Kinoko Labs is a fungi-based food company from Germany that is developing whole-cut meat alternatives grown naturally from mycelium. The startup, which is part of the current cohort at the ProVeg Incubator, was founded by Isabella Iglesias-Musachio, with Rafael Philippini serving as the Microbiology Lead. This is the Kinoko Labs story.
What does your startup do and what is your mission?
Isabella: Kinoko Labs is a biotech company that is on a mission to create whole-cut meat alternatives, grown naturally from mycelium. We aim to create better-than-meat products that deliver on the entire taste experience, nutrition, and affordability without compromise.
Our solution is to create clean-image, minimally-processed, and nutrient dense alternatives to animal-based meat. We do this by leveraging a combination of microbial fermentation and mycelium’s inherently fibrous texture. We will develop a line of steaks, fillets, and cutlets, beginning with a flagship chicken product.
Our vision is to help create a more environmentally sustainable, equitable, and animal-free food system in order to protect our planet. As a result, we are also preserving our most cherished culinary traditions.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
Isabella: While studying sustainable agriculture when I was 16, I came to learn about the gruesome conditions of factory farms, and decided to become vegetarian. I had to reinvent my daily food rituals, and found that mushrooms were a great centre-of-the-plate alternative to meat.
That sparked my regard for fungi as a biological kingdom with incredible variety and versatility. Not only to produce mushrooms, but also the molds and yeasts that allow us to make beer, wine, bread, and cheese. This fascination led me to learn about fermentation over a decade ago and I began experimenting.
When I embarked on my entrepreneurial path, I knew my company mission would be creating a more sustainable food system. By that time, the idea for Kinoko Labs had been brewing (no pun intended) for years. Therefore, I knew it had to be fermentation-enabled and fungi-based.
The inspiration to focus on creating minimally-processed, nutrient-dense alternatives came from both my own experience as a consumer. There was a lack of meat alternatives I feel good about consuming regularly. I recognised also that many other people were having the same problem.
Tell us about your team. Why are you the right people for the project?
Isabella: Rafael, our Lead Microbiologist, is the perfect person to help build Kinoko Labs, being a skilled microbiologist and an expert in industrial biotechnology. He dedicated the last twelve years to researching the utilisation of agro-industrial byproducts as feedstock for sustainable carbon and nitrogen sources, as well as their application in the developing biomolecules of industrial interest.
I have an academic background in sustainability and agriculture, and I’ve spent my career helping to build startups in the United States, Europe, and Asia. I have a proven track record in leading tech startups to scale internationally, most recently for the ag-tech startup Infarm. As CEO, I bring my life-long passion for sustainability and my experience in business management to building Kinoko Labs.
What are your favourite parts about building your business?
Rafael: My favorite part is building the bioprocess from scratch. As a scientist, I like to develop methodologies, to see prototypes taking form, and implemented them as a real-world product. Creating something and implementing my own ideas gives me a great sense of pride and is very rewarding.
Isabella: For me, working towards our mission of creating something that we feel will make a positive impact in people’s lives and help preserve our planet is one of the most satisfying parts about building Kinoko Labs. Beyond that, meeting and working with incredible scientists, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs inspires me to continue fighting the good fight!
What have been the main challenges you’ve faced?
Isabella: Building a company during a worldwide pandemic naturally created many obstacles that we never could have imagined. As with many early-stage companies, this has slowed our progress. It has also made it very difficult to meet potential collaborators and get access to lab space.
Not being able to meet my team in person was a challenge I never anticipated prior to the pandemic. However, it has also opened up the possibility to collaborate with experts around the world who, in normal times, we may have never had the opportunity to meet. Our team is a great example of that.
What makes your company unique?
Isabella: Our approach to creating meat alternatives is to leverage fermentation and fungi in order to create naturally meat-like structures, which is a departure from how many plant-based alternatives are made.
By leveraging mycelium’s inherent fibrous structure, we can naturally replicate the texture of meat without the need for a long list of texturizers, fillers, and binders that you often find in meat alternatives. This means we can create clean-image, minimally processed products. Plus, they will be healthier and nutrient dense since mycelium has a similar amino acid and mineral profile to animal-meat.
We are also unique because we focus entirely on whole-cut meats. This has the highest margins yet is the most underserved segment of the meat sector in our industry.
Why did you decide to join the ProVeg Incubator?
Isabella: We have been huge fans of Proveg’s work for years, and recognised that it brought together an incredible community of mentors and thought leaders in the plant-based, cell-based, and fermentation-based industry. Being based in Berlin, it was a natural choice for us to apply. We’re thrilled to be collaborating with other startups and learn from their networks of industry experts.
What do you think it takes for a startup to be successful?
Isabella: Building a great team is definitely the most important factor for a startup to be successful. You need people who have the right skills, mindset, and passion to turn your vision into a reality, and to get through the hard times. After that, having a healthy dose of tenacity, grit, creativity, and good luck is key!
What do you hope to achieve with your company in the next 12 months?
Rafael: We hope to establish our lab, secure our pre-seed round of funding, kick off our in-house R&D, and recruit one or two additional team members. Achieving these critical milestones will bring us a few steps closer to developing a prototype of our flagship chicken product.