The Dutch cultivated meat startup Meatable, which aims to lab-grow pork and beef, has raised an additional $10 million in seed funding, the company has disclosed to AFN.
The raise — which brings Meatable’s total funding to date to $13 million — comes mainly from an existing investor base of BlueYard Capital, with supplemental funds from angel investors including Taavet Hinrikus, who is CEO and co-founder of TransferWise, and Albert Wenger, who is a managing partner at Union Square Ventures. The European Commission also contributed funds through its Eurostars Programme.
As AgFunder’s recent White Paper sets out, cultured meat startups like Meatable are proliferating in Europe, as elsewhere. The ability to lab-grow cells was once limited to the medical transplant space, but increasingly entrepreneurs are trying to repurpose this biotechnology for the production of food. In a phone interview with AFN ahead of the raise, Meatable co-founder and CEO Krijn de Nood said his company was going to use their seed funds to tackle two interlinked obstacles that remain stumbling blocks across the cultivated meat industry: cost and scale.
A pork chop, freshly lab-made
By the summer of 2020, he said, his company aims to have its first prototype. And it will not resemble something mushed up like a meatball or patty. It will be a lab-grown pork chop, he said, made with Meatable’s own scaffold technology, with pig cells that have been transformed into early-stage stem cells, before being transformed again into muscle and fat cells. The nutrient media, he claimed, will be plant-based (a lot of similar startups controversially still use Fetal Bovine Serum) and its nutrients will be recycled.
“We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing,” said de Nood, quoting an essay by Winston Churchill from the 1930s to emphasize how the vision of culturing meat is nothing new.
“We believe no one should have to give up the meat they love,” he added in a Churchillian turn of phrase of his own: “there is a way to satisfy the world’s appetite for meat without harming people, animals or the planet.”
In this respect, cultivated meat is vying with plant-based proteins developed to have the look, smell, taste, and feel of meat. These plant-based companies are in many cases already off the mark, despite residual regulatory hurdles and scaling challenges. But those challenges seem almost trivial compared to in-vitro meat: current cultivation protocols can take months. Yet Meatable’s technology, the team claim, built off the back of 2012 Nobel Prize-winning research and optimized by Stanford and Cambridge scientists, can produce large batches of the cells needed to make meat in a matter of days to weeks. Only one cell is needed to start the process. The cell is sourced from a real animal in a completely painless way — and because it comes from an animal, the meat that can be made with it is real meat, not a highly processed substitute.
Leading the process is Meatable’s CTO Daan Luining, who worked on the world’s first lab-grown hamburger under Professor Mark J. Post. “My role was to optimize cell growth and density, using different kinds of microcarriers, in a bioreactor setup,” he writes on his LinkedIn.
This sort of expertise might well have been what excited Estonia’s Taavet Hinrikus, the founding CEO of TransferWise, one of the first European unicorn companies: “Exciting things can happen when you put a great team and a 10x better product together with a huge market. Meatable’s proprietary technology uniquely positions them to make inroads toward solving the biggest barrier to bringing cultivated meat to consumers.”
The team’s focus on bringing not just cultivated beef but also pork to consumers also resonates in the context of a drastic outbreak of African Swine Fever that is threatening the world’s pig population, especially in Asia. Though some tech solutions are beginning to come to the fore, the virus continues to spread and has already led to the culling of tens of millions of pigs.
Asia, incidentally, is where regulations for this Dutch company could prove easier to navigate, though the Netherlands has been supportive of this type of technology, and there are signs that the European Union could be more receptive to cultivated meat as it pursues climate change targets set out as part of the UN Paris Agreements.
“Meatable was assessed by an international independent evaluation panel and granted a Eureka label; reserved for projects that demonstrate the potential of excellent, high impact and efficient and effective implementation,” said Philippe Vanrie, Head of the EUREKA Association and responsible for the Eurostars-2 programme, in a statement. “Meatable, a dynamic start-up in the cultivated meat sector, has the potential to develop a unique and innovative technology thanks to support received from the Eurostars Programme. We understand the technology developed will have a significant and positive impact on meat production and, in turn, on climate change.”
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