IPO Corner: Lab Grown Meat

The ancient debate around the morality of meat may be about to change entirely, probably for the better… and it could end up feeding a lot of hungry people nutritious, filling foods. That’s good, because thriving, healthy people are happy contributors to society and the economy. The innovation that could fix this ages-old debate is something called cultivated meat, also sometimes called cultured meat. It may sound funny, but it has the potential to help people thrive, not just survive.

It wouldn’t surprise us if you’ve seen a little something about this recently, as it’s beginning to pop up on everyone’s radar. Just in the last few weeks and months, we’ve seen story after story about fresh, young companies and new partnerships around the world making waves in this blossoming space. For instance, a start-up in Singapore called ProjectEx scored $1 million in pre-seed funds to help them get their cultivated leather project off the ground.

Another small firm, this one here at home, Aqua Cultured Foods, has gotten their hands on $5.5 million in seed funds courtesy of Stray Dog Capital. Aqua is doing to seafood what ProjectEx is doing to leather, they are making it guilt-free and more accessible than traditionally created meats. Aqua is the pioneer of a first-of-its-kind, whole-muscle cut, sushi-quality seafood alternative. And, on the front of partnerships, we’re seeing names like Archer Daniels Midland and Believer Meats partnering on this game-changer food technology.

Before we get to lost in the sauce, we’ll go over what it is… because we’re seeing quite a bit of unnecessarily sensationalized, scary-type chatter around cultivated meats. We’re certainly science fiction fans, but we’re also parents and we want to feed our children healthy, safe foods just as much as the next guy chin-deep in his burger. So… what we found out is that cultivated meat just means that it’s grown in a lab instead of the womb of an animal.

While we understand that alone can be off-putting… pragmatically speaking, we need this. The potential good this could do for society and business is enough to afford it our attention as a fully viable option. Also, we’d remind you that the world had the same reaction to Dolly, the first cloned mammal, as well as the first baby created via in vitro fertilization. Fast forward a few decades… those things are normal. Perhaps, with time, we’ll see the obvious practicalities of cultivated meats.

Essentially, scientists have figured out how to scrape some muscle cells off an animal, slap them in a special environment in the lab, rig up some biological latticework (if you fancy a garden, you’re familiar with the concept of vines growing up the supportive latticework), stick the “harvested” muscle cells next to it, and let it grow up to be big and strong. Well… it grows into what looks like a piece of meat, because technically it is. Only this was grown, not gestated.

One of the stories you may have seen floating around is about UPSIDE Foods, which already has a bit of skin in the game. They were able to get $400 million in Series C funds last year, which was the largest funding round in the space up to that point, and it boosted their valuation to a cool $1 billion. They used to go by Memphis Meats, so you may know them from stories under that name. They’ve been busy little bees, and they already have a pack of giants behind them.

Funding for UPSIDE has come from names that… we think, help us present a strong case that cultivated meats are not a fad. See if you recognize a few: Tyson Foods, Temasek, Cargill, Bill Gates, Kimbal and Christiana Musk, the Abu Dhabi Growth Fund (ADG), SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Norwest Venture Partners, and many, many others. And they’ve accomplished an impressive first by receiving the FDA’s blessings upon their lab-grown chicken. This Berkeley, California company is on the come up.

What’s important to know about cultivated meat right now is that the outcome is still imperfect. Fortunately, funds are beginning to pour into the space, so R&D is on top of it… including researchers announcing earlier this week that they have been able to more closely mimic gestated meat textures. As of today, we can’t grow meat that is ready to eat. We still need to take what we grow, and shape and refine it. It still requires 3D printing or molding, as well as other preparations.

Also, we must still tackle cost, especially if this will solve problems and not just end up being a fad or exotic delicacy. As of last year, the cost of cultivated chicken to that of gestated chicken was $7.70 and $3.62 per pound, respectively. It’s no contest, few are choosing the cultivated chicken at that price. If projections hold, those should even out by 2030. Let’s hope someone comes along, hits a homerun, and it goes even faster.

The great thing about this kind of meat is that the possibilities are endless. Since this is “real” meat grown from “real” meat, we can have anything we want… there’s even chatter in the space about AI inventing new meat proteins that we’ve never heard of. It’s possible we could invent a meat product that is not only better for the earth, kind to our animal friends, and not cost prohibitive for regular folks, but it could be more nutritious or even engineered to be medicinal.

Imagine that… you go to the doctor for some ailment, and your doctor’s remedy is to switch you to ethical, sustainable, cruelty-free, meat medicine. Sounds delicious… and it could help us tackle our antibiotic resistance problem, which is a continual plague in factory farming. We could continue… like talking about how this solves overfishing, as we’ve recently seen some areas in California shut down due to the problem, but we’ll stop here. Come back next week, we’ll have more from the IPO space.