick walkthrough of what is it that NovoNutrients does on the technology side?

The big picture is that what we do is a lot like making wine. In winemaking, it’s yeast taking up the sugar in grape juice, as the source of carbon and chemical energy, and using that to reproduce and grow. In our case, it’s a little bit different, in that we use bacteria. Our carbon source is untreated industrial emissions of CO2. Our energy source is hydrogen.

For NovoNutrients, the product is not a waste stream of the microbe, which is the case for alcohol from yeast, but rather the bacteria themselves are the product. These are bacteria that are naturally high in protein and other nutrients, so if you dry them out, they become a protein meal with ideal characteristics for feeding to fish and other animals. Our technology encompasses this entire chain of activity, but the part we’re especially proud of, and that we think is ultimately going to be the most valuable, is the consortium intellectual property that we have developed. This design sits at the middle of our process and is the interface between these inexpensive feedstocks and this valuable mix of microbial protein.

What’s the efficiency of this process? Can you really produce the huge amount of protein needed at scale for aquaculture to feed so many people?

The first thing to know about scale is that to make one ton of protein meal, we need two tons of carbon dioxide.

The second thing to know is the scale of carbon dioxide availability. A large cement plant can produce 4 million tons a year of carbon dioxide, potentially to be used by us to produce 2 million tons of protein meal. This would be just more than a third of the current global supply of high-quality protein meal that we’re looking to replace, called fishmeal. Fish meal is made when you catch small bony, oily fish and grind them up then press them out into a protein component and a fat component. That’s your fishmeal and fish oil. Fishmeal is an extremely valuable ingredient that goes in not just fish feeds, but also feeds for pigs and chickens. It is currently valued at more than $1,500 a ton.

Our technology is extremely scalable, not just within the needs of aquaculture, but in a world where several billion tons of meat are raised every year, there’s a huge opportunity for high-quality proteins.

You’re talking about meat, not just fish, is this a protein that can expand beyond aquaculture?

Absolutely. Fish are the pickiest eaters because they’ve evolved for hundreds of millions of years in the ocean to eat other things that are in the ocean. The big fish that people like to eat are eating small fish, so they require this very high protein diet with a dramatic range of amino acids. So their nutritional needs are really a superset of the nutritional needs of terrestrial agricultural animals, like chickens and pigs, or for that matter, a person.

We think there will be a significant customer base among today’s food tech companies who are currently buying proteins from the pea or lentil industry but are really interested in having the highest quality proteins at the most reasonable cost. Once we’ve started satisfying the animal nutrition market, we’ll talk to some of the movers and shakers in the world of human food.

How was your transition from aquaculture investor to CEO of a biotech aquaculture feed company?

Even as a hyper-focused investor one is still ultimately something of a dilettante, in that you have to be familiar with the full gamut of companies and technologies. It’s quite different to wake up in the morning with all my focus on one company. As a non-scientist, I had to learn a significant amount of science to keep up, even fractionally, with my fantastic technical co-founders who are in the lab every day. Besides the difference in focus, it is very different to be involved in the management of a company instead of being on a board. At the board level, you’re essentially coaching executives and advising them on strategic decisions. When you’re an executive, it’s a whole different slate of activities and I found it extremely rewarding to actually be in the mix instead of just commenting from afar.

There’s a much greater sense of teamwork and inter-reliance on your team. It’s also nice to be in a position to go out and communicate the opportunity and our progress, as well as get advice on challenges, as opposed to always being in the position of evaluator and advisor, which is not fundamentally how I see myself. I think that my new life as an entrepreneur is a better match for who I’ve always been.

How do you think NovoNutrients can transform the agriculture industry or at a greater scale the, the food production industry?

I close our investor pitch with the line “make a billion tons of food from 2 billion tons of CO2.” That’s really the kind of scale this technology has the potential to develop into. It can be a gigaton solution for our oceans, climate, and food production systems. That’s because we’ve intentionally chosen to work with some of the largest resources on the planet in terms of gaseous carbon waste. That’s billions of tons every year. As for hydrogen, that can be made from renewable power.

We’re talking about building a new pillar of the food system that’s decoupled from both agriculture and fossil fuels. If the industry is producing CO2 and there is a source of clean power, then producing electricity for the electrolysis of water to make hydrogen allows us to scale up to an extremely large facility while we replicate that facility many times on each continent.

We’d aim to be in a position where we can fundamentally bring down the cost of food and increase its availability worldwide.

What big milestones are you and you and the company aiming to hit in the near future?

Our next big milestone is to scale to 500-liter bioreactors, to address early adopter specialty markets. Our other milestone is developing our synthetic biology platform. One of the incredible things about our workhorse bacteria is that they’re genetically tractable and culturable. And so these bacterial models have tremendous potential to produce biochemicals with between five and 100 carbon atoms in the molecule. The first place to go with that will be that same aquaculture feed market that we’re working on with our NovoMeal protein. This allows us to go beyond protein and address many of the other needs in the animal nutrition space.

Watch NovoNutrients pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday Nov. 6th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

Stämm: Reinventing the Bioreactor

Biology is the best platform for manufacturing cells. It can grow and produce all kinds of biomaterials very effectively. But for humans to be able to tap into this potential, we have to build bioreactors and figure out how to scale them in order to produce the massive amounts of biomaterials we need. Bioreactors technology is very different when you’re optimizing for one reaction at one liter versus 100,000 liters, but this is where Stämm comes in. They are reinventing the way bioreactors work by developing a modular microfluidic platform that controls all the physical parameters, such as nutrients and dissolved oxygen, in a controlled environment. Unlike traditional bioreactor systems, their microfluidic bioreactor scales by adding more modules to increase the size of the reactor.

