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Various industry experts expect the cost of bringing cultured meat to the public to vary between $150-370 million, according to AgFunder. To date, investors have poured less than $100 million into every company operating in cultured meat combined. Despite the obvious dichotomy, should 2018 be the year of cellular agriculture and cultured meat, funding rounds for startups operating in the space will be both massive and widely covered in the media. Many investors and scientists wrote off the prospects of cultured meat after its initial debut – Dr. Mark Post’s $300,000 adventure. Cause for optimism nevertheless resides – the cost of production has fallen by 98% in less than two years and, often times, it’s easy to forget how expensive bringing a product to market can be. After all, the first iPhone cost over $2.5 billion in R&D. In this blog you will learn more about some of the companies vying to make cultured meat as widespread as Apple’s device.
Challenges to the Industry
It’s worth noting in greater detail the primary concerns an investor or strategic partner might have with entering the cultured meat space. Two of the primary issues are the ability to scale with cost effectiveness and access to deep pockets when expenses rapidly ring up. As mentioned, the estimated total cost of taking cultured meat from an idea to a product on the shelf is in the range of $150-370 million. If progress stalls and the excitement around the industry wavers, it may be difficult to source large funding rounds from investors. That said, scaling with cost effectiveness is by far a greater concern for companies. Efficient scale will come when startups are able to find a suitable growth medium outside of fetal bovine serum, which we discussed in our last newsletter. While Memphis Meats has announced a plant-based alternative, it is likely that their new technology is still more expensive than readily available FBS. In addition, the technology used to make cultured meat comes from medicine and science (tissue engineering). As such, it has never been adopted for use in factory production, creating a need for companies in the space to rapidly integrate automation.
Active and Influential Players
The most advanced player in the space, Memphis Meats also possesses the largest war chest – a $17 million Series A in late 2017 brought the company’s total funding north of $20 million. Founded by three scientists, the company has focused exclusively on developing its technology. After originally producing its first product – cultured beef – for $18,000 per pound, Memphis has witnessed improvements that have brought that figure down to around $2,000. After a seed round in 2016, the company anticipated its product to hit shelves in 2021. Notably, executives still see 2021 as a reasonable estimate following its Series A raise. Memphis expanded its product offerings to include cultured chicken and cultured pork – two meats growing faster than beef around the world. There are two things, however, that make Memphis particularly attractive – its interaction with influential and high-profile investors and its alternative growth medium to FBS. Memphis’ Series A included capital from Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Kimbal Musk, an active investor in ag tech. Perhaps more importantly, US-based Cargill was also involved in the round. As one of the largest private companies in the world, Cargill’s operations span the breadth of agriculture and beyond. Such a partnership could propel Memphis in terms of customer acquisition moving forward into the early 2020s. Furthermore, Memphis – along with Hampton Creek, which focuses primarily on plant-based options – are the two companies active in the space who have announced they have an alternative to using FBS, which will go a long way in legitimizing cultured meat as “clean” and “animal free.”
The youngest player in the space, SuperMeat, based in Tel Aviv, exclusively focuses on producing cultured chicken. Founded less than three years ago, SuperMeat used a crowdfunding campaign to get off the ground. Despite their youth, SuperMeat’s founders and team possess a wealth of experience in biotechnology and agriculture. SuperMeat differentiates itself from Memphis Meat and the other players in the space not only by maintaining a sole focus on chicken, but also from its unique business model. Unlike all of its competitors, SuperMeat plans to go to market with a product similarly priced to conventional meat products – not at a premium. In an interview with TechCrunch, CEO Ido Savir noted that from the company’s inception, they have had a team focused exclusively on strategies for scale. Though that strategy may require SuperMeat to delay its initial launch, pricing it competitively with traditional alternatives may assist greatly in widespread adoption. SuperMeat recently partnered with PHW (German), the third largest poultry producer in the EU. The company raised a $3 million seed round in the first week of January – likely the first of many in 2018.
Mosa Meat is Dr. Post’s spinoff from Maastricht University. As the architect behind the first publicised taste test of cultured meat, he has been active in the cellular agriculture arena for many years. Mosa arguably has the most advanced technology of the three companies discussed so far – their tissue engineering technology focuses on “micro-carriers,” tiny spheres suspended in the growing medium on which cells are produced. Mosa claims to be able to produce a burger for around $15, which would be an incredible advancement and 20,000 times cheaper than in 2013. As such, Mosa plans to have burgers ready for commercial sale in less than two years. If that target is met, they will be the first cultured meat startup to debut a commercialized product. Mosa received an undisclosed funding round, though they anticipate a higher profile raise in the first half of 2018.
Why these three?
For starters, there are only a handful of companies active in the space. Most of the money and attention lately has gone to Hampton Creek, Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and their plant-based competitors. That said, the three companies discussed above have demonstrated that they possess the technology and focus to make cultured meat a reality in the coming years. These companies are the most robust in the space and will continue to see media attention and funding as 2018 progresses – stay tuned!
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