Cellular agriculture, the process of cultivating meat, eggs, and leather in cell culture rather than raising and slaughtering livestock, has attracted the attention of Singapore’s S$266 billion ($197 billion) sovereign wealth fund Temasek. And Temasek isn’t the first multi-billion dollar investor from Asia to take notice of the technology.
Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing has invested in multiple startups using cellular agriculture and other means to produce alternative sources of protein for the food and apparel markets. He’s done so through his venture capital arm Horizon Ventures.
Modern Meadow, a startup bio-fabricating leather, has raised capital from both. The New York-based business this week closed a $40 million Series B round to double its staff, expand into a larger office space in the city, and to move beyond R&D into small scale production.
Modern Meadow designs, grows, and assembles collagen, one of the main ingredients in leather, by manipulating DNA to produce the protein. The collagen molecules then join to create fibers, which are assembled, processed, and tanned to create leather hides.
As well as removing the need for animal skin, Modern Meadows believes its leather has an improved strength to weight ratio, and will reduce waste by up to 80% compared to traditional leather.
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Horizon Ventures, which was already an investor in the company, led the B round with Iconiq Capital, a multi-family office based in San Francisco, also an existing investor.
Other investors in the round were: San Francisco-based ARTIS Ventures, Breakout Ventures, New York-based VCs Red Swan Ventures and Collaborative Fund, UK private equity firm Coller Capital, Tony Fadell, one of the fathers of the iPod, and some other individual investors.
Temasek was one of the major new investors in Modern Meadow and has been in dialogue with the startup for a couple of years, according to Andras Forgacs, Modern Meadow CEO.
“Our relationship began through prior visits to Singapore and introductions from several of our existing investors,” he told AgFunderNews. “We couldn’t be happier to have Temasek as a partner since they are one of the most sophisticated global investors with particular depth in life sciences, manufacturing, and consumer retail sectors.”
Forgacs wouldn’t confirm if Asia was a target market for its leather products when they’re released, instead pointing to the development of “best-in-class partners around the world to bring out leather materials to a wide audience.” It was also unclear where the materials would be produced globally, and what the timeline would be for the company’s first sales. But that could be a function of the cellular agriculture space and its challenges more generally.
“Similar to many manufacturing-based industries, R&D takes time and scale-up should not be underestimated,” said Forgacs. “The industry needs some high visibility early product successes to become more established with talent, capital, and partnerships.”
Forgacs was certain about his plans to take the leather market by storm and make Modern Meadow a brand name.
“Leather is a highly fragmented $100 billion global market, and there’s not really an established consumer brand of leather material. We hope to change that,” he said.
Modern Meadow is part of a growing ecosystem of startups producing animal-free proteins for human consumption. Find out more at the upcoming conference in San Francisco that’s being held by New Harvest; the non-profit research institute focused on the emerging science.