We sat down with CEO Juan “Yuyo” Llamazares to learn more. (Fun fact: his name is pronounced like “shoe-show.”)

How did you become interested in building reactors?

Yuyo: My first interaction with microorganisms was to study the interaction between plants and soil bacteria called growth-promoting bacteria. I was amazed by the communication between these microorganisms, this ability to sense the environment and that the bacteria will provide to the plants. I wanted to make use of this knowledge to create a product. I quickly realized that I would have to use bioreactors, and it became clear that the whole industry is based on bioreactors. That’s when I decided that I wanted to learn more about how we create these environments to make the cells divide, or to induce synthesis of protein. That was the first time that I got to see a bioreactor. I was used to working with plants, so working with a bioreactor felt really unintuitive, given what I knew of how cells proliferate in nature. I saw a really big opportunity there to develop new approaches.

How did you come to start this company and how did your co founders come together?

Yuyo: Well, my cofounder is my cousin, so we grew up together. But also, my grandfather taught me how to brew beer when I was 12 years old, and Federico and I saw an opportunity to manufacture yeast for brewers. That was our first time making a product, and it showed us how difficult it is to build biotech facilities. Even people that have a lot of biotech experience have trouble translating their knowledge to the market because it’s hard to develop these facilities. We saw the need for a reinvention of bioreactors so they can be reproduced around the world. We actively started scouting researchers knowledgeable in microfluidics and robotics, and started seeing that we could make this a reality. Bringing the team together, for us, was key. When we communicated our vision for the company, we found that researchers were excited to join us.

It can be difficult to take the leap to make that transition and to advocate for impact and transformation in the real world, coming from an environment that gives you all the tools you need to be comfortable. In Argentina, where I am from, there’s a reason researchers choose to stay in the lab. You have a predictable career and life, and that’s reassuring. But I made a trip to Chile and I learned about spin-off companies. That was not a concept I had been exposed to in Argentina, and I decided I wanted to bring the knowledge at my university to the world through my own company.

How does your technology work and what is the key insight that you had?

Yuyo: The key insight was to try to think about how cells experience the process of biomanufacturing and identifying room for improvement in that process. We found that today, we look at biomanufacturing as a population of cells, so we try to control the cells inside our vessel as a whole. The problem is that each cell at some point is going to be going through different metabolic stages and we take the average of that complexity. With existing bioreactors, we don’t have the tools to control that complexity, so we try to create a different kind of bioreactor: if we can account for each cell’s microenvironment then we open up a way to address the cell complexity. From that insight, we turned to microfluidics because it gave us the ability to look at the individual cell, however, the problem is that it’s hard to scale microchannels. That’s what we’re addressing with a lattice that cells move through in a predictable manner, which provides consistent nutrients and oxygen.

So how do you think your success as a company it will change the bio manufacturing industry?

Yuyo: I think that more people will know what biomanufacturing is. People will recognize it as a tool to solve a problem. Right now, biomanufacturing is “hidden” in big facilities, but with our technology, it can be used by more people at a smaller scale and more people will see the power of biology to manufacture or to solve problems.

What milestones are you aiming to hit in the near future?

Yuyo: We want to manufacture the bioprocessor and sell it to companies so they can optimize their processes as they create their product. We want to prove that this novel approach is robust and that there’s a future there. So far, we have worked with CHO and HEK cells for the manufacture of monoclonal antibodies, and we have seen that in our system, individual cells perform better. This means our process is more efficient and has higher productivity per cell. One of the other companies currently at IndieBio used our system to significantly increase the productivity of their process over the course of 20 days.

Watch STAMM pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday Nov. 6th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

Terramino Foods: Fungi as an Alternative Protein

Killing an animal and eating its flesh is not the only way to gain protein. Now more than ever, we need alternatives to conventional animal farming and fishing—not just because of animal welfare, but for human and environmental health. What’s happening now is not sustainable.

Terramino Foods uses fungi as a complete protein source which acts as a seafood alternative. Described as healthful, protein-rich, sustainable, ethical, and delicious, the company is working to help people reimagine meat and seafood with fungi, that has the proper taste, texture, and nutrition. We asked the company’s founders, Kimberlie Le and Joshua Nixon, more about their mission:

How did you become interested in science?

I don’t think either of us can remember not being interested in science. We think that science can be boiled down to just being curious and seeking answers about things around us.

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

We started Terramino about a year ago upon completion of the alternative meat lab program at UC Berkeley which supports and helps scientists and engineers build a better food system through fixing the problems with animal agriculture/meat.  

How does your technology work?

We use fungi as our alternative protein source that creates well textured, nutritionally similar, amazing tasting seafood and meat products. We are starting with salmon and seafood products which have increased human and environmental health concerns.

What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?

We had already been quite immersed in entrepreneurship through UC Berkeley at the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship, however starting a company has been a learning experience in that there are always a million tasks to juggle and only a limited amount of time and resources. The biggest lesson we learned is that execution is the name of the game (thanks, Arvind) and our goal is build a transformative company that truly disrupts that way people consume meat and seafood.

How do you think your success as a company would change the seafood industry, and our environment?

