A possible solution to the biggest problem in cellular agriculture – the development of a cheap, human growth material for cultivated meat – could come from a conversation with Tim Hortons in Alberta.
The couple Matt and Jalene Anderson-Baron were waiting for timbits and coffee and talked about the technology behind their startup Future Fields when Jalene proposed a possible new growth medium.
Matt Anderson-Baron had hit a wall while researching, and the couple, who represented two-thirds of Future Fields' founding triumvirate, were out for a snack. Together with co-founder Lejjy Gafour, the three friends set out to found a Canadian startup that could do something about the global dependence of animals on protein.
They recognized that the problems associated with animal husbandry were unsustainable to the extent necessary to meet global meat demand. Therefore, the three cell-based alternatives turned to the meat market.
"IIt was all just our interesting crazy side project that we never thought would turn into a business, ”said Jalene Anderson-Baron. "That developed into a successful business idea last year."
The trio had originally hoped to launch their own brand of cultivated meat to sell laboratory-grown chicken to the world. After four months of experimenting in the lab, Matt Anderson-Baron and the rest of the team decided to turn around and start working on a new growth serum. All thanks to Tim Hortons.
"ÖYour MVP was a chicken nugget. It turned out to be around $ 3,000 a pound … which obviously isn't a lucrative business model. Given the goal of producing a price comparable to meat, ”said Anderon-Brown. “We focused on a new medium that is economically viable. We originally wanted it for something we just used. At first we didn't realize how new our product is and how beneficial it will be for the industry. About eight months ago, we decided to make this growth medium our product. "
Now that it is ready to leave the Y Combinator accelerator program, the company has signed several paid contracts and will begin shipping the first pilot lines of its cell growth material within the next month.
The potential demand for the company's product is enormous. Alpha Meat, Shiok Meat, Finless Foods, Memphis Meat, Meat, Mosa Meat, Aleph Farms, Future Meat Technologies, Lab Farm Foods and Eaat are all companies that develop laboratory-grown alternatives to meat and fish. In total, these companies have raised well over $ 200 million. Some of the biggest names in traditional meat production like Tyson Foods invest in meat alternatives.
"The point is to get the price to scale. The companies that use smaller quantities lower it 10 to 100 times. We can do it. But our superpower produces the growth medium on a large scale and does it 1000 times cheaper, "said Matt Anderson-Brown."We're talking about $ 2 to $ 3 per liter on a scale. "
Future Fields' founders didn't say much about the technology they use, except to say that they genetically modify a particular organism by inserting the genetic code for specific protein production into their unidentified cell line to produce various growth factors.
The University of Alberta isn't unique in developing a health accelerator program, but its equity-free approach offers startups and budding biotech entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop their business without fear of being watered down.
Future Fields has already collected a small pre-seed round of $ 480,000 from a group of undisclosed angel investors and the Grow Agrifood Tech Accelerator from Singapore.
Gafour says the company can produce a few hundred liters of its growth factor and is working on plans to increase production to tens of thousands of liters per month next year.
For Gafour and his compatriots, cellular agriculture has already reached a turning point, and the next steps are less about scientific discoveries and radical innovations than iteration and commercialization.
"With the integration of a growth media solution, the core elements are in place, and now it's about understanding the efficiency of scaling," said Gafour.
However, there are other components that need to be developed for industry to really cut costs to the point where they can compete with traditional meat. Companies still have to develop a scaffold to support the growth of protein cells in the muscles and adipose tissue that give the meat its taste. According to Matt Anderson-Baron, the bioreactor design also needs to be improved. "It's the wild west. There are still so many things to do."
Many companies are also working on these technologies. Glycosan, Lyopor and Prellis are all working on building a tissue framework that can be used for the development of animal organs.
"Our company's vision was to accelerate and drive this industry forward," said Jalene Anderson-Baron. “At first we didn't recognize the potential of our technology. We thought that everyone would overcome this roadblock at about the same time. When we talked to other companies and investors who were in contact with other companies, we found that this was the key element in moving the industry forward. "