SCiFi Foodformerly Artemys Foods, combines plant-based meat farming and farming technologies to create its first hamburger, and its mission has just received a big venture capital boost.
The San Francisco-based food tech startup announced Wednesday a $22 million Series A round led by a16z. This brings the company’s total funding since its inception in 2019 by co-founders Joshua March, CEO, and Kasia Gora, CTO, to $29 million. Prior to founding SCiFi, March co-founded and led Conversational and iPlatform, and Gora pioneered a high-performance approach to engineering cells at Zymergen.
Creating food products using vegetable proteins and cultured meat, which is real animal meat obtained by culturing animal cells, is now really ready. Alternative protein companies generated $911 million in the first quarter of 2022, of which $146 million came from cultured meat companies, according to the Good Food Institute.
Other cultured meat companies have recently received new funding. For example, Unicorn Bio it took $3.2 million for equipment to scale up the cell culture process, while UPIDE Foods received $400 million to prepare a chicken product for the market. We also saw Mooji Meats and Micro Meats enter this space.
March believes cultured meat will be a winner in the food tech sector because it’s closer to real flavor and texture than plant-based options like those pioneered by Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. However, when he and Gora first considered it, they realized that there would be major cost issues preventing cultured meat from reaching price parity with traditional meat. So they decided to solve this problem.
Scale is a recurring issue when it comes to culture technology, and companies in the sector acknowledge that they would have to replace about 1% of beef to make an impact.
In the case of SCiFi, March explained to me that the company is addressing this problem by using both plant-based technologies and real cultured beef cells in its approach, which includes bioengineering and technologies such as CRISPR to grow meat from animal cells. on a larger scale and at a more affordable price. Using CRISPR, a company can make tiny changes to cells to change their behavior to grow on a grand scale.
“With this approach, we can use our cultured cells to extract fat from proteins that create flavors, but we don’t have to worry about tissue engineering, 3D printing, or scaffolding,” March added. “There is a lot of exciting research on all these new technologies, but no one knows how to scale them yet. The second big part, which is quite unique to us, is that we really take a very focused approach to developing cell lines, which is at the heart of what we do and the main reason Andreessen has invested in us.”
According to March, SCiFi’s first product will be a burger, which “is already a really good product and tastes amazing.” The company is now focused on reaching some key milestones so that by the end of the year it can be ready to receive regulatory approval and begin construction of a pilot plant for biomanufacturing and fermentation. If all this works, he expects to start selling a burger “in a couple of years.”
The company collected a small amount of seeds in 2020 and has since been working on developing a cell line to lower the cost curve. March could not elaborate on the exact numbers, but said “we’ve reduced the cost of in-house production at scale pretty drastically.”
With the platform and intellectual property in good shape, March felt it was the right time to move to Series A to continue investing in R&D, hiring and marketing. The company recently moved to a 16,000-square-foot R&D facility near the East Bay.
The process of getting the hamburger through the regulatory process will take a couple of years, March said. This includes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the main process and the USDA, which will approve the facility and final product labeling.
“Over time, we are going to produce many products, so we need an investor who believes in this mission, wants to join us and support us in the long term,” he added. “Andreessen Horowitz really fit into it. One of the relatively unique things they have is a strong background in biology and synthetic biology, as well as building world-changing consumer brands. It’s very interesting to work with them.”
Vijay Pande, general partner at Andreessen and who led the investment, added by email: “Many people, including Joshua and myself, love a good hamburger but want to be able to enjoy meat without contributing to climate change and the associated environmental and social problems. effects. SCiFi Foods’ high-throughput mammalian cell line engineering platform enables the development of revolutionary products that, by combining plant-based and cultured meat, overcome the unacceptable costs associated with 100% cultured meat and the mediocre taste of most plants. meat based. I believe SCiFi Foods is well positioned to become one of this generation’s defining brands, reducing the impact of traditional meat production on our planet.”
Although it will be some time before we see a SCiFi burger, the company continues to conduct research and communicate with restaurants and grocery stores. March intends to get the product in restaurants first, and will eventually offer catering and some direct-to-consumer services.
In addition to the investment, the company also announced that Maira Pasek, general counsel for agtech startup Iron Ox, will join its board of directors. Pasek has previously held senior positions at Impossible Foods and Tesla.
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