We aren’t just going after seafood – we want to make a large impact on animal agriculture as a whole since it has detrimental impacts on human, animal, and environmental health. Our goal in the long run is to be able to provide a sustainable, nutritious, tasty, and most importantly accessible source of protein for every person on the planet.

What milestones are you aiming to hit in the near future?

We are going to be scaling up production in a few phases and making our processes more efficient to be competitive on price with seafood and meat products. We also want to work on formulation of a range of products that are delicious for plant and meat eaters alike, and all the picky eaters in between. Developing our product line and marketing/branding are also very important since there is a crucial education component to our products.

Watch Terramino Foods pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday April 17th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

Pheronym: Pesticide-Free Food for the World

Pheronym

It’s no secret that the agricultural fertilizers and pesticides create major problems in our soil, water systems, animal life, and more. Thankfully there are people who aim to solve this problem, like Fatma Kaplan and Cameron Schiller, who co-founded their company Pheronym in 2012. Pheronym offers nontoxic plant protection in a new way: They are creating pheromones that direct beneficial nematodes—microscopic roundworms that exist abundantly in every ecosystem—towards insects and away from plants, creating an effective insect kill rate without leaving harmful residue on crops. Since nematodes account for 80% of all individual animals on Earth, Pheronym is tapping into a vast resource. The company’s CEO, Fatma Kaplan, explained more about the company’s background:

How did you become interested in biotech?

FK: I come from a farming family, so I know the importance of pest control to farmers. Without pest control, crop yield is reduced 50% to 80%. Therefore, I pursued an undergraduate degree in Agricultural Field Biology. I immediately recognized that biotechnology held great promise for agriculture. I pursued a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology, followed by postdoctoral training in chemistry, to bring discoveries in biotechnology to Agriculture.

How does your technology work? What would it look like as a product?

FK: Our first product, Nemastim™ provides a safe and effective way to direct beneficial nematodes to seek and attack target agricultural pest insects. Our other products in the pipeline will target parasitic nematode control, or stopping common unwanted nematodes that eat the roots of crops

Nemastim is an additive to commercially available beneficial nematodes. It is a dry powder in a small package. The nematodes are treated with Nemastim for 15 minutes in water. Then the activated nematodes are sprayed onto the field using the same equipment that farmers already own. They will travel up to a foot searching for and attacking insects, resulting in at least 5X more insect death compared to untreated nematodes.

The powder affects the signal nematodes use to tell each other that resources are getting low and they need to go out find a new insect. Of course the signal’s effect does not last forever, so when the signal effect goes away, they stop searching. We basically remind them they do not have enough resources and they need to search for more.

What was it like transitioning from science to entrepreneurship?

FK: My transition to an entrepreneur began when I realized that my discoveries would never make it onto the field unless I was the one driving them. I knew that I needed to learn more about entrepreneurship, so I sought out a business incubator that provided support for fledgling companies. The transition has been a little scary because it took me out of my comfort zone, but I have been fortunate to meet a lot of helpful business mentors.

I must admit that I never thought entrepreneurship could be such an exciting and intellectual journey. At IndieBio, I met the CEOs of the coolest start-ups and got to learn about the most exciting new technologies across a wide range of disciplines. I also have a lot more appreciation for biotechnology products because I now know how much effort goes into it to bring them to market.  

How do you think your success as a company would change the agriculture industry?

FK: Our products are non-toxic pest control solutions, so they will allow farmers to protect their crops without toxic pesticides that poison our air, land, and water. Success of our company will empower nature and provide a sustainable pesticide-free food to every household in the world.

What are the milestones you’re looking to hit in the near future?

FK: We will complete our greenhouse trials, recruit a sales force, scale up our production, and enter the greenhouse market.

See Pheronym pitch at IndieBio Demo Day on September 14th in San Francisco or via Livestream! Register here.

Finless Foods: Pollution-Free Fish, Thanks to Biotech

It’s an exciting time for the future of food, as technology has finally enabled us to grow meat without slaughtering animals. Finless Foods has applied a similar technology to produce fish from cells, creating a sustainable source of seafood. The company’s timing is crucial as our oceans are not only being decimated by overfishing, but also being heavily polluted with plastic and other toxic chemicals that move up the food chain to consumers. Supporting healthy, lab-grown fish that tastes like conventionally caught fish seems like a no-brainer, and the company has already been generating buzz from the media. The company’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Selden, shared more of their story:

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

Brian and I first met at UMass Amherst where we both studied Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. We started our company in Brooklyn, during the summer of 2016, when we put some real serious thought into how inefficient and environmentally devastating the current food system is. We then brought on Dr. Robert Hughes and Dr. Jihyun Kim once at IndieBio.

How does your technology work? What will your product look like to a consumer?

Our technology takes a small sample of fish cells and grows them out quickly and cheaply to be eaten as a replacement for conventionally caught fish. To the consumer it will look like the fish they know and love to eat, but on the inside it will be very different. Our fish is a return to the traditional fish that people used to eat before we polluted the oceans. Our fish tastes the same but won’t have the mercury and plastic that people are eating through currently industrial fishing.

How did you become interested in biotech?

I became interested in biotech because I took a chemistry class in college as part of my neuroscience major and realized I loved chemistry. I switched to biochemistry and from there fell in love with all of the crazy applications. We’re currently going through a biotech revolution. It’s like the early days of the invention of the computer, but it’s happening again for DNA and cellular biology.

What was it like transitioning from science to entrepreneurship?

