Iraoho-Analysts Judging Big Awards

The team at Matū is extremely proud of two of our iraoho-analysts who have been selected as judges for some major science commercialisation and deep tech awards.

Olivia Ogilvie has been selected as an expert judge for the XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion competition based on her research background in food science and cellular agriculture. This is a four-year, $15M competition that will incentivize teams to produce chicken breast or fish fillet alternatives that replicate or outperform conventional chicken and fish in: access, environmental sustainability, animal welfare, nutrition and health, as well as taste and texture. Read more here: https://www.xprize.org/prizes/feedthenextbillion/articles/meet-the-judges-of-xprize-feed-the-next-billion

Kiri Lenagh-Glue has been selected to be one of the judges of the 2021 KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards. These are New Zealand’s premier awards in the early-stage science and technology investment sector, celebrating individuals, teams, and organisations in their efforts to commercialise publicly funded research. Matū is well-aligned with the objectives of the awards, and we sponsor the Momentum Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Read more here: https://kiwinet.org.nz/Awards/Awards2021Judges

Hot Topic: Cellular Agriculture

Our Iraoho-Analyst Olivia Ogilvie has a look at one of the rising trends in scientific innovation and commercialisation.

Cellular agriculture (cell-ag) is an alternative biotechnology-based production method for agriculture products such as foods, flavours, and materials. It differs from traditional methods because it harnesses the power of individual cells, whereas conventional agriculture uses living animals. Notably, cellular agriculture products are distinct from plant-based alternatives because they are (theoretically) compositionally and functionally identical to animal-derived products. There are two types of cellular agriculture, acellular agriculture and cell-based agriculture; both involve the cultivation or culture of cells using cell-culture technology. 

Acellular agriculture involves producing nonliving molecules like proteins, fats, and flavour compounds. These are isolated and subsequently used to make products such as leather, milk, and eggs. Acellular agriculture uses recombinant expression, which involves engineering then growing bacteria or yeast cells. In contrast, cell-based agriculture grows and isolates living animal cells, which are used to produce meat and seafood products (Figure 1) known as cultivated or cultured meat. Compared to acellular agriculture, cell-based products use tissue culture methods to grow mammalian cells like cow, sheep, deer and fish. Both recombinant expression and tissue culture are established techniques used to produce medicines; their application to food is more novel. 

Figure 1. Basic comparison of the process used to produce cultured meat versus conventional meat (source: WhatIsCultivatedMeat.com under CC BY 4.0 license). 

Multiple factors are motivating the commercialisation of cell-ag technology. First and foremost, cellular agriculture is an alternative strategy to increase the global production of animal-derived food products. Food consumption is anticipated to increase by 70% over the next 30 years (FAO, 2018), presenting a significant challenge on food supply. The agricultural industry’s negative impact on the environment is also often criticised. Cell-ag products arguably possess a lower environmental footprint, although this depends on the energy source used to power a cell-ag plant and the production method’s efficiency. Other potential environmental benefits include decreasing land-use (allowing rewilding/regeneration of native bush), reducing the reliance on intensive farming practices, and decreasing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Notably, these potential environmental benefits will only eventuate if unsustainable farming practices improve due to cell-ag. 

Currently, there are around 80 startups worldwide commercialising cell-ag technology, most of which are based in North America. Other hubs include Israel, Singapore, and the Netherlands. These startups are pursuing massive markets (beef alone is USD$1323.92 billion) and attracting VC funding (USD$1B to date). These companies must overcome many technical, market, regulatory, and societal challenges to reach full commercialisation, but VC backed startups are making significant progress on all fronts. 

Acellular products are closer to commercialisation than cultivated meat products because they face lower technical and regulatory challenges. Several companies are working in the acellular space, one of which is Perfect Day Foods. They produce milk proteins, selling them B2B to food manufacturers, taking advantage of the massive milk powder market. They obtained FDA regulatory approval (GRAS status) in Q2 2020 to sell their products, and then closed a USD$300M Series C round led by the Canadian Pension Plan, a notably large institutional investor who contributed $160M. You can buy ice cream containing their acellular milk from Brave Robot in select US stores for around NZD$15 for 413 mLs (targeting a premium price point). They recently announced their ice cream would be available in over 5000 stores in North America, hinting that they are close to industrial-scale commercialisation. Another interesting acellular-ag company is Geltor, who produce high-purity gelatin and collagen, again selling B2B specifically to beauty, nutrition, and food companies. They closed a USD$91M Series B round in Q3 2020 and have reportedly secured multiple long-term contracts with large collagen companies such as Gelita. 

The majority of cell-ag start-ups are in the cultivated meat market segment. This is divided into companies producing cultivated meat for consumers (B2C), and companies producing technology or ingredients to grow cultivated meat (B2B). The B2-cell-agB business model is the newest class of cell-ag startups emerging in the past year; they are targeting cell-based and acellular companies that need novel technical solutions. Examples include companies producing cell-ag bioreactors like Opsin and cellulaREvolution, and companies producing media ingredients such as Sophie’s Bionutrients and Future Fields

There are a number of interesting cell-based B2C companies; some examples of their products are shown in Figure 2. One example is Blue Nalu, who make cultivated seafood from yellowtail, red snapper, and tuna, among other species. They plan to operate B2C, but their products aren’t currently available to the general public. Their most recent funding round was $60M in debt financing in Q1 2021. An interesting recent article however has concluded that cultured seafood is unlikely to have the desired positive conservation benefits. Mosa Meat is a Netherlands-based B2C cultivated meat company focussing on producing beef products. The company is run by Prof. Mark Post, the first person to make a cultured meat burger. They recently closed a USD$85M Series B round. 

