Hosted by Tommaso Di Bartolo, founding partner of Awesm Ventures, panelists Virginia Emery, Co-Founder and CEO of Beta Hatch, Pete Rowe, CEO & Co-founder of Deep Branch Biotechnology, and Alex Zox, Brand Strategy and Business Development in Food & Beverage, highlighted key aspects of sustainability, nutrition and innovation on next gen proteins as well as opportunities and challenges ahead for emerging players.
Virtual Coffee: A Curated panel of industry fellows to discuss how to future-proof traditional markets
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.
Serial entrepreneur w/ 2 exits, author, advisor, faculty, investor.
Tommaso Di Bartolo
- Green technology and awareness
- Animal feed, CO2 and insects
- What to keep in mind when launching a startup in the alt industry
Episode's 🔖 Transcription
Tommaso: Good morning. Well, thank you so much, ladies and gentlemen, to take the time to join us on our virtual coffee. It is actually our 14th Virtual Coffee of the year 2020, and it is our second season. People ask us “well, why Virtual Coffee? What is it?” Virtual Coffee is a virtual meeting that discusses a topic that is relevant for the world. With whom? With a curator panel of industry fellow and the perspectives are always future back and what are we discussing right now in season one and season two? What problems are we trying to educate or to solve?. We focus on the problem on how to feed by 2050 10 billion people. The focus here is on alternative protein, on the next generation of protein, and we have an amazing line up.
Tommaso: Without further ado, I would like to welcome not on stage, but the virtual stage on the screen, our industry fellows. I’m going to kick off things actually with Virginia. How can biotechnology enable more sustainable protein? In other words, what are some of Beta Hatch technologies capabilities to convert insects in their waste into high value proteins, oils and nutrients for agriculture? Let's take it from here.
Virginia: Yeah, thanks for the question and I'm really looking forward to the discussion because I know Pete has some thoughts on this topic as well. I'm an entomologist by training. I did my PhD in insects related topics and biotechnology at UC Berkeley and I started the business with a really scientific mindset. I think that it's often to overlook just how complex any of the crops that we grew are. We've seen just how important biotechnology has been for just staples, and the regular part of the food system and it's not all genome editing it's basics like breathing, and taking a really in depth approach to understanding the organism that you're growing.
So I think that in our industry and the insect side of the equation there's a huge demand innovation needed on the process side, engineering, equipment, making sure that we have scalable technology, but then at the sort of opposite end of the spectrum of the very small side of the equation, there's also a lot of opportunity to improve the product. We've been doing a lot of work on, for example probiotics for bugs. So this idea that just as our bodies do best when we have the best microbes that are working for us in our digestion and in our immune systems, it's the same with insects. So I think that I just wanted to kind of open it up and have a discussion about the role that biotechnology plays in each of these sectors.
I think once you have the ability to mass produce, which in insects is still an ongoing challenge, there is definitely a huge amount of demand that really exceeds supply, but then you have to kind of pair that with the biology side of making sure that you've got the right breeding stock, making sure that you are taking the right precautions for animal health or bugs that get sick, just like any other animals can, so there's a lot of interesting technologies in creating the best possible and the most sustainable. So I think on the sustainability side in our case, it's really looking at what are the inputs for the system.
So I know you do co2 is the input to your system and I think just as the source of that co2 is going to change the sustainability of your product. It's the same for us, the source of the feedstock that we give the bugs is going to change how sustainable ultimately the product is competing with food for inputs so it's really not an alternative that makes sense.
So we're looking at things like mycotoxin contaminated crops or insects who can break down mycotoxins completely. And so far we've been screened with over 300 metabolites, and there's not really any indications of residual toxicity. So that is an incredible demonstration with just how powerful that our bugs are.
Tommaso: Pete, what are your thoughts on this? I'm curious to hear your perspective, your technology and sustainability.
Pete: Yeah, definitely. Well, I think the fact that up front whereby you said we're facing a growing population of 10 billion people by 2050. And it's not just more people, it's more people eating more. So really we have to think beyond the conventional linear value chains whereby we use arable land for food, or for feed, or for fuels, and these are all three competing areas that would be to use those inputs. So I think as Virginia said that it's really important to understand what potentially valuable inputs there are out there and how they can be valid.
So, in our instance that's taking it back to a really simple ethical question and saying “okay, what is the one thing that the world has far too much of?” And we'd love to do with our CO2 granted, and in some ways, at least logistically speaking, that's certainly a smaller challenge than looking at specific coproducts or waste streams within agriculture, or within food and saying “okay, well, here’s a nice that we can really tap into” so I think obviously there's no silver bullet to solve these problems and having a nuanced approach and having multiple weapons in the arsenal to try and battle and say this is the way we have to go.
Virginia: Yeah, I’ll just echo that I think there's a lot of need for multiple solutions, and that venture community certainly sort of rushes to winner takes all approach and I constantly get questions about how our company will compete with other companies and it's an important thing to be aware of and knowledgeable of but the landscape is so huge and these problems and market opportunities are so huge that no one company can solve all of these problems and no one in technology. So, even within my field of insect production there's going to be multiple species, multiple operating approaches, multiple streams of insects that emerge as winners and can help start solving these problems. We kind of all need to be working together in the alternative protein sector to meet that incredible demand.
Tommaso: So we will have a different protein source, and let me double down here with Pete. What are some of the preconditions in order to establish the most environmentally friendly food on a large scale? And on a large scale there was a big challenge when it came to extract alternative protein. What are your thoughts there?