It was a very natural fit for me. I’ve always been more of a people person and big on talking about big ideas. A history of political activism has trained me how to work with others and explain my ideas effectively. This has proven invaluable as an entrepreneur in a million ways, and I’m finding new ways every day.

How do you think your success as a company would change the food industry, and the world?

We will create a healthier, cheaper product with a steadier supply chain. A lack of affordable delicious healthy protein is a food justice issue, and we will solve it. We will remove the need for trawlers to destroy ocean ecosystems, and for giant fish farms to pollute waters used for centuries by local fishing populations. This will not only remove cruelty from the process, it will create something better for everybody and the planet.

What are the milestones you’re looking to hit in the near future?

We’ll very soon have our own custom cell culture media. Current media is extremely expensive, uses animal components, and is very variable batch to batch, making it unsuitable for industrial production. Ours will be cheap and animal-free as well as consistent, making our process easier and also viable as a commercial product.

See Finless Foods pitch at IndieBio Demo Day on September 14th in San Francisco or via Livestream! Register here.

Pictured above: The Finless Foods team.

Building Food Molecule by Molecule

Post By Ron Shigeta

Lessons learned in Biotech Food Innovation

Over our first four classes and 55 startups funded, IndieBio has built up a new class of food companies. We are so honored that AgFunder’s annual survey voted IndieBio one of the Top 3 most valuable’ accelerators in AgTech.

It’s been a lesson for us that biology can have such an impact on food. About a quarter of our portfolio are food and Ag companies. which have many approaches to food but are each highly innovative. Together they have created a new philosophy of how to improve food quality, reduce waste, transparency and achieve eco-sustainability; Molecular Foods.

The impact on life sciences for food up to now has been quiet but pervasive. Nearly everything we eat is checked for quality and nutritional content. The protein content of seafood (which breaks down as it gets old), the gluten and protein content of grain (which varies depending on how its grown and stored), the melting point of fats and dozens of other tests are run on food coming in from producers and wholesalers worldwide. Now verification is becoming an issue — DNA sequencing is showing that the species of one in three fish sold is not as advertised.

Over nearly 60 years of intensive development in making pharmaceuticals, assisting cutting edge R&D, the tried and tested staples of life siences can impact a market like food (and others). Life sciences is allowing for high end quality while scaling to feed us affordably. Producing food while understanding each molecule in it, Molecular Food writes food quality instead of just reading it.

“Molecular Food doesn’t just read food quality, it writes it.”

We’ve funded several approaches to Molecular Food. Also surprising has been that all of the food solutions we’ve funded heretofore are non-GMO and most can be organic/biologique. Here I describe five types of food innovation we have participated in as Molecular Foods to try to

Next-gen plant-based foods

These companies make foods we know and love using ingredients only from plants. Following ambitious companies like Hampton Creek and Impossible Foods that thoroughly produce the foods we want to eat but without expensive animals.

By combining proteins, fats, carbohydrates etc from different sources, foods with the same texture, mouth feel — the same experience — are created. New experiences that cannot be gotten any other way are also emerging.

Plant ingredients are less resource-intensive and have much fewer issues with bio-contaminants like Salmonella and E. coli. Eating plant based foods is healthier overall and that’s why the demand is outpacing the overall market for these foods.

Clean meat

The trillion dollar North American meat product is another target for better transparency and quality. Memphis Meats produces muscle cells directly for meat products, producing the cellular structures that give meat its full satisfying texture. All with a fraction of the resources and cost.

Brewed foods

Geltor and Clara Foods use yeast strains to brew up protein based foods like gelatin and egg whites. Working with them was an amazing experience. Tasting these foods coming out of fermentation like you’d find in a brewery, not only were they the familiar experience you’d experience but the ability to control the quality was a clear advantage. The ingredients are made and ready to use in hours; all of the inputs and the purity coming out are documentable with consistency that you can see. This will cut down on opaque and sometimes global supply chains that make much of our food today.

Understanding of taste, memory, and experience

Later companies include Ava Labs, GEA Enzymes and MiraculeX, which take a fresh look at wine, fats, and non-sugar sweeteners respectively. Each can create the experience of foods. Ava Labs has been creating better and better wines from the molecules that make it up. Among other possibilities they may become a historical repository for vintages which Ava Winery can help recall and reproduce rare tastes that change over time and are eventually lost forever. Later this week GEA Enzymes will present the worlds first fully liquid dark chocolate — an espresso like experience that has the full range of tastes of an exclusive dark chocolate without the dry and crumbly mouth feel.

Along the supply chain from farm to table

We have also worked with AgTech companies that have a strong biotech foundation. EnduraBio has a natural plant extract spray that cut the water consumption of a crop plant in half in a test they did with us. AstronaBio produced a 20 minute test for food pathogens, replacing a 3 day testing cycle. Pure Cultures and Animal Biome are unravelling tangle of the microbiome and producing products that work; a feed supplement that replaces antibiotics and a treatment for severe diarrhea in companion animals respectively.

“Molecular Food” is certainly an idea in progress, but the potential to fix security, waste and consistency in the global supply change has been an exciting realization that will mature in the near future.

Join me for the Future Food-Tech summit in San Francisco March 29-30.

Use the code INDIE300 and get $300 off registration.

An Interview with Francia Navarrete Utreras of GEA Enzymes

GEA Enzymes

Liquid Dark Chocolate Is Now a Reality.

GEA Enzymes

Photo: Francia (center) and the GEA Enzymes team.