Another notable B2C company is EAT JUST, who developed hybrid chicken nuggets containing pea protein and cultivated chicken cells. They were the first (and is still the only) cultured meat company to gain regulatory approval anywhere in the world to sell their product. Eat Just recently closed a USD$200M round, bringing their valuation to $2.1B (after raising USD$650M to date). Their business model differs from traditional cell-ag companies as most of their income comes from a plant protein egg-replacement, rather than a sole focus on cultivated meat. Another notable cell-based company is Turtle Tree Labs, who culture mammalian cells to produce human breast milk. They closed a USD$6.4M seed round in Q4 2020 and already have an oversubscribed but yet to be closed $60M Series A round. All of these companies are moving at lightning speed – each day more milestone announcements are made. Just last week, Orbillion Bio was the first cell-ag startup to be accepted into Y Combinator.

Figure 2. Photos of cultivated meat products collated by the Good Food Institute (source: WhatIsCultivatedMeat.com under CC BY 4.0 license). 

So what’s happening in New Zealand?

There are currently no (public) cellular agriculture start-ups in New Zealand. Australia has seven, four of which were founded in 2020. Interestingly, Fonterra has invested an undisclosed amount into US-based Motif FoodWorks, an acellular agriculture and high-value ingredient company. Several academic research groups are working on cell-ag projects in NZ. Notably, Dr. Laura Domigan from The University of Auckland recently (Q3 2020) received the largest global publicly funded grant for cell-ag research – Olivia Ogilvie works on this project alongside her role with us at Matū. Plant & Food Research are also working on a cell-based seafood project. Unfortunately, New Zealand is beginning to lag behind in commercial cell-ag, despite being global leaders in agricultural innovation. However, we are seeing academic research in this area accelerate, which is promising for translation to commercial settings. 

There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future of cellular agriculture. Is the hype justified? Are we at the beginning of one of the largest disruptions in food production? Will we fall into the trough of disillusionment and face a cell-ag winter? Is this the solution to our food supply and environmental challenges? Only time will tell.

More Synthetic Meats in the Next Decade

Dr Laura Domigan​, Professor Warren McNabb​, and Glenda Lewis have penned a piece in Stuff about the growth of cellular agriculture and artificial meats in New Zealand. It’s not just chicken or beef, but also the potential to grow shellfish, eggs, and milk products with a wider variety of nutritional profiles. New Zealand is well placed to be a world-leader in this area of research and move towards commercialisation of these technologies.

Read more here: https://www.stuff.co.nz/science/300150953/synthetic-meat-highly-possible-in-the-next-decade

Deep tech accounting for 25% of startup investment

The most recent Startup Investment New Zealand report, prepared by PwC and the Angel Association of New Zealand, highlights the growth of local deep tech investment. While the total investment activity has dipped slightly due to COVID-19, deep tech investment has been strong with a lot of interest and deal flow in this space.

Read more here (NZ Herald Premium paywall): https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/startup-investment-pwc-sees-deep-tech-impact/3M5RUNHYUZOMT7XORWTJSCBB5E/

And the report itself here: https://www.angelassociation.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/128005321_startup-investment-magazine_november_v04.pdf

Coherent Solutions Rebrands to Quantifi Photonics

Coherent Solutions, a early-stage high-tech start-up focusing on optical communication and photonics test and measurement equipment has rebranded to reflect the company’s broadening portfolio of products. Applications include the test of fibre-optic cables, data centres, LIDAR-enabled autonomous vehicles, and more. The company was founded in 2012, and is soon considering a Series B raise, demonstrating how long deep tech companies can take to get to success, but that success can be very large when they get there!

Read more here: https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/BU2009/S00311/coherent-solutions-rebrands-to-quantifi-photonics-and-sets-sights-on-us24-trillion-global-market.htm

PowerON kickstarts MEiTNER research group

Congratulations to the team at PowerON for establishing the MEiTNER (Mulitfunctional Dielectric Electronics for Next Generation Soft Robotics) research group at TU Dresden as part of a 2 million Euro research grant over six years.

“Flexible robot systems will open up completely new applications that seem unimaginable to engineers today. We draw inspiration from the natural world around us – the end result of millions of years of evolution.” says Dr. Markus Henke, MEiTNER group leader at TU Dresden and PowerON’s CEO.

Read more here: https://www.poweron.one/new-robots-step-forward-meitner-begins/

Building Momentum into the Future

Andy Shenk from UniServices has written a piece celebrating the launch of the fifth Momentum Investment Committee in the Manawatū.

The team at Matū are proud to support Momentum, both through our sponsorship of the Momentum Student Entrepreneur of the Year award, and through our participation on most of the Momentum committees. Through our engagement with Momentum, we can share our experience and expertise with both student entrepreneurs and student investment committee members, and help build capability within the next generation of the investment ecosystem.

Read more here: https://www.uniservices.co.nz/why-our-momentum-committees-are-investment-future

Avoiding Negotiation Mistakes

Laura Faulconer from WNT Ventures has written a great blog post detailing some key lessons around negotiating terms for seed-stage deals. It’s natural for founders to be wary of investors and their terms, but it’s important to develop trust and to find investors that you know are looking out for the collective interest of the company and its future. Trust is pretty critical, because once it’s gone it can be very difficult to rebuild – and investors talk to each other.

Read more here: https://wntventures.co.nz/common-seed-investment-negotiation-missteps/

Open Problems in Engineering Biology

Vijay Pande and Andy Tran from Andressen Horowitz have penned a piece about the top 16 open problems that they can see in engineering biology, particularly in the pharma space. There are a number of “traditional” methods waiting to be disrupted, from animal testing to computational modelling. Our portfolio company Mekonos is targeting problem #6 – engineering delivery systems.

Read the full article here: https://a16z.com/2020/07/22/16-open-problems-engineering-biology/