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    39 min read

    [S2:Ep #8] Forward-looking food

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    Watch game-changers focused on challenging the status quo. Tommaso Di Bartolo, founding partner of Awesm Ventures, along with industry fellows, MJ Kinney, Food Product Development Scientist and Plant-Based Protein Expert, and Adelmo Monsalve-Gonzalez, Scientist, Researcher, Associate & Partner at CJB and Associates, LLC, hosts two passionate game changers in next gen proteins: Maija Itkonen, CEO and Co-Founder at Golden & Green Foods Ltd., and Dan Riegler, Co-Founder at Karana.

    TopFloor: Where handpicked startups present sector-specific innovations to a jury of industry fellows

     

     

    In Season 2, recognized world-class Researchers, Scientists, Faculty Members, Senior Executives, Experts, Chefs, Investors and Entrepreneurs from around the globe, engage in strategic exchange of views and share startling intel on viable transformative innovation in Agriculture, Food and Beverage, zooming in the next gen proteins space.

    Topfloor is where inspiring and passionate game changers, visionary entrepreneurs share startlingly impressive intel on food of the future with a panel of experts.

     

    With Special participation of

     

     

    [Industry Fellows] Topfloor: S2:E8 

    MJ Kinney

    avatar-28

    MJ Kinney
    Adelmo Monsalve-Gonzalez, Ph.D
    Food Product Development Scientist | Plant-Based Protein Expert | Food & Beverage Industry
    Associate & Partner at CJB and Associates, LLC
     
     

    [Startup Entrepreneurs] Topfloor: S2:E8

     

    Dan Riegler

    maijaitkonen

    Dan Riegler
    Maija Itkonen
    Co-founder at KARANA
    CEO & co-founder at Gold&Green Foods Ltd
     

    Host

    TOMMASO-AVATAR
     
    Serial entrepreneur w/ 2 exits, author, advisor, faculty, investor.
     
    http:///tommasodibartolo.com 
    Tommaso Di Bartolo
     
     

     

    Key points:

    • Crickets: a great horizon of opportunities in a growing market worldwide
    • Standing out in the shelves as “clean protein” is the way to go
    • Innovation and automation are key to promote next gen proteins growth

     

     

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    Episode's 🔖 Transcription

    Tommaso: Hello! Good morning for those here from San Francisco, and obviously, good evening, or good afternoon, depending on where you're tuning in from. We already have our participants, our jury and our entrepreneurs with us. Thank you for joining MJ, Adelmo, Maija and Dan. Awesome...

     

    I would like to kick off things by introducing from left to right, our amazing participants, our great entrepreneurs and startup founders that we have here, let me kick off things with Maija Itkonen, CEO and Co-Founder at Golden & Green Foods Ltd., and Dan Riegler, Co-Founder at Karana;  our jury, with MJ Kinney, Food Product Development Scientist and Plant-Based Protein Expert, and Dr. Adelmo Monsalve-Gonzalez, PhD, Scientist, Researcher, Associate & Partner at CJB and Associates, LLC. Thanks so much!

    Tommaso: Maija, are you ready to rock this stage virtually? Let's do this. 

     

    Maija: Yes. Thank you so much. Okay. My company is called Golden & Green Foods. My name is Maija and I'm the CEO and co-founder of G&G Foods. Sometimes people refer to me as the “old lady”, so I think it's a great compliment to be the “ultra lady”. What I'm going to tell you is a little bit of the story of the Golden & Green and the next generation of plant proteins. So, first like a little box of information, this company was founded five years ago in Helsinki, by two food scientists, and then myself. So, I was basically the entrepreneur as well as the soul and heart of the operation. So, we joined forces and we founded this company. Yes, we have been growing quite nicely. Now (2020) we are already a team of about 70 people. Last year (2019) we were having 5 million in revenues. 

