These 5 founders will make you want to start a career in cellular agriculture

This year is set to be a big one for cellular agriculture. In honour of International Women’s Day we’ve chosen to showcase the achievements of five inspiring women who are pioneering this field.

More and more women are getting into food tech and food science, and quite frankly, we’re here for it. Not only that, but an increasing number of women are founding companies at the forefront of pioneering fields such as cellular agriculture.

This is important because women belong in all places where decisions are being made (thanks for that one, Ruth Bader Ginsberg). And not as an exception, but as the standard.

The founders that we’ve chosen to focus on in this blog post are blazing trails in the world of alt-protein innovation. However, they’re also demonstrating what is possible to female founders and entrepreneurs from all different backgrounds.

Research shows that role models represent and expand what is possible. They also inspire women to be more ambitious and aim higher. More of that please.

We’ve written previously about what cellular agriculture is, and some of the startups in this field. However, in a nutshell, cell-ag is the production of animal-based products from cell cultures rather than directly from animals. 

cellular agriculture founders create cell-based fish
Cultivated seafood from Avant Meats

It aims to provide people with the animal-based products they know and like, but with a lighter impact on the environment. Cell-ag products also boast numerous human health benefits and significant improvements in animal welfare.

Here are five food-tech founders who we particularly admire. Warning: reading about their awesome achievements might make you want to start a career in cellular agriculture. You can thank us later 😉

Carrie Chan, Co-founder and CEO of Avant Meats

Carrie Chan is one of the founders of Hong-Kong-based Avant Meats – a pioneer in cultivated seafood. The company, founded in 2018, develops cell-based fish fillets and fish maw — a delicacy in China.

To date, Avant Meats has raised $3.1 million in capital, and in April 2021, Avant revealed plans to build a specialist R&D lab in Singapore. Singapore is the only country so far that has approved the sale of cultivated meat products.

Speaking at one of our Future Food Series webinars, Carrie said that “the need for an alternative supply of seafood is imminent. Each year, up to 2.7 trillion fish are caught from the wild. Meanwhile, 37-120 billion fish are killed on commercial farms.”

Cultured seafood is shaping up to be a hugely impactful niche within the cellular agriculture industry. According to Green Queen Media, this is particularly true in Asia where demand for seafood remains high.

cellular agriculture world first bacon
Higher Steaks produces world's first cultivated bacon

Dr Britta Winterberg, Co-founder and CSO of Formo

Cellular agriculture comprises two different approaches: cell cultivation (cellular) and precision fermentation (acellular). The latter refers to the use of microorganisms to produce milk and egg-white proteins. This is the technique used by alt-dairy company Formo to produce animal-free cheese.

Dr Britta Winterberg founded Formo, an alumnus of the ProVeg Incubator, along with Raffael Wohlgensinger in Berlin. Formo, formerly known as Legendairy Foods, is Europe’s first cellular agriculture company developing animal-free dairy products. To do so, the team uses real milk proteins derived from precision fermentation.

In 2021, Formo raised $50 million and just last month the company, along with Mercy for Animals and Fordham University, released a survey showing that consumers are “ready” for alt-dairy. This is a startup that is not only developing game-changing products, but is also seeking to change the way we see and consume food products, for the better.

Benjamina Bollag, Founder and CEO of Higher Steaks

Benjamina Bollag is the Founder of Higher Steaks, a cultured meat company based in the UK. The startup focuses on alt-pork and unveiled its first product samples in 2020. These included the world’s first cell-based bacon strips and pork belly.

Speaking at the time Benjamina said: “There’s still a lot of work until it’s commercial, but the revelation of a pork belly product that’s made from 50% cultivated cells and a bacon product which contains 70% meat grown from a cell material in a laboratory is something of a milestone for the industry.”

The remaining ingredients are a mixture of plant-based proteins, fats, and starch to hold the cellular material togethers.

Benjamina, who holds a masters degree in chemical engineering, founded Higher Steaks in 2017. The team later went on to raise pre-seed money of about $200,000.

cellular agriculture founders Shiok Meats
Dr. Sandhya Sriram and Ka Yi Ling, Co-founders of Shiok Meats

Kaisa Orgusaar, Founder and CEO of ProProtein

ProProtein is the second company on our list that is leveraging the power of precision fermentation to develop alt-dairy products. Kaisa Orgusaar founded the food-tech company in Estonia and she is backed by a female-led team.

ProProtein, a further alumnus of the ProVeg Incubator, produces cow casein (the principle milk protein) from yeast. During March and April this year (2022), ProProtein will be raising a seed funding round of 700,000. The company previously raised €90,000 from food-tech angels, competitions, and the leading food awareness organisation ProVeg International.

Our long term goal is ultimately related to impact,” said Kaisa. “Climate solutions that create impact need to be highly scalable and that’s where we are headed.”

Dr. Sandhya Sriram and Ka Yi Ling, Co-founders of Shiok Meats

OK, I know that by having two names on this last entry, our list technically has six founders, but we couldn’t leave this duo out. They are, after all, at the very forefront of cultivated seafood.

Dr. Sandhya Sriram and Ka Yi Ling co-founded Shiok Meats in 2018 in Singapore where “Shiok” means fantastic. This company is considered to be one of the industry’s biggest players and has already debuted its cultured crab, lobster, and shrimp products. To date, Shiok Meats has raised over $30 million and is targeting its market release for 2023.

Dr. Sandhya Sriram is a stem cell biologist with over ten years of experience working with muscle, adipose, cells, and stem cells. In addition to her scientific work, which earned her a PhD, Sandhya is also a business development professional and a serial entrepreneur. Prior to Shiok Meats, Sandhya co-founded Biotech in Asia and SciGlo. Forbes Women in Tech also featured Sandhya for building ventures rooted in purpose, impact, and innovation.

Dr. Ka Yi Ling is a developmental and stem cell biologist who was named as one of EmTech Asia’s Innovators Under 35 for her contribution to creating cell-based shrimp. Ka Yi received the prestigious A*STAR’s National Science Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s and PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

For more female-led content in honour of International Women’s Day, check out our post sharing the inspiring stories of female entrepreneurs. In addition, we’ve also written about Founder and CEO of Bosque Foods, Isabella Iglesias-Musachio, who just unveiled her mycelium-based alt-meat products for the first time in Europe.

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