GEA Enzymes engineers designer enzymes. Their first application is in food, with enzymes which reduce saturated fat levels while maintaining consistent aroma, taste, and feel. This makes it possible for a substance like dark chocolate to obtain that rich, liquid consistency that so many food companies want for their products. We asked Francia Utreras a few questions about the GEA:

Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in the biotech space?

My background is in biotechnology engineering. Our team started the company in Chile about 18 months ago. We decided to start GEA Enzymes because the three of us are incredibly passionate about nature’s architecture, and how we could adopt the same strategy that has successfully created all living organisms to solve world class problems.

What problem are you working to solve with your company, GEA Enzymes?

The classical protein discovery process is based on trial and error, taking a long time and many resources. Big companies have automated the process with robots, but it’s still slow and expensive with no rationale behind it. Due to this, we created MADI™, an artificial intelligence that allows us to create proteins for any desired industrial application.

To prove MADI™’s skills, we decided to start with a very challenging market, the saturated fats industry. Saturated fats are very dangerous for human health, because they can induce obesity and heart stroke. Due to this, our first designer proteins have the ability to take saturated fats and turn them into unsaturated fats. By applying this technology, we can create healthier and better quality food products.

This has huge applications in the chocolate, dairy, and vegetable fats industries, so we are working with large multinational companies in these fields. We know that this is just the beginning, because by using MADI™ we are exploring solutions beyond the food industry.

If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

Keeping passion alive. That’s the reason why we decided to move far away from our homes, work day and night including Sundays and holidays, and accept everything that entails being entrepreneurs. We’ve learned you need to sacrifice many things, put your personal life after your company, and even not get paid sometimes. Keeping this rhythm for too long might be the main reason most startups fail. If people don’t believe in what they are doing, it is easy to get lost in the journey and all the sacrifices it requires.

How do you think success can change your industry?

Our first approach to manage unsolved problems of the industry is a set of enzymes able to turn saturated fats into unsaturated fats. This will allow an increase in the nutritional value of oils and butter. In other words we could achieve the same lipid profile of the most sophisticated plantation with more efficient grow cultures.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

Nobody else knows the potential of your business more than you. People can give you feedback, and you’ve got to be mature enough to realize if those opinions might work for you or drive your business to its death.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

As a scientist, is it hard to understand why you are not able to close deals if the science you’re working with is so cool. As entrepreneurs we painfully learned the transition between science and business, improving the art of closing deals. To sell science to multinational companies was a real challenge.

What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

In the short term we want to raise our seed round to establish ourselves in the US, grow the team, and run in parallel all the projects we are working on. I see for the future GEA diversified in fields including Food, Pharma, Healthcare, and Agriculture — all handled by the power of proteins.

Learn more about GEA Enzymes by watching them pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!

An Interview With Steve Kazemi of Pure Cultures

Pure Cultures

Enough With All the Antibiotics in Livestock.

Pure Cultures

It’s no secret that much of the animal meat consumed by humans contains antibiotics that are excessively used in the raising of livestock. This leads to damaging health effects in humans, and contributes to the ever-growing issue of antibiotic resistance. In comes Pure Cultures, a startup creating a solution for farmers who want to raise healthy animals and eliminate the overuse of antibiotics in the food chain. We asked the company’s CEO and co-founder, Steve Kazemi, a few questions:

Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in science?

I got interested in science early because my father is a petroleum engineer and a PhD professor at Colorado School of Mines. He always stressed the importance of science and math. I remember being around 10 years old when I asked for a chemistry set. It came with a burner, a set of chemicals, and a book of a couple hundred experiments. I probably completed half of the experiments within a few days.  

After college I moved back to Colorado and I was employed by Hauser Chemical in Boulder, where we were extracting Taxol from the bark of the Yew tree. Taxol is still one of the best chemotherapies for cancer. The culture of the company was similar to a university. There were many PhDs working at the company, and they had an open office policy where they would teach chemistry and engineering on a regular basis.  I loved the fact that we were saving lives with a novel cancer drug. Then we moved to producing high quality herbal products. I was excited to be affecting health with a more natural approach.

What problem are you working to solve with your company, Pure Cultures?

Bacteria are crafty. Their job is to learn how to survive in harsh conditions. When antibiotics are used in humans or animals, they kill both the good and bad bacteria, and the bacteria learns how to adapt quickly. Some bacteria are able to develop a resistance to the antibiotic dosed. If an animal or human then gets exposed to another pathogen that requires medical treatment, dosing with an antibiotic might not work because the bacteria are immune. This is what has caused 700,000 deaths a year in humans.

Antibiotics also travel up the food chain to humans from eating animals. 80% of human antibiotics produced are used in our livestock to promote weight gain, and many are used on healthy animals. By reducing even a small amount of these antibiotics, it will have a greater effect on saving human lives because the rate of antibiotic resistant bacteria generation will be slowed.

Pure Cultures believes that developing natural solutions to use as an alternative to antibiotics will have a significant effect on human health and our environment.

If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

When our solutions produce data that validates our product effectiveness, and our customers pay us, we will have validation we are building the right business.  

How do you think success can change your industry?

Our innovative natural solution is disrupting the animal nutrition space and will ultimately affect the health and wellness of meat-eating consumers.

How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

The Pure Cultures team is constantly working to improve its technology – and move the science of probiotic product development forward. We have complementary backgrounds in science and business strategy. I have over 20 years of experience managing probiotic manufacturing operations for clients such as Trader Joe’s and Perrigo which generated $35 million in annual sales, in addition to having expertise in fermentation and operations.