     

    We have our own factory located about half an hour from Helsinki. And, yes, we are very like a tech company, so we have one patented innovation platform and then we're constantly developing new stuff as well. We are currently fully owned by a food group, located in northern Europe, so we just accepted the founders just sold out our last remaining shares, but we are still employed by Golden & Green. Let me share a little bit about why we founded this company. So, we spent time thinking about what is wrong with the food system. Well, let me just quickly repeat it even though I know that everybody must be more or less agreeing here that we are not just producing these empty calories and the current agriculture model is destroying our food chain. We also have the meat mass production and mass consumption as well. And then we are destroying ecosystems by the wrong kind of farming and then we also destroy human health. So we do have some problems in the food chain. Actually, we were basically thinking that there was something good we could do. And we actually think that this is still like our biggest innovation, the way of thinking is that we didn't start with like a normal rigorous development chain that you do you usually follow at the food industry, but we actually wanted to put the design thinking in the very center, and we also wanted to put our own research in the center. So things that normally come like very early or very late, we actually wanted to put them in the very center. And by having a really strong focus on value-driven, it's actually like a core of our innovation, and what we were thinking about is that there is like the missing link because the animal proteins, they are not usually good but they're unsustainable. But then the plant proteins, they might be sustainable, but they're just not traditionally incomplete. So, there's something that is missing in here. 

     

    In short, we assigned ourselves the creation of the perfect protein. So, what would be the perfect protein, it is something that is, of course, sustainable, so it can't be anything else and just plants, it needs to be so easy to prepare that you need to be like marinating as protein and whatever it needs to be ready right now. It needs to be so good and efficient that even your personal trainer or whoever would say that this is a good thing for you to eat, and it needs to be so tasty that your family will eat it as well. And also it needs to be approachable so that it's not like a special diet food or or something strange only for like strange people. So we decided to start following this, and look to the development. Our special thing here was too old, because from the very early on we actually decided that we want to focus on the old, it's like the Nordic superfood, that is, it's having sort of untapped potential still. 

     

    Some people say that the 2020s is the decade of oats, and it's actually like quite visible if you go to any food shelf these days and you can see all of these oatmeal just spreading there and even like like every coffee shop is selling you like the old muffin or the oatmeal, so old it is kind of like the good guy, when for example wheat is considered to be something bad for you. And it actually has a good reason for that, because it has all of the amazing health benefits, so it's good for those that just don't want too much sugar. In fact oat has like a really big list of different elements how it helps you, it lowers your cholesterol, it can lower the chance for diabetes, stroke, heart attacks, all of those things. So this really is a nice ingredient, and the only problem is that it's really difficult to to process and it's really difficult to use, you just really have to know how to take it. And one of the main things was that, instead of like starting to develop like vegan food, we actually wanted to start developing flexitarian food, the flexitarian is really like one of the biggest strengths that regular people who are not choosing like any special diet actually have decided to just take better choices and like they understand that there's actually a big impact. 

     

    There is some skepticism. Everybody wants to really understand the ingredients, and want ingredients that they can pronounce, and the top drivers need to be tasty, high quality, natural ingredients… A healthier option. And it needs to be something that everybody in the family can eat. So if you start thinking about vegan options. It's like, there is something missing. Many vegan options are just full of these strange ingredients like stabilizers and filling agents, binders, preservatives, flavoring elements and so on. It is like sometimes having 30% of saturated fat in the product. As a consumer, you might ask yourself, what is the point? But then at the same time you just take the regular vegan options, most often they're like really poor in protein. And after eating it you're still feeling hungry so this is not the good thing. There is some sort of a paradox here, you know, that this plant-based versus clean label, are actually like making people really confused, you know, if you actually would want to have both, it's quite difficult already, so this is the reason why we created our products.

