How cultured yeast will make plant-based dairy creamier

Cultivated Biosciences is a company from Switzerland and the Netherlands that is developing ingredients from yeast in order to make plant-based dairy products creamier. The startup was founded by Tomas Turner and Dimitri Zogg, who are part of the seventh and latest cohort at the ProVeg Incubator. This is their story.

What does your startup do and what is your mission? 

Tomas: Today’s reality is that animal-based dairy production causes significant levels of global greenhouse gas emissions. Plant-based alternatives, although gaining traction, don’t appeal to all consumers. One of the reasons for this is that they often lack the creaminess – of which fat is a key component.

At Cultivated Biosciences, we want to fix this. We are developing a fat ingredient from oleaginous yeast, which offers the creaminess needed for plant-based dairy. The ingredient is clean label, and uses a sustainable production process.

Where did the idea for your company come from? 

Tomas: A wonderful combination of two events.

  • Unsuccessfully trying to convince my parents to eat plant-based yogurts, and their reaction being “It’s not the same thing. I prefer my classic yogurt”.
  • The publication of the Good Food Institute database on ‘Advancing Solutions for Alternative Proteins’. It contained so many great solutions for the alternative-protein sector and is a real goldmine for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Thanks to these two events, I jumped on the idea of producing animal fats using oleaginous yeast, concentrating on applications for plant-based dairy. As I learned from my parents, there is an urgent need.

Tell us about your team. Why are you the right people for the project? 

Tomas and Dimitri: We have been friends since our university days.

Tomas: Since then, Dimitri has worked for several startups and brings his perspective on how to develop efficient internal processes and team culture.

Dimitri: Tomas has worked on alternative protein topics for two and a half years. He has developed an extensive network in the field and has the capacity to bring together stakeholders to create amazing partnerships.

What are your favourite parts about building your business?

Dimitri: Unlocking knowledge. So many people and companies have incredible resources – but in their own silos. The moments when we are able to build a bridge between our solution and the know-how of another person or institution is one of the most satisfying feelings.

plant-based dairy ice-cream
Cultivated Biosciences is the only startup developing non-GMO fats for the plant-based-dairy market.

What have been the main challenges you’ve faced? 

Tomas: The decision to create a startup directly after university, when I hadn’t yet earned any income, was not an easy one. Today I am so happy that I did it – in the last six months I have probably learned more than I did during five years of university!

What is it that makes your company unique? 

Dimitri: We are sooooooo creamy!

Seriously though, we are the only startup developing non-GMO fats for the plant-based-dairy market. We can help achieve great textures, giving consumers the consistency they know and love from animal-based dairy. This is all while providing a clean-label ingredient that uses a sustainable production process.

Why did you decide to join the ProVeg Incubator? 

Tomas: We deeply trust ProVeg and are sure that they will be by our side during the good times and the bad times. Their mission is the same as ours and it is accompanied by an impressive track record of helping groundbreaking startups in our field.

Plant-based milk in coffee
Cultivated Biosciences aims to add creaminess to plant-based dairy

In your opinion, what do you think it takes for a startup to be successful? 

Tomas: Passion, partnerships, and a bucket of luck.

Let’s start with the last one. One key factor in the history of successful startups is that people were at the right place at the right time. Cultivated Biosciences could not have existed five years ago because there was no interest in alternative fats. We were lucky to have this opportunity and be able to grab it.

You cannot really develop an idea by yourself. Especially in our field, where so many disciplines –  from business to food science and biotechnology – are needed. Creating a network of partners and advisors is fundamental.

Last but not least, passion is vital. Building a startup is a bumpy road, and you had better know why you are taking this journey. Both Dimitri and I have spent nearly a decade engaged in climate and youth activism, trying to create a better tomorrow. We know what a bumpy road looks like, and we truly believe that with Cultivated Biosciences we can make a difference.

What do you hope to achieve with your company in the next 12 months?

Dimitri: The goal is to have our minimum viable product ready and to scale up shortly thereafter.

Research by our new academic partner in Zurich should allow us to make significant improvements in our yeast strains. We will expand our R&D team and optimise the bioprocess in order to reach our cost benchmarks.

In parallel, we also want to consolidate partnerships so that we can scale up quickly, on both a technical and commercial level. Finally, we will focus on our initial target market of plant-based dairy producers in order to make sure that our ingredients can be incorporated into their products as soon as possible.

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