Over the past 12 months, money has poured into cultivated meat startups as venture investors, celebrities, and governments look to get in on what many believe is the next big thing in alternative protein.
However, as the excitement grows, some are taking a harder look at how to scale the production of lab-grown meat to make a dent in the larger animal-based meat market. According to one estimate, the industry will need up to $30 billion invested in cell-based/fermentation production capacity if the alternative protein market hits just 11% of total meat consumption by 2035 and significantly more if consumer adoption exceeds expectations.
Much of that $30 billion will be directed to capital investment in building out long-term production capacity. However, before we get there, the industry first needs to invest in organizations building the necessary technology and production platforms to enable scale-up. This week saw two significant investments intended for just that: Culture Biosciences ($80 million) and Tufts University & partners ($10 million).
Culture Biosciences helps companies developing future food products with its bioreactor-as-a-service platform. The company introduced its first product a couple of years ago, a cloud-connected benchtop bioreactor service for cell-culture and bioprocess development. With their new round of funding, Culture looks to move beyond the bench with cloud-connected 5L and 250L bioreactors-as-a-service that will help firms optimize for pilot scale bio-manufacturing.
The second investment isn’t a traditional venture investment, but the $10 million USDA funding award to Tufts University for a cultured protein center of excellence is a vital investment nonetheless. In partnership with others, Tufts will lead an Institute for Cellular Agriculture to develop foundational technologies and processes to enable the cultivated meat industry to progress towards scaled production. The foundational work done by this organization will include everything from research on next-generation cell-culture medium to the development of education and leadership programs for the cultivated meat industry.
As companies try to take cultivated meat from the lab to the manufacturing plant, some question if cellular agriculture will ever be able to scale upwards cost-effectively and safely enough to justify all the investment. While we won’t know the answer to this question for a few years, it’s an encouraging sign that investments are being made to address the next big challenge in cellular agriculture.
And now, the rest of this week’s funding news:
Food Supply Chain
TrusTrace – $6 Million: TrusTrace, a Sweden-based startup building food supply chain traceability software solutions, has raised a $6 million Series A funding round. TrusTrace uses blockchain, AI, and bots to track products as they navigate their way through the supply chain. The company claims to have 8 thousand suppliers and 250 thousand products on the platform. My guess is TrusTrace and other traceability platform players are getting lots of inbound inquiries as everyone from ingredient and component suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers are trying to figure out how to work through the great 2021 supply chain disequilibrium.
Grounded Foods – $2.5 Million: Plant-based cheese maker Grounded Foods has announced a $2.5 million raise. The company, founded by the husband and wife team of Shaun Quade and Veronica Fil, makes cheese products with hemp seeds and cauliflower. Grounded is already in 160 different retail locations today and plans to use the funds to expand further in the US and to set up for expansion into Europe.
Kuva Space – €4.2M ($4.9M): Kuva Space, a provider of realtime agricultural data using space-borne hyperspectral camera technology, has raised $4.9 million. The company plans on using the funding to launch a constellation of six-unit nano-satellites to gather imagery in the 400 to 1,100 nanometer band. The company provides data that helps farmers optimize fertilizer and irrigation needs, optimal harvesting times, and early-stage pest or plant disease detection. With its second generation satellites, the company plans to expand its carbon monitoring capabilities.
Orbisk – €2.4M: Orbisk, which provides professional kitchens with automated analysis of food usage and associated waste flow using machine vision and AI, has received a €2.4 million grant from the European Commission’s European Innovation Council (EIC). The data from Orbisk’s analysis allows customers to adapt processes and purchasing to better manage and reduce food waste. Orbisk won the EIC funding with a pitch for its ‘Binspector’ project, under which the company will invest in dynamic AI models to increase accuracy and rapid adaptation in international menus, as well as further development of its food management algorithms.
OptoScale – $4.1m (£3m): Optoscale, which makes machine vision and sensor technologies real-time monitoring of fish farm stock, has raised £3 million led by SWEN Capital Partners. The Norway-based company says it can analyze up to 200,000 fish per day using its technology, which compares with 50 to 100 fish using traditional analysis methods. Optoscale, which currently operates in Norway, Canada, and Scotland, plans to use the money to expand operations to Australia, Chile, and Iceland.
ResQ – $39 Million: Well that was fast. After raising $7.5 million in a June seed funding round, ResQ, which provides a software platform for managing restaurant repair and maintenance tasks, has raised a $39 million Series A. Through their platform, restaurants can request, manage, and pay for a service, as well as manage the documents for these things. ResQ also connects restaurants with a network of contractors able to perform those services. The company’s list of available services includes HVAC, refrigeration, electrical, janitorial, plumbing, pest control, grease trap cleaning, preventative maintenance, and most anything else needed to keep a restaurant kitchen up and running. Since its seed round, the company has said its customer base has grown from seven states to 36 in the US. They plan to use the funding to grow their team by 400%.
C3 – $10 Million: Virtual restaurant/host kitchen platform company C3 has raised another $10 million in strategic funding from Swiss private capital firm, Lurra Capital, just a few months after it had raised a $80 million Series B. C3 (short for Creating Culinary Communities), works with kitchen operators (host kitchens) to fulfill orders for virtual restaurant brands. As of mid-year, the company operated about 40 virtual restaurant brands. The company plans to open 1,000 virtual brand locations by year’s end and has plans to open 12,000 globally by 2023.
Future Acres – $1.7 Million: Farm robotics startup Future Acres has raised $1.7 million via equity crowdfunding on Seedinvest. The company makes a self-driving robot called Carry that utilizes GPS and computer vision to navigate around the field and haul up to 500 pounds of produce. The company, which has raised a little over $400 thousand in pre-seed funding, plans to use the funds for product development, payroll, marketing and operations.