Colleen is the co-founder and CMO, with over 20 years of marketing and business strategy experience working with Fortune 500 companies. She has deep experience in B2B sales and marketing strategy and execution. For the last five years she has served on the Board of Directors for Tomboyx, and consulted for several startups, accelerators, mid-level, and B2B enterprise companies located in major hubs nationally. Colleen and I are married and have a blended family of an 11-year-old, 15-year-old, 20-year-old and 28-year old.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

Yes, great businesses are built on customers. Learning how to find customers and sell product has been challenging and rewarding.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

Time and money. We are constantly having to make decisions on where to focus our time to move as quickly as possible. We are on the cutting edge of a health conscience boom. We have the opportunity to be one of the first products on the market with our proprietary solution. We want to make smart decisions but move quickly.

What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

In the next four months, we want to raise our financing round while focusing on generating revenue. 2017 has started out great for us and we want to keep up the momentum.

In the long term, we intend to hire a CSO and broaden our understanding of how to produce novel antimicrobial agents.

Learn more about Pure Cultures by watching Steve pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!

Bringing Biotech to the Masses: an Interview with Julie Legault of Amino

Bringing Biotech to the Masses: an Interview with Julie Legault of Amino

Even though biotech has a huge impact on the lives of the general public, it is an intimidating and foreign space to many. The everyday person rarely feels like they can understand and play a role in this massive field.

Amino Labs is making science accessible to the masses by creating an easy to use biokit for the consumer home. I spoke with Julie, the CEO, about her unexpected path to biotech, approaching the field from design, and the impact of an at-home biokit. Check out her pitch live on February 4th on IndieBio’s Demo Day Livestream!

A: Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in the biotech space?

J: I never imagined I would become involved in the biotech space, to be quite honest. It seemed very foreign, complex and closed-off considering my background is in Design and Applied Arts. I’ve been focused on translating important technological advancement into understandable and desirable applications for the broader public – mainly in the field of wearables. I was actually inspired by synthetic biology when I came across the banana smell program from biobuilder in a microfluidics course I was taking to create a wearable. Long story short, I met Natalie Kuldell of Biobuilder and was amazed that a non-scientist like me could hack biology and create a living thing in a few days. A living thing that produced a smell or a pigment! I was inspired by what synthetic biology allowed me to create,  and amazed at how much a similarly simple three-day hands-on experience with bioengineering actually informed my opinion of it – I experienced the creative side of making with biology, and saw all that is possible to create currently and in the future.

A: What problem are you working to solve with your company, Amino?

J: Seeing the reaction of friends with no hands-on experience, and my struggle to recreate a hands-on bioengineering success outside of a workshop or lab, the idea of the Amino One platform came about. An easy playful way for anyone to have the workshop experience in their home or school. Stumbling on a fun and easy hands-on workshop for bioengineering is far from common, yet everyone is affected in one way or another by the products of bioengineering.

At the moment, the science is facing a difficult problem. There is an incredible lag between the importance of synbio and biotechnology in our daily lives and our general perception of it. The applications have tremendous benefits for us, yet society’s view of it is broadly negative.  This is always the case whenever science advances faster than our ability to comprehend it, simply think back to the early days of computers. In this societal context, I saw an opportunity for me to do important, significant work. With my design background and newfound friends in the science world, I was uniquely placed create a hands-on learning platform that could reach a broader audience. This first-hand experience allows individuals to feel entitled to partake in the difficult discussions about ethics, safety, and applications of biotech.

We see the potential of the Amino One to enable millions more people to enter the field of bioengineering and make sure the next generation of problem-solvers is equipped with the right tools and knowledge to produce, create and solve.

A: If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

J: I can’t imagine a world in which all the power, decision and creation offered through bioengineering rests in the hands of the few and the elite while it influencing our very way of living. Everyone has the basic right to understand where and how new food, fuels, medicines and materials come into existence, and experience the basic of this science first hands to enable them to make informed thoughtful decisions. Furthermore, anyone that desires it should have the chance to try and create safe and imaginative solutions, entertainment, and experiences for their own lives.

A: How do you think success can change your industry?

J: We really believe that throwing open the doors to the science will allow technological advancement in the field to advance significantly faster by allowing the public to partake in critical efforts, development and discussions. For example, the mainstream adoption of computers allowed us to take all the leaps and bounds that brought us us to where we are today: Most of what your phone and computers allow you to do, personally, professionally, socially and on the larger human-scale was made possible by this democratization of computer science. We know that opening up bioengineering in a similar way will allow us to go even further, faster.

A: How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

J: Our expertise ranges from science, synthetic biology, and bioengineering, to mechanical and electrical engineers, software developers and data storytellers, to educators and designers. Having this broad range of skills really makes us uniquely positioned to understand the user experience, the servicing experience and the technical and scientific aspects of it. But mostly, I think it is everyone’s passion for different aspects of the Amino Labs Dream that makes us stand out.

A: Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

J: Considering I had never planned on founding a startup and it all happened organically, the first lesson is be ready for anything!  When my thesis research on Amino ended as I was graduating, it was clear to me that I had to bring the Amino One platform into real people’s hands. Though I still resisted the idea of having a startup, I brought some friends together and, as a team, we rebuilt the prototype from an academic demo into a consumer-ready (almost ready) product. Even though I still am not very comfortable with the idea of having a “startup”, it really is a great experience and sense of achievement to bring your research from some theoretical, somewhat working prototype into something real-world people care about and are willing to have in their house!  

