Leading early-stage food tech VC, Big Idea Ventures, has announced 17 companies just completed its 2021 accelerator program in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
For venture capital firm Big Idea Ventures, solving the world’s biggest challenges needs big ideas. Its New Protein Fund and Accelerator five-month program works to assist with product development, scaling and distribution, market entry, channel development, pitching, and fundraising.
The news comes as the COP26 climate summit, which wrapped up earlier this month in Glasgow, highlighted the urgency for emissions reductions across the food sector in order to slow and reverse the impact of the imminent climate crisis.
The food industry—in particular, livestock—is a leading producer of emissions; more than 55 billion land animals are raised for food every year, producing 14.5 percent of all anthropogenic GHG emissions, according to the United Nations. Agriculture as a whole produces approximately one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to 80 percent of tropical deforestation.
Forty-five countries attending COP26 pledged to take urgent steps toward protecting nature and embracing sustainable farming methods; 26 nations across all continents agreed to change agricultural policies to protect the global food supply from climate change as well as reduce its impact. Nearly 100 high-profile companies across the food sector committed to “Nature Positive” benchmarks aimed at reversing biodiversity loss by 2030.
Leading UK supermarket Sainsbury’s, which represented the UK’s top five leading supermarkets, committed to a 50 percent reduction on the average UK consumer’s shopping cart by 2030 as part of a new “basket measures” initiative alongside WWF. The goal is to turn the food industry from a leading contributor to climate change to a leading solution. That initiative will focus on seven key areas of improvement: climate change, deforestation, sustainable agriculture, sustainable diets, marine, waste and packaging.
Just last week, the EU announced it’s looking at banning products such as palm oil, beef, and coffee linked to Amazonian deforestation. The Amazon rainforest has gone from carbon sink to emissions producer in recent years due in large part to relaxed regulations for the beef industry. Brazil is now the world’s largest beef-producing country.
“If we are to limit global warming and keep the goal of 1.5C alive, then the world needs to use land sustainably and put protection and restoration of nature at the heart of all we do,” COP26 President, Alok Sharma said during the summit.
“The commitments being made today show that nature and land use is being recognized as essential to meeting the Paris Agreement goals, and will contribute to addressing the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss,” Sharma said.
Big Idea Ventures
Solutions continue to emerge. According to Big Idea Ventures (BIV) founder and managing general partner, Andrew D. Ive, we now sit at a pivotal crossroads.
“The repercussions of the changes occurring throughout the alternative protein category will be felt across the global food system for generations to come,” Ive told Ethos via email.
“The market shares of the players in the trillion-dollar meat, seafood, and dairy industries will be redistributed as the forces of entrepreneurs, corporate thought leaders, governments and consumers come together to redraw the lines of what’s produced, where and how to create a more sustainable food future for our entire species. It’s now inevitable,” he said.
BIV’s New Protein Fund, which holds more than $50 million in assets under management, is backed by leading food corporations including AAK, Avril, Bel Group, Bühler Group, Givaudan, NR Instant Produce, Meiji, Tyson Ventures, and Temasek Holdings. It’s invested in more than 65 alternative protein companies across 17 countries.
The latest in that fund includes a range of startups working to solve the climate crisis. BIV says it has seen an increase in applications to the accelerator program more than three times since its launch.
“This year, we’re seeing smart solutions to improve current alternatives and expedite their time to market. Each company in our New York program is addressing at least one barrier to mass-market commercialization, from price and scalability to performance and nutritional content,” Mia Medicus, Program Director, BIV New York, said in a statement.
BIV New York’s fourth cohort sees a focus on microbial technology to replace meat and dairy. Fybraworks Foods is growing animal protein with microbial technologies that the company says are not only cheaper to produce, but also free of common concerns in traditional livestock production: issues like hormones and antibiotics routinely fed to animals. Fybraworks is the world’s first company to develop recombinant muscle protein for food applications. Prosel Biosciences is leveraging microalgae as a sustainable solution to animal proteins using technology the company says will produce yields ten times higher than wild types.
Liven Proteins is taking on gelatin as its first product using fermentation to replace the substance typically produced from slaughterhouse “scraps”—cartilage, bones, and tissue left over from the meat industry.
In Singapore’s cohort, Phyx44 creates dairy alternatives using precision fermentation. It says it’s producing “nature identical” animal-free dairy protein and fats to produce milk products that taste the same as dairy but both healthier and more sustainable.
“Singapore is at the forefront for regulatory approvals and commercialisation of cell-based meats and alternative protein,” says Dr. Dalal AlGhawas, Program Director, BIV Singapore. “Our cohort is leading with cutting-edge innovations from indulgent foods, cultivated exotic meat and surimi and a multitude of fermentation solutions to produce sustainable protein.”
MOA foodtech is working with biotech and AI to turn food waste and byproducts into “a next generation protein.” It says it combines biotech and fermentation to produce a highly nutritious protein that’s 100 percent sustainable.
De Novo Dairy, BetterMilk, and Maya Milk are all tackling dairy; De Novo is Africa’s first precision fermentation technology company in the dairy space. BetterMilk is using genetic engineering to reduce the cost of lactation hormones and achieve price parity with conventional milk. With a B2B focus, BetterMilk is aiming to bring its dairy to food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. Maya Milk’s technology mirrors that of Bay Area startup, Perfect Day, which is using precision fermentation to create dairy products from microbes.