     

    I want to talk about two of our products. The first one is like a versatile clean-labeled cooking ingredient. Pulled-out. It has a very nice pulled meat texture, and it has like really high protein content about 30% of protein, compared to chicken for example, that has about 20%. So it's a clean label, like very pure and clean ingredient, and one thing, of course that is important in here there are people from the US so we actually work with the Cisco so we created together with the Cisco we created a co branded Cisco simply a version of this product and it's available for the restaurants, we launched in February (2020). Unfortunately, the pandemic changed our plans a little bit, the launch plans because the restaurants got closed about two three weeks after the launch, but we're just about the launch now again. So, hoping for the best for that. But anyway, this is available for the restaurants quite widely in the US these days. And this is our second product innovation, called deli oats, so this is more like a ready on the go protein, but it's something that you can put on salads and sandwiches and these easy foods that don't require any cooking while following the same clean label requirements that we have. And the third thing that I can also tell you about is that we also do industrial applications. So these products really make like many applications, nutritionally more perfect, and actually like makes them to be more relevant as vegan options.

     

    We are very very nitty gritty about the protein quality, so we think that the plant based protein quality often is really bad, and people don't even understand it. So in order to really compete with me, you actually should have similar amino acid levels. Perhaps, we are aiming to actually conclude this optimal composition of oats and legumes, and we do not want to fake anything we do to be mimicking something we just want to be good on our own. So if you think about what is the difference between, for example, arts and appeal needs, plant-based, we actually want to be a clean label protein or maybe plant protein that has a user interface borrowed from the meat, it doesn't doesn't really take to be meat. 

     

    We have been studying a lot about the environmental and healthiness factors of the products and like whatever you start measuring you can actually see that it really makes sense. And like even to just choose like one meal per week you will actually make like a really, really big difference. So all in all, we love vegan food but it must be healthy, wholesome tasty and nutritious, we want to break the meat habit. And this means we actually want to make the vegan food to be so relevant that people don't just have to be feeling their needs by, by adding a little bit made but it's actually good to have like so good quality vegan food to meet it's actually not needed anymore. Thank you. Awesome outstanding thank you so much and congratulations on your endeavor and in your obvious success. This morning I was listening to a podcast, with Bjorn Auster Rigel, founder of Oatley, and also from around Scandinavia right Where he is from Norwegian at over three. Right. And I see that yeah I didn't know that Scandinavian countries are main producers, big producers in oats right and focus on that so important by that protein so great. 

    Tommaso: Congratulations, Maija. MJ, what are your thoughts, what are the questions that you have for Maija?

     

    MJ Kinney: I have so many really great thoughts that I'm ready to share. First I just want to say that I think you've done a really great job at setting the standard and the bar for where transparency should be with the consumer, and also the nutritional considerations for your plant-based meat products. It doesn't surprise me that you have two food scientists as co-founders in your company, because a lot of the questions that I had going into this call have already been addressed, but I do have a question. Just out of curiosity, I noticed that on your website you have over 200 recipes. You also have a lot of tips and tricks that you share with your consumer audiences and not just consumers but also food service customers as well. And you even have a climate calculator. So, what have you learned or gained as far as more insights on their behavior as it pertains to your products adaptability? Is there anything that you overestimated or underestimated that consumer education cycle?

     

    Maija: Yeah. Well people in general have their own preferences and needs. So, I can't really ask the consumers to make big changes. So if they just make one little change that's great already. Therefore, we actually have to create all of these recipes over and over. The other thing we also have learned is that food services are a really great tool for education, because it's like a commitment. It's so much easier to buy a good burrito, for example, compared to learning new cooking and trying to really make the family satisfied. But you can just do it like you first tried somewhere. And actually, tasting good, why not I mean it's the same talkable experience, like it's the same experience, and you're just thinking for yourself, and maybe the next round, you actually would be able to also cook for your family, so just taking these little steps and not requiring too much for the consumers.

     

    MJ Kinney: All right, so my other question in looking at your products correctly if I'm wrong, is one of them actually a non hydrated product where the consumer or the food service customer would hydrate the product in house so therefore, your product is able to travel and also be stored in ambient temperature... 

     

    Maija: No, I mean, we do have refrigerated and frozen products, but we also have these dry products for industrial and sort of public kitchens use as well. So we are basically doing both. It turns out okay. 