The lesson I learned which applies perhaps mostly to the designers out there is that even though you know compromises will be necessary along the way they will still be difficult. Between usability, function, user experience, aesthetics, price, sustainability, focus, and funding, there are so many things to consider that lead to hard decisions. So trust your instinct, trust your team, but more importantly, trust your actual, real-life users. And keep user-testing! Remember the long term goals… I can’t imagine not having any Amino One, Two or Threes out there in the wild, and if it means compromising on that lush material I had my eye on for the shell, well, so be it.

A: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

J: Actually, I don’t believe we have faced a major challenge so far. We have been very very fortunate in that way. We do, however, foresee our biggest challenge coming up quickly – we  have the need to scale up production of the Amino One much quicker than expected (which is a good problem to have, but still)! This means entering the large scale manufacturing world. We have a few leads and ideas on how to proceed, but this will definitely be a new experience for most of us.

A: What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

J: In the short term, we will be shipping out the fifty Amino Ones sold on Indiegogo, all hand-assembled by us in wintery Canada! Following this, we are starting our “workshop series” where we will be visiting schools, museums, fablabs all around the world for 3+ day workshops using Amino One to spread open bioengineering and refine our curriculum and product. The longer term will see us going into larger scale production and shipping out products to schools at the district level before entering the home market in the coming years as we develop more home-centric apps like the ones for brewing and baking.

Get in touch with Julie at julie@amino.bio

Disrupting Seafood, Not Oceans: an Interview with Dominique Barnes of New Wave Foods

Disrupting Seafood, Not Oceans: an Interview with Dominique Barnes of New Wave Foods

As the population keeps growing, we are increasingly turning to our oceans to feed a hungry world. This pressure is leading to unsustainable practices that damage ecosystems and our health.

New Wave Foods is creating healthy and sustainable plant and algae-based seafood to meet this growing demand. I talked to the company’s CEO, Dominique Barnes, to learn more about this issue, her team’s expertise, and how New Wave Foods can change how we eat. Check out her pitch live on February 4th on IndieBio’s Demo Day Livestream!

A: Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in the biotech space?

My background is in Marine Conservation and hospitality. I saw biotech as a way to solve overfishing pressures on our oceans.

A: What problem are you working to solve with your company, New Wave Foods?

We’re working to solve the global issue of feeding over 10 billion people by 2050. The current seafood supply chains are riddled with unsustainable practices. The growing demand for fish, which has surpassed beef, is putting pressures on suppliers to find ways to produce more. There’s also a big lack of transparency in the seafood industry. As a result, consumers don’t really know what they’re buying, and that it is not as healthy as they’re led to believe. It’s also creating massive social injustices where slave labor is being used to meet demand. We saw all these problems and wanted to find a way to supply the world with sustainable, ethical, healthy, and delicious seafood.

A: If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

D: Sales. Seeing people buying this new sustainable product would be huge validation. I’m from Las Vegas so it would be great to see a shrimp cocktail made from our products. Eventually, I’d love to see an all you can eat seafood buffet that’s all made by NWF.

A: How do you think success can change your industry?

D: Increasing awareness of all the issues with our current food supply. We can create a product that’s better than what’s being offered in a manner that’s good for consumers and the planet. We want to make it easy for people to make the healthy choice for themselves and the planet.

A: How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

D: I have extensive knowledge, background, and a passion for marine life and conservation. It’s always been my life’s goal to do something that benefits our oceans. After earning a master’s in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, I saw that entrepreneurialism was a way to solve this problem and make a positive impact. Michelle, my co-founder and CTO, has a master’s in material engineering from Carnegie Mellon, which is vital since this is really an engineering problem of texture. How do yo use materials like plants and algae to build seafood? She uses her expertise and knowledge to make great products. We have really complementary skill sets that balance each other out.

A: Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

D: Flexibility is the word that comes to mind. You can’t be rigid in your thought process or path. It’s important to be open and listen to a lot of different opinions and advice. Though ultimately it’s your decision, so be true to what you set out to do.

A: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

D: There are so many when creating a startup. The biggest challenge here is getting people to accept algae as a food since it has a negative connotation in the food world. We have to educate people that algae is actually a big reason why our seafood is healthy, sustainable, and delicious.

A: What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

D: Short-term we’re moving into collaborative kitchens and getting our product to local catering companies that we’re working with. In the long term, we want to be in grocery stores nationally and internationally. So scaling our product to get to that level in the next 5 years.

Building the Next Generation of Recombinant Proteins: an Interview with Alex Lorestani of Geltor

Building the Next Generation of Recombinant Proteins: an Interview with Alex Lorestani of Gelzen

The list of uses for recombinant proteins continues to grow as they are used in consumer, medical, and research markets. This increased use means that issues of scale, cost, and output efficiency  must be addressed.

Geltor is creating a new recombinant protein production platform to solve these problems. I talked to the company’s CEO, Alex Lorestani, about the experiences that led him to this problem, transitioning to the startup world, and the future of Geltor. Check out his pitch live on February 4th on IndieBio’s Demo Day Livestream!

AK: Tell me about your background, how did you become interested in the biotech space?

