Here’s Y Combinator’s answer to cultured meat’s scaling problem – TechCrunch


The positive impact that alternative meat products – such as plant-based meat or cultured meat – can have on the environment is striking. In optimistic scenarios where we switch from a meat-laden to a plant-based diet in the next 15 years, 61 to 68 percent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions could be avoided.

Except that alternative meat has a major scale problem.

The Good Food Institute (GFI) estimates that alternative meat producers will need to create 800 production facilities within the decade and spend about $27 billion to meet global demand.

To do this, farmed and plant-based meat companies must solve scientific problems ranging from the size and efficiency of the bioreactor to the high cost of growth factors used in cell-grown meat. Some startups see these scaling issues as a foothold in the alternative meat space. Rather than launching brands, these are alternative B2B protein companies developing scalable industrial manufacturing platforms. There are two companies in this year’s Y Combinator cohort that are embracing this model.

Mooji Meats: fast 3D printing of whole pieces

Mooji Meats was founded just 6 months ago and is in the process of raising its first seed round of $2.5 million. The company has developed a 3D printer that can produce whole cuts of meat using vegetable protein or cultured meat cells. They are developing a 3D-printed portion of Wagyu beef and expect a prototype to be viable for taste testing within 6 months, co-founder Insa Mohr told TechCrunch.

“There’s always a trade-off between scale and texture,” Mohr told TechCrunch. “3D printing always produces great textures without being scalable. Then there are other technologies that are scalable but don’t create good textures. Definitely not for steaks. And we overcome this trade-off.”

Mooji Meats founders Insa Mohr and Jochen Mueller.

Mohr claims that Mooji can imprint these cuts of meat by layering fat, connective tissue and muscle cells in a marble pattern, but she didn’t provide much detail on how that’s done. Mooji’s main advantage, she says, is speed. Mohr said one printhead is “250 times faster” than existing 3D printers.

At this early stage, it’s not a crime to be secretive. But evidence of this improved work speed should be visible soon. Mohr claims the $2.5 million Mooji is currently raising should be enough runway to get the company to their first client, and, one would hope, a proof of concept in the real world.

Micro Meat: scaffolding for cultured meat companies

If you think that plant-based meats will have trouble meeting demand, it’s nothing compared to the cost of cultured meat.

Some companies claim to at least break that cost barrier. In December 2021, Future Meat, an Israeli cultured meat company, recently raised a $347 million Series B round led by ADM Ventures (an astronomical jump from its $14 million Series A), claiming to be able to grow a pound of chicken. churning for $7.70, less than half the $18 it cost 6 months earlier. But that’s still higher than the cost of about $3 per pound of regular chicken.

Anne-Sophie Mertgen, the founder of startup Micro Meat, told TechCrunch that most new in vitro meat companies are still struggling to get their business up and running on a large scale.

Early Micro-meat experiments showing cultured meat in dishes.

“There is no other industry where the big players are completely vertical,” she told TechCrunch. So we really believe that we want to build this industry on the scale it takes to feed the world. we need more b2b players.”

Micro Meat was founded in 2021, while Mertgen’s postdoc work at Tec de Monterrey in Mexico was interrupted due to the pandemic. Micro Meat’s focus is on creating cell tissue scaffolds. Scaffolds are structures that facilitate the flow of nutrients and give cells the signals they need to form mature muscle tissue. Unstructured ground products don’t require hugely complex scaffolding, but cut like steaks do.

“We Can Cultivate Them” [tissue scaffolds] with similar processes that the cultured meat industry uses, such as biopharma reactors, for example,” she said. “We can scale this indefinitely, as we can now easily produce with our first prototype, 100 grams in a minute.”

The technology is currently in a prototype stage, but Micro Meat has successfully created a cultured pork product, she said. The company has raised $375,000 in pre-seed funding to date and is in the process of raising a $2 million seed round.

That round should yield up to two years of runway needed to establish an R&D line, perfect more devices and consumables and land some co-development contracts, Mertgen said.

The Micro Meat team. Co-founders Ann-Sophie Mertgen and Vincent Pribble are third and fourth from the left.

More B2B holes to fill

Both Micro Meat and Mooji Meats share a larger statement: there are untapped opportunities for B2B players in the alternative meat space.

“The first B2B players entered the market in 2017, while the first cultured meat companies were established in 2013-14,” said Mertgen. So overall this is a super young industry, but I think it’s really going to be necessary.”

Mohr says she now sees some of these companies emerging: “There are more and more platform solutions in development, which basically shows us that the industry as a whole is evolving,” she said.

But there are still more holes in the alternative industry that need to be closed, industry analysts note. Two that stand out now are: more diverse protein sources for plant-based meat and cheaper growth factor sources for cultured meat products.

The good news is that there is money for companies that want to delve into these issues. The amount of private funding for the alternative protein space has increased since 2020. That year, $3.1 billion was put into alternative proteins, a 3x increase in funding from the previous year. And in 2022, we still saw major financing rounds closing.

That’s a nice setup for an industrial alternative meat platform company with the ability to scale this nascent science. Any problem in the supply chain is a scientific challenge big enough to make or break a business, if not a career.

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