     

    MJ: Are you seeing any feedback when it comes to hydrating or using that ingredient in house, to me, you know, as someone who has worked with these products for a number of years, I think it's pretty straightforward but I'm just curious to know what you've heard from feedback, and what you know to be true... 

     

    Maija: I would love to stay in touch after this and send you some samples in order to continue our conversation. 

     

    MJ: Oh, if you insist, I’d love that…

    Tommaso: Awesome, thank you so much, Maija and MJ. Adelmo, what are your thoughts? 

     

    Dr. Adelmo Monsalve-Gonzalez, PhD: Congratulations. I'm quite impressed. One important question is to have a protein quality that I think you’ve explained well. Now, in that regard, have you done any assessment of the protein quality using some of the typical scientific tests from third party labs, such as the PTDA test, for example? What can you share with us about that?

     

    Maija: Yeah, different products have slightly different characteristics, so we have been measuring what we’re doing. Sorry, but I cannot remember exact specifications by heart. I’ll have to get back to you. 

     

    Adelmo: So I do have another question. So, for what is to say you're basically targeting the flexitarian type of consumer, and I do in terms of innovation, founding, or exploring the use of some, like enzyme technology fermentation for your product. So that is done basically to improve the functional property of the protein and come up with a different type of category like daily type of products and so on...

     

    Maija: Yeah, I mean really, we actually like we are very interested in trying those, those things and actually, it's like, you know, even if it's five years sounds quite a long time but actually it's like a really really short time so for the first years we were just developing the full dose and then setting up the factory etc. So I would say like, only for the last year, we actually have been able to start again like the big new innovation, thinking and yes we actually have quite many nice experiments happening but you're so right that you know like one shouldn't stop where you are you really have to explore. And I really think that you know this is like the whole whole point of being in the food tech business that you actually should turn every stone. 

     

    Adelmo: I totally agree, because I know that you're basically using it for your craft. So, at least a lot of opportunities beyond extrusion. I absolutely agree.
     

    Tommaso: Maya, intriguing story… Were you aware of five years ago that you are actually on a big wave already of changing the world of being in a, in a topic that today's very, let's say almost mainstream because, I mean, today we are talking in our reading more and more about alternative protein right and the future of food and how we are going to feed people in 2015, right. So what was your thinking when you kicked off things? What was your perspective? Was it more “I want to do something or were you really with a mission driven approach or purpose driven approach”, and wanted to do something on, you know, food tech and alternative protein. Was this the mission from the get go?

     

    Maija: So, it's a funny question you know because actually, my background he says I have never eaten basically means I have always been like this and I was always on a special diet, so I always thought that you know I'm the freak one. So, the others are normal. I'm just kind of like a special diet, girl. But then, now suddenly realizing that I'm not a special diet anymore, you know, things have changed. And actually, like, I kind of like get the feeling that we were on the right track, and it's so motivating and actually the nicest thing is just now getting started. 

    Tommaso: Yeah, absolutely. And I mean I want to double down on that you know you said it, it's just getting started and but on the other hand you also said that you went already through the first phase, through the first cycle initial success, you talked about your revenue congratulation on that and within five years it's impressive as a startup, maybe you want to share with you with the executives and also with the startups that are watching this, right. How did you actually build your startup in Europe, did you raise funds? How did you go about this from the get go? 

     

    Maija: The thing is that we actually, when we got started, we had slightly different plans of how to build it, so our little accident was that we actually got into a huge viral phenomenon on our home market. So we were actually planning that, you know, selling in Finland because it's like a rather traditional market and so on. But what happened was that the market could go so bananas, about the product, so people were like 6am in the morning waiting in front of the stores, just trying to get that product, and somebody was coding an app that reminds him when the product is arriving to the store, so people are like entirely mad about that. So that was kind of like just a little side effect that, you know, like we just had to fulfill the need of the whole market first and only after that we were able to start with Cisco and the you know the other other companies from the other markets so yeah this was kind of like heads start, you know, we got a little tsunami. 

