We hear a lot about plant-based startups raking in big funding dollars — cough, Impossible Foods, cough — but not a lot about the companies investing in them.
One such company working to fund the alternative protein revolution is Big Idea Ventures (BIV). Helmed by Andrew Ive, formerly of food innovation accelerator Food-X, Big Idea Ventures is a hybrid venture firm with a VC arm and accelerator program.
It tore onto the scene a few weeks ago when it closed its first fund: the New Protein Fund, which now stands at roughly $50 million. “It’s the first and largest plant-based accelerator fund,” Ive told me over the phone last week.
The fund is backed by giants like Tyson Foods and Temasek, the Singaporean government’s VC arm. It will focusing heavily on plant-based protein startups, Ive said they’re are allocating 5 to 10 percent of their money for cell-based endeavors.
That makes it all the more interesting that they chose to make their first investment cultured shrimp company Shiok Meats. Ive told me that they were drawn in by the Singaporean startup’s product focus: crustaceans. He believes that the flavor and texture of cultured shrimp will be easier to commercialize than, say, beef or chicken. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it is impressive that Shiok Meats, which is less than a year old, has already done an (apparently successful) taste test of its minced “shrimp” in dumpling form.
BIV is also launching physical accelerator programs in two locations: New York City (to launch in Q3) and Singapore (to launch in Q4). Mike Lightman, Managing Partner of BIV, told me that they plan to accept 8 to 10 companies per cohort and do two cohorts per year. All accepted startups will receive $250,000 in funding, a space to work, and mentorship from their entrepreneurs in residence in exchange for a convertible note. Once the program is over, BIV will allocate $1 to $3 million among the top-performing companies. Over the next four years, Ive said that BIV is hoping to back around 100 companies.
In a lot of ways, this accelerator follows the typical script: young startups get funding and advice in exchange for a portion of their company. But BIV’s program diverges in a few ways. Firstly, it’s five months long as opposed to the more traditional three-month programs like Y Combinator and Food-X, which Ive found was too short to really help a company grow. BIV also has a full kitchen in their accelerator space, so startups can actually work on developing/scaling their products in-house. Finally, with their dual presence in Asia and the U.S. (with plans to expand into Europe sometime in the future), Lightman also noted that they can help reduce opportunity costs for entrepreneurs by giving them ready access to multiple markets.
BIV is entering the scene at a time when every major company and their mother seems to be launching a new accelerator. For mega CPG companies, like General Mills, Danone, and Kraft-Heinz, they’re a relatively easy way to discover new companies for acquisition and keep a finger on the pulse of what’s new and “hip.”
With this in mind, it’s not hard to see why Tyson and Temasek want to get in on an alternative protein accelerator.
Tyson has set out to become the number one provider of protein, no matter the source. It has invested widely in both plant-based and cell-based meat companies, including Memphis Meats, FutureMeat, and, up until recently, Beyond Meat. They’re also developing their own line of plant-based proteins set to launch this summer. Through their involvement in the BIV accelerator, Tyson will have access to a wide range of innovative new alternative protein companies, which they can try to acquire or just use to gain inspiration.
For Temasek’s part, Singapore has been quite progressive in pushing for innovation the alt-protein space. Through its new RIE2020 plan, the city-state will invest over $100 million in foodtech endeavors like cultured meat and microbial protein production. Temasek can use BIV’s cohorts to attract promising new alt-protein startups to Asia; which we’ve already predicted will be a hotbed for cell-based meat.
TL;DR: If you’re curious about what new companies are shaking up the alternative protein space, keep an eye on what Big Idea Ventures is up to. Another good way to stay up to date is to subscribe to our Future Food newsletter! You’ll get a weekly dose of in-depth analysis on the plant-based and cultured protein landscape.
If you’ve got a plant- or cell-based startup of your own, you can apply for BIV’s inaugural accelerator program here.