In the world of consumer electronics, making tens or even hundreds of thousands of units doesn't mean you actually have to own your own factory. Most startups making the next big gadget partner with a contract manufacturer to help them build products at scale.
It's not much different in the world of food. Partner up with a co-packer - essentially a contract manufacturer for food - and it's possible to start manufacturing at scale without owning a factory.
But if you want to making a next-gen protein, there’s a good chance you’re going to have to raise millions of dollars in venture funding to build out your own bio-manufacturing factory.
Why? In large part because the platforms for creating fermented or cultured food products products at scale haven’t existed to the same degree that as in other spaces.
However, according to FTW Ventures lead investor Brian Frank, that may soon change. Like me, Frank comes from the world of computer tech where so many startups from the past two decades were built upon the terra firma of technology platforms in cloud computing (AWS), mobile apps (Apple) and social media (Facebook).
So, naturally, when we sat down recently to talk about the launch of his recent fund, I wanted to ask him about who are the platform builders in the world of alt-protein.
He said they are coming.
“In the bio-manufacturing space, we have had that for pharma and therapeutics, we’ve had co-manufacturing, but for food, it really hasn’t existed. And so we’re now getting to the stage where if I’m Perfect Day, and the reason that I raise a ton of money is because I need to build up my own factory because no one’s offering me services or capabilities to build this on top of their platform.
“However, the future that we see is that you can create a platform where people can ride on top of your technology, or you can create the way to allow people to make designer goods so that things can be tailored towards a specific need,” Frank said.
Frank sees these new platforms serving as a couple different roles, the first of which is in accelerating design. Much in the same way a processor design company like ARM Holdings helped an entire industry of computing companies build semiconductors around their intellectual property, new companies with IP and design expertise in key pillars of future food can be used to accelerate design in new ways.
Frank gave Geltor – a company in which he was an early investor – as an example around which a company can leverage in designing new core food components rather than starting from scratch.
“The idea of Geltor as a platform is the idea that they can make proteins, collagen and gelatin to service any number of different needs because they’ve shown they can do it for a couple different categories: in cosmetics, in nutraceuticals, and very soon, you know, in food,” Frank said.
He also pointed to a second group of companies that are starting to serve as infrastructure platforms that new food innovators can leverage as they look bring their products to market at scale. He gave Culture Biosciences – one of the Spoon’s Food Tech 25 for 2020 – as an example.
“Culture Biosciences is basically building out multiplex strain (yeast or bacteria) development rigs that are automated and analyzed,” said Frank. And so if I have a specific need of a strain to do X, they can multiplex and run a bunch of different tests to find the stream that works best. And then they can hand that back to you and say, Here you go, here’s that stream that you wanted that does x and does x at the highest volume or rate.”
Frank and I talked about a whole host of other topics, including the evolution of the future protein space into three areas of innovation, as well as the innovation happening in food packaging. If you’d like to see my entire interview with Frank, Spoon Plus subscribers can just click below. If you’d like to learn more about Spoon Plus, just go here.
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