     

    And actually this was one of the main reasons that we decided that we would take the industrial partner on the game, because we decided that, as nice as it's like working with venture capitalists, they really do not want to put their money on your factory, you know, so they would rather put the money on the expansion and international efforts, but like, you know, just like actually building the real concrete factory, it's something that you have to do, if you want to produce something, especially in our case when it was a new tech, nobody was able to like make a contract manufacturing plan for us.
     

    Tommaso:  Wow, yeah so this is very interesting. So you didn't go the classical, let's say startup route of raising funds. What were your urges as an entrepreneur, after five years what were your thoughts? Starting off with innovation, why exit now? 

     

    Maija: Well, I have to say that you know we already signed the deal, like when we made the first first partnership so we already signed a deal that you know like after seven years. The founders will be exiting the company so it was already said on that day. 

     

    Tommaso: Oh you did it from the beginning.

     

    Maija: I decided to take the partnership, and I mean it was a very, very important thing for us to choose a partner that is actually sharing the same values that we do not want to be somebody who's like, you know, like white washing for somebody we actually want to have a credible partner who really wants to invest in this and once they get forward. 

     

    Tommaso: I see I see so this was an agreement before, very interesting from a perspective that your audience that you see different countries, different ways of approaching business right and it wouldn't be maybe the classical way but a great success story. 

    Tommaso: Again, Maija, CEO and co-founder of Golden & Green Foods, congratulations. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, all very valuable. And without further ado, I would like now to kick off things with the second phase of our top flow where we curate handpicked startups, and present to industry fellows Daniel Riegler, co-founder and CEO of Karana. Daniel, are you ready to rock the stage?

     

    Dan Riegler: Absolutely. I'll start at the same very glad that my went first because I think we're actually very aligned in how we see the market and the opportunity and I mentioned very nicely expressed a lot of the views that we have on the space and the opportunity, and we've taken a really very similar sort of innovation framework approach to looking at what is, you know, really missing in the market we we know the opportunity for plant based meats is huge you know from a sustainability, from an ethical but most importantly from a health, public health standpoint and ultimately what really drives consumer behavior, especially you know where we're based which is Asia. 

     

    I think the most important thing is really sort of, we take a slightly different approach. So we're based in Singapore and we are very much focused on the CPG and food service end of things as well. We also focus in on a hero ingredient to start which is jackfruit, and it's a very similar similar approach we we look at you know what is really driving consumer adoption in this space and really the question that keeps coming back as health, when we see you know who is ultimately going to really grow and move this market it's this flexitarian segment, and these are people who are not necessarily looking to become vegan you know maybe inspired and motivated partly by certain environmental or ethical considerations, but ultimately really driven by how they're going to improve their own health or family's health and our approach I think differs a little bit in that we actually and I think this is this goes into MGS question a lot about sort of under overestimating consumers what they're looking for. 

     

    What we really see is that the protein angle is a bit overplayed at this point yes Everyone needs protein getting a complete amino acid profile is very important, but there are a lot of channels available for people to do that and your typical consumer is really focused on, you know, understanding at a very quick and accessible level, what is you know healthy or not about this product and then beyond that everything else is an additional benefit that that some consumers will be more or less, you know, motivated by. And so for us it's very about keeping a very clean messaging around whole plans showing that we can, and our approach has been mostly on the r&d side and innovation on the ingredient area so we focus in on jackfruit as a crop and it has an incredible sustainability story, it's scalable, in both the plantation and a smallholder farmer format as a mixed intercropped so again I think the biodiversity and monoculture issue with a lot of the commodity crops that we're focusing on you know looking exclusively at how we can isolate and extract the proteins from them, rather than looking at this, you know, tremendous source of very interesting ingredients that we can use in a more natural state which there still is quite a bit of intensive.

