Climax Foods announced today that it has raised a $7.5 million seed round of funding to fuel its data science-driven approach to creating new types of plant-based foods, starting with aged cheese.
Investors in the round include At One Ventures, Mata Ray Ventures, S2G Ventures, Prelude Ventures, ARTIS Ventures, Index Ventures, Luminous Ventures, Canaccord Genuity Group, Carrot Capital and Global Founders Capital as well as other angel investors.
Unlike other companies in the non-animal cheese space that build their product around a specific base ingredients like cauliflower, legumes or recombinant protein technology, Climax Foods is creating cheese out of… data.
This idea of starting with data makes more sense when you realize that Oliver Zahn, Climax Foods’ Founder and CEO, was previously Head of Data Science for Google and formerly a lead data scientist with Impossible Foods.
“Food science is just like cosmology,” Zahn, a former astrophysicist as well, told me during a phone interview this week. “An area with rich and complex and confusing datasets growing in size every year.”
In a nutshell, Climax Foods is in the machine learning business. As Zahn explained it, the company uses a series of machine learning frameworks that crunch data sets to figure out what a set of particular raw ingredients and isolates will yield. In other words, Ingredient X + Ingredient Y will give you Z product with this type of texture and this kind of flavor and will cost this much.
By running these complex models, Climax Foods can do a lot of the heavy lifting with the research before starting work in the lab. Climax is using this approach on a number of different applications. “We are prototyping a bunch of animal products,” Zahn said. “But our focus is on aged cheeses.”
Zahn didn’t specify which cheeses his company was working on, though he did say, “Our approach is to start with people, and what they expect when they hear the word ‘cheese.’ Gouda, cheddar. Blue cheeses.”
Right now, Climax is in the prototype stage. The company will use the seed round to create a dedicated lab to study food chemistry with the goal of having some type of early go-to market product in a year. How it actually comes to market remains to be seen because of the pandemic. One path for Climax could be introducing the products to restaurants first (like Impossible did), but who knows what eating out will look like a year from now. Perhaps Climax will need to train a new algorithm to figure out where to sell its cheese.