Editor’s Note: Yanniv Dorone is an investment associate at AgFunder.
It used to be that animal rights and environmental organizations like PETA, The Humane Society, WWF or Greenpeace were the predominant NGOs fueling the movement against meat. While they managed to increase public awareness around the world, the consumption of all categories of animal products has nonetheless been steadily increasing for decades. Recently, however, we have seen the emergence of a completely new category of NGOs that shares similar goals but strives to achieve them with an entirely different and novel approach. Instead of focusing on why consumers should avoid animal-derived products, they are focusing on how to get them to consume alternative products.
The Good Food Institute (GFI) is the largest one among them. Driven by a sense of urgency to mitigate the impact of animal agriculture on sustainability, climate change, and global health, its main priority is to foster and support innovation in the alternative protein field. As investors ourselves in the space, we can attest to the remarkable influence and impact of GFI. The vast majority of entrepreneurs have told us time and time again how important GFI has been in eliminating many of the challenges of establishing their startups. And even at AgFunder, GFI’s resources have been pivotal in refining the investment strategy of our own new alternative protein fund—The New Carnivore Fund—which we launched earlier this month.
This week the Good Food Institute has officially launched GFI Israel and named Nir Goldstein as its managing director. As Bruce Friedrich, GFI’s Co-Founder and Executive Director, told me, this expansion is part of GFI’s strategy to create global impact in the transformation of agriculture toward plant-based and cultivated meat. While GFI already had a presence in Israel through a satellite office, the launch of the institute marks the beginning of a new chapter for GFI in Israel.
“Israel is synonymous with innovation and science”
Israel earned its nickname “Startup Nation” for having more startups per capita than any other country in the world. And these startups have been particularly successful, especially considering how small the country is: just in 2018, they collectively raised $6.47 billion from investors from all over the world. When it comes to AgriFood-tech, the Israeli startup scene has been gaining a lot of steam. According to Startup Nation Central, the rate of startup creation in the space has more than tripled over the last decade, a phenomenon they called Israel’s “second wave” of AgriFood-tech innovation, a sequel to its “first wave” that consisted of groundbreaking technologies dealing with the country’s arid environment.
In the last few years, the Israeli government has recognized FoodTech as an economic priority. Back in 2015, Israeli food giant Strauss Group opened the country’s first FoodTech incubator—the Kitchen FoodTech Hub, which quickly became one of the world’s most popular FoodTech incubators, and, earlier this year, it struck a collaboration deal with Fortune 500 snacks company, Mondelēz International. Notably, four out of the Kitchen Hub’s 12 portfolio companies are in the alternative protein space: Yofix, Zero Egg, Aleph Farms, and Rilbite.
The tremendous success of the Kitchen FoodTech Hub motivated the Israeli government to build a second FoodTech accelerator, whose government tender was recently won by a consortium of two venture capital firms, Finistere Ventures and OurCrowd, and two of Israel’s largest food & beverage companies, Tnuva and Tempo.
For Bruce Friedrich, Israel is “synonymous with innovation and science.” Of the first 14 recipients of GFI’s competitive research grants, two of them are Israeli. And of the first eight cultivated meat startups in the world, three are in Israel (Aleph Farms, Future Meat Technologies and SuperMeat). Not so bad for a country that represents just 0.11% of the world’s population!
“As a small country, Israel has to contend with the inefficiency of growing massive amounts of crops that require extra land and water just to feed animals. And as we know, necessity is the mother of invention”, said Friedrich. With Israelis being so advanced technologically and having a “let’s solve this” mentality, Friedrich is confident that Israelis will develop technologies in the alternative protein space that will have global ramifications: “This is a country where putting our resources will allow us to transform the entire world”.
Nir Goldstein named managing director
The Good Food Institute has appointed Nir Goldstein as the managing director of GFI Israel. Prior to joining GFI, Goldstein worked as a management consultant, first at TASC Consulting & Capital where he worked on business and finance projects with some of Israel’s largest companies, and then at Leading Edge Consultants where he started the Agri-foodtech division. Before that, Goldstein was trained as a lawyer, and worked at the Israeli Ministry of Justice and as a patent lawyer at S. Horowitz & Co. Goldstein earned both a law degree and an MBA from the Hebrew University.
In addition to bringing his years of experience in law and business to the new institute, Goldstein is also personally-driven and aligned with GFI’s global mission. “It all began when I found out that I was going to have a daughter,” Goldstein told me. “I was getting more and more knowledgeable about the harms of animal agriculture and decided that, in order for my daughter to have a good world to live in, it was my responsibility to support change.”
Also on the new team is Tom Ben Arye, who did his PhD in Shulamit Levenberg’s lab at the Technion, where he initiated the cultivated meat project from which Aleph Farms emerged. In case you missed it, Aleph Farms made international headlines last month when they became the first company to successfully cultivate meat in space! Prior to joining GFI Israel, Ben Arye co-founded the Modern Agriculture Foundation, an Israeli NGO that also aims to replace animal foods with alternative products.
GFI Israel will enable the country to become a leader in alternative protein innovation
To make Israel a “pioneer in alternative protein innovation,” Goldstein will focus on three main areas. First, Goldstein wants to expand GFI Israel’s science team in order to foster more collaborations between the alternative protein industry and academia, as well as to facilitate the propagation of Israel’s academic knowledge to the rest of the world. Second, GFI Israel will consult and work with the Israeli government to ensure that this sector becomes a growth engine for the Israeli economy. Finally, GFI Israel will work with Israeli companies, primarily stakeholders in the food industry, who, as Goldstein told me, have already largely embraced GFI’s thesis regarding the need for alternative protein.
Earlier this week, Israelis were introduced to GFI Israel’s mission after Goldstein penned an op-ed for Ynet, one of Israel’s leading news outlets. In this piece, Goldstein explains the massive market opportunity for alternative protein, and urges the Israeli government to maintain its competitive edge in the FoodTech industry by directing its efforts and resources towards this sector, the same way it had previously done for cyber and desalination technologies. Otherwise, he warns, “the next Beyond Burger will probably not be developed in Israel.”
Before Israel, the Good Food Institute had already established GFI institutes in Brazil, India, Europe, and Asia Pacific. Considering GFI’s tremendous track record here in the United States, despite the country’s complex relationship with its animal agriculture industry, it will be particularly exciting to observe GFI Israel’s impact in a country that already checks many boxes—advanced tech, exceptional academic research, and high public acceptance—for becoming the world’s leader in alternative protein.