     

    I'm sure a lot of people listening to this have tried a jackfruit product and had a subpar experience so there's a lot of innovation, r&d it that goes into taking something like jackfruit and turning it into a really interesting, commercial product. So we focused very much on that side of things on the r&d side of things on the ingredient side, and the end product formulation. And what we're really seeking to do is provide as convenient and as accessible a package as possible to deliver this whole plant nutritional meat alternative format to consumers, especially with a very Asian focus so our first product range is focused on a lineup of dumpling and dimsum products we also have a general pork food service product, we're very much in agreement that I think this artificial mock meat positioning which again is something that has existed in Asia for a long long time you know soy based meats, wheat gluten maize based meats, this is nothing new. In many parts of the world. 

     

    So really it's about how we can fundamentally improve those products how we can deliver something that that is different, something that addresses, not just the protein element, which is a fairly small part of our story and of our nutritional profile but really the whole macro and micronutrient pictures of things like fiber, like you know various micronutrients that's that people are naturally not getting a lot of things like potassium and calcium, and really, you know, thinking about how we can make that as clear a purchasing decision as possible so it's got to be delicious. It's got to be very appealing, it's got to deliver a very similar textural experience to meet. So yeah, you'll you'll see this is this is basically what our pitch looks like. and we've just closed our seed round 1.7 million so we ended up oversubscribed on that in the last couple of months we're also in the process of scaling up our new product. So this is really the new generation we released the beta product into the Singapore market, over the last year (2019) and that's been kind of a pretty basic level jackfruit product and what we did with that was we engaged with a lot of chefs who really understood what the natural limits of that product were and where we needed to get it in order to really take it from a kind of simple jackfruit into a jackfruit whole plant-based meat, and that's where we are now we're getting ready to we're also a bit delayed to the current situation, but we will be rolling that out in the next few months. 

     

    And, you know, we'll be launching in Singapore to start but really looking broadly at the Asia Pacific market but also seeing a lot of opportunity in Western markets for Asian focus product sun. And again, it's really about convenience, it's about being accessible, but really showing that we can look at these other ingredients you know it's not just about protein, it's not just about soy and pea, that there are all these other ingredients that have a very compelling very scalable story, if that investment and r&d is put into them, and that there is an interest I mean there, there's a clear upward trend in jackfruit products, even despite really a lack of very sophisticated products in the market, there's no real Industry Council or promotional Council, you know, pushing jackfruit is still a very fragmented. Very smallholder driven crop so I think it's very important and we'd love to see more companies that are also looking for these under utilized under appreciated inputs. That can really be leveraged and turned into something quite interesting, from a product perspective. 

     

    Tommaso: Awesome. Thank you so much, Dan. We are confident we have only a couple of questions that we want to put first...


    Adelmo:
    I’m intrigued with your jackfruit-based initiative. So, what is the protein content of your products? 

     

    Dan: Yeah, so just the jackfruit itself, typically, can vary a little bit by the product format. We have a few different ways we put it into products, so depending on what the final makeup is, it's usually about 3 grams of protein per 100 grams, in addition to 3 grams of fiber and a considerable percentage of vitamins, minerals and other nutritious elements. So, while it's not a high protein product, in the same league as soy or pea, for example, we consistently see is that, and one of the reasons that we've looked at things like dumplings and bows is a delivery vehicle and a lot of us ready to cook products that provides a lot of opportunity for us to add in more protein so that's always been kind of core in our product development strategy. But what we've consistently seen is that, honestly, most consumers are not desperately asking for protein, when you're switching to really majority plant-based then it becomes a bit more of a topic but you're the customer profile that we continuously see as someone who is not necessarily giving up meat but reducing meat once, twice, maybe a little bit more per week, and what they're looking for is really an effective taste and and something that's healthier. That, again, it's not going to be too much of a departure in terms of how they would experience consuming preparing working with that, that product so we've actually, we were a bit concerned about the protein element early on and we got a lot of, you know, questions from investors on that during a raise, but I think that that part of your topic is dimensioned there's so much focus on protein now and there's a lot in the nutritional world beyond protein but it's important for us. 