BetterMilk co-Founder and CEO Jennifer Côté tells Ethos the company has successfully raised a pre-seed round thanks to the BIV accelerator. And she thinks it’s ultimately a win for the planet.
“BetterMilk will change the food industry by offering accessible, sustainable, and tasty dairy products to populations across the world,” Côté told Ethos via email. “The focus for us is not to produce more, but to produce better. We want to offer flexibility to our customers so that people from different diets can rely on quality dairy in a variety of different products,” she says.
BIV is also seeing an uptick in cultivated protein technology, bringing on four companies in the space.
Africa’s Mogale Meat is the continent’s first cultivated game meat company. It’s using cell-based technology to replicate Africa’s antelope, poultry, and free-roaming cattle species. It’s working with a proprietary biobank of stem and satellite cell lines to create wild game meat, which is typically more nutritious than farm-raised animals.
In Southeast Asia, Fisheroo is replicating the region’s top fish and seafood offerings by creating Asia’s first cell-based surimi. It says it will deliver its first prototype next year. Surimi is not a whole-cut fish but a fish-based paste with a number of applications.
Using a macro-algae found only in Chile, Luyef Biotechnologies is creating a novel scaffolding for cell-based meat. It’s also building myoglobin—iron and oxygen-binding protein—crucial in developing the flavor and aroma of animal meat. It’s currently using 3D technologies to produce cell-cultured steak.
One of the biggest challenges in the cultivated meat space is the cost of traditional growth factors—most of which are animal-based. Paris cohort company Bright Biotech is working to develop a scalable and more affordable plant-based technology that uses chloroplasts—green plant cells—to reduce costs and shift the industry to a more ethical medium.
Plants continue to play a role in the food industry transformation. New Zealand fruit technology company LILO, part of the Singapore cohort, is creating treats like vegan cheesecake from usused “ugly” fruits sourced from regional orchardists.
“LILO is about doing more with what we already have,” Cleo Gilmour LILO General Manager told Ethos via email.
“Value add products like LILO’s plant-based cheesecakes are a perfect way to harness more potential and more value from undersize or misshapen fruit and deliver more exciting, convenient plant based products to consumers. We want people to keep enjoying innovative foodie treats with the added feel-good factors that come from eating more fruit and helping to reduce food waste.”
The first Paris cohort is also seeing an emphasis on plant-based technology.
“The alternative protein industry is growing rapidly in Europe, and we were impressed by the number of quality applicants for Big Idea Ventures first cohort in Paris,” says Henrietta Hearth, Program Director, BIV Paris. “From plant-based innovators to novel fatty acid and cell-based technologies, the Paris cohort is a great example of the food innovation coming from Europe.”
Little Bandits, a Paris cohort company, is bringing the first soy- and dairy-free yogurt to the UK; the company’s products contain 25 percent more calcium and half the sugar found in leading dairy yogurt brands for kids.
In France, a shift away from traditional dairy is gaining momentum as plant-based alternatives are showing up in more supermarkets and restaurants. YOFI is creating organic dairy alternatives made from sustainably grown peas. This delivers a higher protein profile as well as amino acids and unsaturated fatty acids.
The VERY Food co. is also replicating dairy—specifically butter and cream—as well as eggs for baking. It says it’s working to address the barriers to switching to plant-based diets by recreating the taste, texture, and appearance of these kitchen staples.
Mixing carbon dioxide, electricity, and water, Green-On is creating sustainable saturated fats and fatty acids as a means to replace the destructive palm oil. The company says it will be able to reproduce the fatty feel for chocolate, ready meals, and other food products.
COP26 saw the launch of a new World Economic Forum-led initiative aimed at reaching net-zero and nature-positive innovations for 100 million farmers across the planet by 2030.
“The time for change is now, we need to move from talk to action,” WEF explains on its website.
“Bringing public and private stakeholders across the food supply chains to pre-competitive spaces will unleash the power of shared innovation and overcome key challenges to scale with an increased certainty and buy-in for the solutions proposed,” it said.
Today’s farmers face unparalleled challenges—there’s a $400 billion loss per year due to declines to more than half of all agricultural production land. That’s expected to continue without immediate action. Failure to address these challenges will reduce food production by 12 percent and drive costs up 30 percent, according to the Forum.
“Put simply, this could mean that an average American would spend an additional $780 on food every year. Poorer countries, where people are already spending up to 50% of their income on food, compared with 7% in the US, would be much harder hit. Business as usual is no longer an option,” the Forum says.
But agriculture can also be the solution for “fighting and adapting to climate change,” says WEF. “Farmers and primary producers—who are the stewards of that land—have a critical role to play in helping the world transition towards a net-zero, nature-positive and equitable future.”
Technology plays a critical role in this equation, according to Ive. It’s a hopeful sign that we can not only fix the food system, but improve on it in unimaginable ways.
“Innovation in alternative proteins continues to advance globally,” Ive says. “Helping to solve big challenges with big ideas. The entrepreneurs we support have real solutions to climate and food challenges, Big Idea Ventures is investing in the best companies around the world, and these developments could not arrive at a more critical moment for us all.”