You may have seen a magician pull a bouquet of flowers out of thin air, but what about protein? A Pleasanton, California startup is trying to do just that with a fresh $32 million round of funding led by ADM Ventures, Barclays, and Google-affiliated GV.
Air Protein will use the Series A round to launch an innovation R&D lab, speed up product development and commercialization, and to build out its team.
As the funding round had to largely be completed virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Air Protein prepared data, reports, and videos to make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction.
Founder and CEO Lisa Dyson developed the concept behind her startup’s ‘air-based meat’ out of her desire to address the world’s growing appetite for protein. She told AFN that her team is in the process of commercializing Air Protein’s tech platform so that can eventually reach large-scale production volumes to feed the world’s growing population.
So, how does the company do it?
“We start with elements from the air we breathe – carbon dioxide, oxygen, and nitrogen. They are combined with water and mineral nutrients,” Dyson explained.
“Next, we use renewable energy and a probiotic production process where cultures convert the elements into essential amino acids. The output is a nutritious source of protein with the same amino acid profile as animal protein.”
To give the resultant protein the texture and flavor of meat, the startup uses “a combination of culinary techniques” including pressure and temperature, which Dyson compared to the process of turning wheat flour into pasta.
Still in the product development stage, Air Protein cultivates its meat analog in sustainable, vertical farms that it claims can be built anywhere on earth. The protein can be manufactured in only a few days, which makes it “highly scalable and extremely planet-friendly,” according to the company.
Competition getting stiffer
The wider alt-protein space is evolving to include a wide variety of meat substitutes – as well as a growing list of ways that startups are developing them, too.
To highlight a few examples of these new spins on protein sources, US-based Nature’s Fynd is fermenting volcanic microbes to make meat replacements, and closed a $45 million debt round last month. Israel’s SavorEat, which has developed a 3D printer that can build and broil plant-based patties, banked $3 million in funding last July; while Singapore’s Karana raised $1.6 million in the same month for its jackfruit-based meat alternative.
Investors are pouring money into the space, with alt-protein startups raising $741 million in the first quarter of 2020 alone, according to the Good Food Institute. Major food manufacturers including Nestlé, Danone, and Cargill appear to have seen the writing on the wall, and are finding ways to claim territory in the space.
Although this growth is a sign of good fortune for alt-protein startups, it also means the competition is getting stiffer.
“It’s essential to explore a variety of alternative solutions and options to help meet the growing global population’s demand for protein,” Darren Streiler, managing director of ADM Ventures, said in a statement announcing Air Protein’s funding. “ADM [is] excited to help leverage our vast experience with fermentation solutions to help bring Air Protein’s innovative new ideas to the market.”
Andy Wheeler, general partner at GV, added that the startup “provides a unique protein source with proven yields and production efficiency.”
As for future plans, Air Protein is focusing on scaling up and getting its vaporous concoctions onto your plate.
“We plan to demonstrate the versatility of our platform to make products across a variety of categories, including poultry, beef, pork, and seafood,” Dyson said.