Wildtype, a San Francisco-based cell-cultivated seafood startup, today announced it has raised a $100 million Series B funding round. The round, the largest to date for a cultivated seafood startup, is being led by private equity firm L Catterton and includes a number of high profile investors such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Downey Jr. (through his Footprint Coalition and Jeff Bezos (through Bezos Expeditions) among others.
The new funding comes after the company’s June 2021 launch of its pilot production plant. With its new funding in pocket, Wildtype plans to expand the production capacity of its cultivated salmon and to begin work with culinary and restaurant partners.
I sat down with company CEO Justin Kolbeck to learn more about what he sees in Wildtype’s future. According to Kolbeck, expanding production would not have been possible had it not been able to build a pilot production plant with its $12.5 million Series A.
“The organizing thought there was let’s build a pilot plant on Series A money,” Kolbeck said. “And we built the world’s first operational cultivated seafood pilot plant. Was it intended to be our go-to-market plant? No, the idea was, how could we set something up quickly and modularly, that we could add capacity to, and start learning from as we scaled.”
And according to Kolbeck, they learned a lot.
“If we had waited till now to start building the thing, we wouldn’t have had the data, we wouldn’t have the know-how to inform something like what is a sensible floor plan? Because we wouldn’t have gone through the motions of growing cells, creating the scaffold, seeding the cells on the scaffold, and so on. And now we’ve done that, we’ve learned a heck of a lot.”
According to Kolbeck, the company will use the new funding to move to a new facility in the San Francisco market and look to open a new production plant in the Pacific Northwest. But he cautioned that even with its expanded production capacity, the company’s overall output will be extremely limited over the next couple of years as they refine their technology and processes.
“In the early days, we will be a very supply-constrained business,” said Kolbeck. “The seafood market is 350 billion pounds a year, a staggering amount of volume. And, to be on the menu at five or six restaurants is just a drop in the bucket. And I think that’s what we’re talking about for the first year or so as more production comes online.”
Like other cellular agriculture startups, Wildtype’s product rollout requires approval from the US government. In their case, this means the FDA, which oversees the regulatory approval process for cell-cultured seafood. According to Kolbeck, that process has been smooth, and they are hopeful the FDA will soon give them (and others) the green light to begin selling their product to consumers.
As for a specific date for when that will happen, Kolbeck said they don’t have one, and there’s a reason for that.
“I think part of it’s because is it’s entirely bespoke. I think if you were to kind of get under a nondisclosure agreement and look at each (cell-cultivated seafood) company, all of our technologies are pretty significantly different from one to the next. And so I think FDA has to kind of look at them individually.”