Andreessen Horowitz supports SCiFi Foods in the development of a plant-based, cell-based burger – TechCrunch
SCiFi Foods, formerly Artemys Foods, is combining plant-based and cultured meat technology to create its first hamburger product, and its mission has just received a big venture capital boost.
The Bay Area-based food tech startup announced a $22 million Series A funding round Wednesday led by a16z. This brings the company’s total funding to $29 million since its inception in 2019 by co-founders Joshua March, CEO, and Kasia Gora, CTO. Prior to founding SCiFi, March co-founded and led Conversocial and iPlatform while Gora had pioneered a high-throughput approach to cell engineering at Zymergen.
Creating foods from plant proteins and cultured meat, which is real animal meat from the culture of animal cells, is booming right now. Alternative protein companies brought in $911 million in the first quarter of 2022, with cultured meat companies accounting for $146 million, according to the Good Food Institute.
Other cultured meat companies have recently participated in new financings. For example, Unicorn Bio received $3.2 million for equipment to scale the cell culture process, while UPSIDE Foods got $400 million to get its chicken product ready for market. We’ve also seen Mooji Meats and Micro Meat enter this space.
March believes cultured meat was going to be a winner in the food tech sector because it was closer to real taste and texture than plant-based options like those pioneered by Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. However, back when he and Gora were initially looking at it, they realized there would be major cost issues preventing cultured meat from achieving price parity with traditional meat. So they set out to solve this problem.
Scale is a constant question mark when it comes to cultured technology, and companies in the industry recognize that they would need to replace something like 1% of beef to have an impact.
In the case of SCiFi, March explained to me that the company solves this problem by using both technologies – plant-based and real cultured beef cells – in its approach, which includes bioengineering and technologies, like CRISPR, to grow meat from animal cells. on a large scale and at low cost. Using CRISPR, the company can make tiny changes to cells so they change their behavior to grow at scale.
“By taking this approach, we can use our cultured cells to extract fats from proteins that create flavors, but we don’t have to worry about tissue engineering, 3D printing or scaffolding,” March added. “There is a lot of exciting research on all these new technologies, but nobody really knows yet how to develop them. The second big part that’s quite unique to us is that we really take a very focused cell line engineering approach, which is core to what we do and the main reason Andreessen invested in us.
SCiFi’s first product will be a burger which is “already a great product and tastes amazing,” according to March. The company is now focused on achieving certain key milestones in order to be ready to move the product through regulatory approval and begin building a pilot biomanufacturing and fermentation plant by the end of the year. If all goes well, he expects to sell the burger “in a few years.”
The company raised a small seed in 2020 and has been working on cell line engineering ever since to lower the cost curve. March couldn’t go into detail on the exact numbers, but said “we’ve cut the cost of our full-scale production quite drastically.”
With a well-placed platform and IP, March felt the time was right to seek out a Series A to invest more in R&D, hiring additional employees and marketing. The company recently moved into a 16,000 square foot R&D facility near East Bay.
The process to get the burger through the regulatory process will take a few years, March said. This includes the United States Food and Drug Administration for the basic process and the United States Department of Agriculture, which will approve installation and final product labeling.
“We are going to make many products over time, so we wanted an investor who believed in this mission, to want to come and join us and support us for the long term,” he added. “Andreessen Horowitz has really adapted to that. One of the relatively unique things they have is their extensive experience in biology and synthetic biology, as well as building consumer brands that change the world. That’s quite exciting to be in partnership with them.
Vijay Pande, general partner of Andreessen and who led the investment, added via email that “A lot of people, including Joshua and I, love a good burger, but want to be able to enjoy meat without contributing to change. climate change and related environmental and social consequences The high-throughput mammalian cell line engineering platform developed by SCiFi Foods enables the development of breakthrough products that, by combining plant-based and cultured meat, overcome the unsustainable costs associated with 100% cultured meat and the poor taste of most plant-based “meat”. I believe SCiFi Foods is well positioned to become one of this generation’s defining brands while reducing the impact of conventional meat production on our planet.
Although it will be a while before we see SCiFi’s burger, the company is still researching and talking with restaurants and grocery stores. March intends to get the product to restaurants first and will eventually go into catering and direct-to-consumer sales.
Along with the investment, the company also announced that Myra Pasek, general counsel for agtech startup Iron Ox, will join its board. Pasek previously held leadership positions at Impossible Foods and Tesla.