     

    Adelmo: Ok. I still think that consumers might take into consideration the amount of protein in you products, before they decide if they’ll try it... 

     

    Dan: I think that the premise of that is that consumers are only looking at protein as a deciding factor in what to buy and, again, we were also leading primarily with food service, but if you look at what people are buying in the frozen aisle at Whole Foods, Costco or what they're ordering on restaurants when they're going to eat dim sum. I think there will be a very small percentage of people buying those products that are really motivated by getting a very sick number of grams of protein in their serving. Most people are looking at calories, they're looking at understanding the ingredient list and understanding, you know, very quickly... What that provides to them, for example. So, again, people eat a variety of food products so you know we're not expecting that people are going to be eating jackfruit three meals a day, seven days a week. People tend to have naturally balanced diets. If you eat a whole plant balanced diet, you will get 60% of Americans eating way more protein than they should be. So actually, what we see in almost all developed food secure markets is an overabundance and overconsumption of protein.

     

    MJ: I have a question regarding your hero ingredient which you mentioned is jackfruits. I'm curious if you have any priority concerns regarding your supply chain, and if you foresee the need for vertical integration in your strategy. 

     

    Dan: Absolutely, yeah. It’s a big concern for us and it's a big topic because, like I said, it's a very fragmented, not very well established supply chain. The interesting thing about jackfruit and one of the reasons that we narrowed in on it. As we looked at a variety of similar ingredients is that there's a lot of bioavailability of jackfruit it's really inefficient and aggregation routes to market and how it's processed and commercialized currently, so we've really focused in on that processing element, and then linking that to the supply chain so we have a number of sourcing models currently we have a network of small and medium sized, you know, natural wild organic farms in Sri Lanka that we're sourcing from and we can scale to a pretty decent level through that network just because of the jackfruit is a very prolific plant it's a very low maintenance low tech low intensive crop to farm for even farmers with very limited inputs. So there's a lot of it immediately available it's really being able to identify those networks and and collect them and we have a lot of expertise on our team in terms of managing similar similar projects in similar markets, the kind of places where we're jackfruit tends to grow, you know, Sri Lanka, India, Southeast Asia, which are not always the most transparent or easy markets to operate in, so that's that's a core area of our defensibility and our IP as well as both, you know innovations and optimization on the sourcing supply chain side as well as we've developed a whole turnkey line to process the jackfruit. So we own that as well so that allows us to have a lot more flexibility in terms of really looking at the source. 

     

    MJ: Thank you. It was very thorough. Are you able to share what the lead time is like, let's say you were able to attract a really big retail client, and they wanted to sell you a very or purchase a very large volume from you annually... What would be the lead time for you to grow and harvest, potentially new jackfruit trees in order to meet a very large demand?

     

    Dan: At this point, like I said, we've been a bit delayed the last few months due to everything (he refers to the pandemic) so we're a bit behind schedule. We're in the first stage of rolling out this kind of new generation of our product. We've been testing it actively. And we're going to be rolling out a fairly small scale food service launch to start and then we'll be scaling it over the next year so we're actually dealing with the situation a lot and we're. I mean these are all long term conversations, anyway but we're seeing a lot of interest in this kind of products and it will take us a little incremental you know scale up time to get there but we're moving on as quickly as we can because it's very much a demand driven business. 

    Tommaso: Dan, how big is your startup? How much did Karana just raise? Seed round?

     

    Dan: 1.7 million. This is our seed round, yeah.

    Tommaso: Double congrats on that. Are these classical VCs or Angel monies, friends and family with deep pockets or, or who basically contributed in your seed round?