AL: Before starting Geltor, I was in a physician-scientist training program. My focus was on infectious diseases, specifically on antibiotic-resistant bacteria. When I learned that more than 70% of all antibiotics used in the US are deployed on animal factory farms, I began to appreciate the tremendous impact that this process had on human health. Since then, a body of evidence supporting the flow of antibiotic-resistant pathogens from farms into communities has emerged. I saw replacing animal-derived proteins with recombinant proteins as a powerful tool in addressing this global issue.

AK: What problem are you working to solve with your company, Geltor?

AL: Recombinant proteins are critical to the post-animal bioeconomy. They’re also notoriously difficult and expensive to manufacture. At Geltor, we developed a recombinant protein production platform to build essential proteins at a low cost. Our first product is animal-free gelatin which we make from scratch by programming microbes to build it for us. It’s the same approach that humans use to brew beer, make insulin, and many other animal-free products. Rather than dumping animal scraps into acid or alkaline baths to extract collagen, we took the collagen building machinery of animals and moved it into microbes. We can produce gelatin at a massive scale, eliminate the risk of pathogens, precisely engineer key properties, and greatly improve resource efficiency.

AK: If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

AL: Customers finding us. That started two months ago. There’s real pain out there, and we’re working hard to fix it.

AK: How do you think success can change your industry?

AL: Succeeding would change the field by allowing people make new things with proteins that weren’t previously possible. We do that by allowing rapid iteration and massive scaling. All of which can be done economically. On the food side, people can make fundamentally new materials when they use biology, rather than being constrained by nature.

AK: How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

AL: We are microbial physiologists and think deeply about building better microbes.

AK: Any big lessons learned transitioning from academia to startup entrepreneurship?

AL: We had to learn that the business of science is much more focused on product than academia. In academia it’s all about the problem driving what you do. In the business of science, the product drives what you do.

AK: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

AL: Transitioning from having science at the center of everything I do to having customers at the center of everything I do.

AK: What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

AL: In the short term we’re building an amazing team and scaling our production platform up. In the long term, the goal is to make old products better with our own technology and also make entirely new products.

Get in touch with Alex at alex@geltor.com

Reimagining the Future with Biology

Reimagining the Future with Biology
Reimagining the Future with Biology

Today, Bolt Threads, previously Refactored Materials announced that they’d raised $40M in their latest round of financing and expect to have their yeast derived spiders silk (10x stronger than steel per weight) available for sale by 2016.

The new Bolt Threads biomaterial will have applications we can only now dream of and likely many, we have yet to dream and this is only the beginning of the new bioeconomy that’s being built around us, in university, commercial and biohacker labs around the world.

Over the last four months, our first IndieBio class in San Francisco (IB1), we’ve seen what’s possible when scientists, innovators and pioneers join together to accelerate how we build our world with biology.Amazing companies, products and services have been built in a spirit of camaraderie and collaboration (both within the first cohort and with the broader community) which is stark contrast to many of the innovation silos we’ve all experienced in academia and industry.

Our first time founders have worked side by side with each other and veteran entrepreneurs and scientists (across all industries) to reimagine a world in which previously intractable problems might now be solved with applied biology.

  • Pembient has shaken up the world of Rhino conservation by challenging the status quo, sometimes education isn’t enough, if you have an approach which is failing, change it.
  • Clara Foods is helping us to reimagine food with beautiful and delicious Meringues, to start with, which have excited Chef’s globally as a new way to innovating in the kitchen humanely!
  • Extem are powering regenerative medicine with the first and most extensive global stem cell bank, supplying researchers globally with the cells they need to deliver on the promise of regenerative medicine, helping patients in dire need.
  • Arcturus Biocloud have launched the first consumer biotech cloud service, enabling applied biology and science from anywhere with a simple user interface with users signed up on the platform from over 100+ cities globally (and growing).

These are only a few of the companies who you’ll see presenting on our first Demo day, June 11th, in San Francisco, in which we invite you to attend, our general admissions are now sold out due to massive interest but this event is also for the broader global community and will be live streamed, so whether you’re in SF, Mumbai, London or further afield we invite you to join us! We’ll be sharing our livestream calendar invite on @indbio soon!

If you’re a scientist, entrepreneur or biohacker and have a re-imagined vision of the future, built with applied biology that you’re currently working on or would like to build, we’d also love to invite you to apply for our $250k funding package, we’ll be funding our next class of 15 new companies in SF in September and our first early applications deadline is June 30th 2015, get your application in ASAP, don’t wait for the deadline, as we’re currently interviewing teams for consideration into the next class!

The Edible Bioeconomy – Panel and Mixer in SF, May 29

The Edible Bioeconomy

JOIN US

Network and meet with some of the new wave of entrepreneurs that are changing the way we look at food at the intersection of cuisine and biotech, creating sustainable, safer food and new experiences and address the problems of industrial agriculture.

Featuring beer brewed with strains of exotic belgian beers, vegan sushi made from tomatoes, and milk and egg whites made from yeast.

Join us in conversation with:

  • James Corwell, Certified Master Chef, creator of Tomato Sushi a sustainable vegan sushi.
  • Arturo Elizondo, Clara Foods, brewed egg whites.
  • Ryan Pandya, Muufri, where the future of Milk is without cows.
  • Matt Markus, Pembient, wildlife ingredients sourced from science.

Hosted by Isha Datar of New Harvest, a sustainable food non-profit

Join us after the discussion for samplings of vegan Sushi from Tomato Sushi and bespoke Cultured Fresh Beer from Almanac Beer.

Sponsored by New Harvest SynBioBeta and Indie Bio

Event Link: JOIN US