     

    Dan: It was a mix, actually. So, early on we had a couple of angels and friends and family sort of get us going. Small tickets. And then we've been kind of raising this round. It's dragged on a little bit since then, but it's been a combination of VCs like Big Idea Ventures, a fairly well-known VC fund. We're part of their accelerator program and that they're an investor in us. But we also have a number I would say I think what we really focused on and where our messaging resonated a lot and I'm sure my relate to this is that when you're doing something a bit different and a bit more longer term and in the positioning. I think you know a lot of VCs have been looking for something that is very familiar in terms of a model. So we found that our value proposition resonated a lot more with corporates and strategics and we do have a number of those in the round.

    Tommaso: Nice. And how would you describe the challenges that you faced while building a new strategic pipeline? How would you describe the approach on presenting and negotiating?

     

    Dan: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the biggest risks for any startup is partnership and that applies to your investors to your operation. You know what we do with the jackfruit sourcing, processing everything it's deep operational work in countries where we just cannot build out a full scale presence. So, we're very reliant on partners in what we do. I think most startups are so managing that I mean I think that in everything from selecting a co-founder, to building out your team I mean keeping in mind that we're going to be very dependent on stakeholders. You know, you just have to really be careful about who you're getting involved with and make sure that they understand and appreciate you know where you're coming from and be your products and approach. I think for us it's been a slow process and it's been a number of learning experiences. We just tried to learn at every point.

    Tommaso: You mentioned “slow process”... and then, you kind of put the title of learning. So, could you break it down to your key learnings, please? What were your main takeaways from this “learning process” that you also called “slow”? 

     

    Dan: Well, I think, like I mentioned before, understanding what, you know, people in funds are looking for at the beginning. It's very easy to get you know drawn into big names and to say yes because obviously, sustainable food alternative proteins is a very hot sector, especially in Asia, there's not a huge amount of companies so everyone wants to talk to you. Everyone wants to look at you and over time we became a lot more selective and a lot better at screening you know what conversations were more likely to move forward you know where we were not over exposing ourselves in terms of giving up too much information about what we're doing and so that was definitely I think some learning earlier. 

    Tommaso: So, what department resonated the best in your fundraising approach? Was it a conversation at a business unit level or with Scientists? Where did you find more of a pathway, if there was any? 

     

    Dan: At our stage, I think it's a combination of the strategy and sort of the longer term vision and positioning, combined with the technical expertise, so I mean, clear like we knew. Both my co-founder and I come from the business and commercial side of looking at the food space. And in an agricultural space. So, we knew that was critical to build out, get a great technical hire and build out that element we knew what needed to be done, we just had to find the right people to get us there, and that definitely accelerated a lot of things, both internally with the company in the products obviously, but also in terms of our conversations with partners, investors... So, getting that technical credibility that you know, those first technical hires, getting those first milestones hits and really delivering on the vision and strategy, is all important and great. That's certainly what gets you in the door with investors. But then, obviously, following through on the technical and product milestones is critical. 

    Tommaso: I absolutely agree. Ok. Awesome. Outstanding! Ladies and gentlemen, we could talk for hours here. I think the topic is so engaging and it's so interesting and the round that we put together... Without further ado, MJ, what are your thoughts on meeting, Maija. Is there any curiosity to have an extra conversation yes or no?

     

    MJ: Yes, definitely.

    Tommaso: Dr. Adelmo, what are your thoughts on Maija? Do you plan to follow up and meet again?

     

    Adelmo: Sure. Yes.

    Tommaso: Okay. Our mission is to connect the solution and industry fellows. MJ, how about about Dan?

     

    MJ: Yes. Looking forward to it.

    Tommaso: Adelmo, how about about Dan?

     

    Adelmo: Yes. absolutely.

     

    Tommaso: That's awesome so MJ and Adelmo are going also to meet Dan. 

     

    Tommaso: It was such a pleasure to have the possibility to learn with you, and from you, our intent to create connection with TopFloor. I think we managed that today. 

    I would like to wrap up with my usual quote:

     

    Tommaso: “Never forget where you come from, it keeps you humble. But where you come from, cannot limit you where you want to go.”

     

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