Pete: Yeah, well I think just coming back to what preconditions we can have to make that work and for me really it's about more transparency in the food chain. So there's all sorts of reasons why transparency is important, but I think first and foremost having more data on what the carbon intensity or the other environmental or ecological impacts of our food is it’s really important. We can empower consumers with that. We could have clear messaging to them to that point that enables day to day decision making to be made in the supermarket and the grocery store. If you've got to the extent that you've got a feature available your hands do you can also bring in some, let's say more sticks rather than carrots and that you can say taxation based on carbon intensity would be possible.
I think people are going to make great efforts to collect this data already. Certainly a lot of the animal feed companies that we work with are indexing the carbon intensity of all those ingredients that they use. So, it's not that that data isn't there, it's just a question of having standardized uniform ways to measure that impact, which is actually something that we're working on, so we work with the University of Leiden here in the Netherlands, and the joint research council for the EU.
This work is to have the standardized device life cycle assessment for the impact of foods and ingredients within foods and feed. So by using this you can have a traffic light system, certainly like in the supermarkets in Europe, I'm not sure if we have in the US, whereby you can have a look and you see “okay, fats, sugars, salts it’s a red. Orange it's green. I can face an amount that can make an informed decision. And we're saying not just for co2 but the water intensity as well.
So as a consumer you have that available to your fingertips, and you can really just put your money where your mouth is. I think that's the best way we can really work towards sustainability in a big way.
Tommaso: Education is transparency and you mentioned that you're very relevant here and you have actually somebody who exactly focuses on that message and then how do we get it to the shelf and actually how do we convey, Alex, to the target audience on why pick it? Why choose that specific alternative protein product? So what are the challenges when it comes to positioning, messaging? When it comes really to create this awareness for the target audience and when it's related to food of the future? What are your experiences?
Alex: Sure. So I think it's interesting actually, just relevant to this conversation that we're talking about. There's two scientists basically on the other half of this program and tears as well I think you have a science background, but what I find interesting is there's a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what science offers the public at large and how the public perceives food and science sort of intermingling together. It's something that already exists, but I think a lot of people are in denial about what processed food means. What all of these things mean. Also, it seems that scaling up as an issue of complexity that companies are dealing with these new technologies and innovations that there's a lot of bureaucracy that has yet to really settle some of these problems, I know in the States certainly we have not gotten there yet, especially with cellular agriculture etc. But true innovation being the introduction of something new, how do we in a front facing aspect deal to help explain it to educators and clarify it to make sure that the messaging both the visualization of that message and purely the words drive the content to express something. There's a lot of cultural identity issues going on. For example, you talked about mealworms from Virginia when she's talking about mealworms and how that is being introduced in a way that's really within the agriculture loop, so you're actually using those pieces to help the system in a more sustainable way. That's something that usually people just don't consider agriculture. They don't really consider farming. It's more of a political issue these days, but it is something that people comprehend.
It's very important and interesting that companies that are on the cusp of the technologies really use their wherewithal to have assistance, to have insights that lay the foundation for creative thinking that brings the message forward with clarity.
Tommaso: Which is the big challenge. Virginia, what is your experience?
Virginia: Yeah, I was gonna say two things. First is that I'd be very interested to see some data on this but I knew at least from a market standpoint we know more people are getting into backyard agriculture if you want to call it that. One of our main customers sells our mealworms for backyard chickens, so folks that have chickens for making their own eggs. These are almost like a hybrid of food production in pets, you go and cuddle the chicken that gets these eggs, and you want to treat them well and so you want to know what you're feeding them because it’s something that you put in your body and I think this year in particular with people being on homework, hopefully, more people are trying to feel more connection to their food. I think that we've seen people go back, at least on the making side of baking and I think also on the producing side of growing their own food, so hopefully that's a trend that continues and yeah I'm communications side it's interesting, I'm a scientist or an entrepreneur and I've seen a lot of those challenges and the way that scientists are trained to talk about what they do is very it's very much in a sort of conscious way. Science is always evolving and the sort of degree of certainty that exists in science is never 100%, there's always opportunity, possibility for more growth and so you kind of get trained to use a lot of maybes and not have concreteness in your statements. And that's completely the opposite of what you need to do in business. So I know as a scientist or an entrepreneur I've had to train myself to be careful about how conservative I am, because I already have a natural tendency to be a little bit cautious in my statements and that can really communicate what in science it can communicate authenticity and sort that you understand the scientific process, whereas in business it can miscommunicate a sense of lack of conviction or something. I don't know Pete’s experienced the same thing but that's definitely been something I've experienced.
Tommaso: Yeah, I’m curious to hear from Pete, what’s your experience on that?
Pete: I’d echo Virginia’s points obviously coming from a technical background into a more commercial role which has been for me a gradual evolution. Obviously I see it now but I have held commercial positions in previous companies. But yeah, it's certainly definitely a learning curve when you come out of academia and come into the real world and you have to start really communicating value and being very careful about the language you use. I think putting together a few of the themes that we've discussed already, Alex is saying that we need to as an industry think more carefully about how we communicate that innovation and I think the 90s proved how to do very badly when it comes to genetic engineering technologies.
You think of frankenfoods of genetically engineered tomatoes, for example, it's not that we do any GM or D branch but that's an example of what I mean. I think other things that you have to take into consideration when you're considering these things, by definition as an entrepreneur, as a startup you want to be resource limited, especially if you're building a big tech company that's very focused on developing cutting edge technology.
Basically the CEO is the financial controller of the company. You need to be thinking where's the best to spend my resources with this point, what I mean is, this is really where the community aspect of alternative protein has to come in. We have to be able to work together and pool our resources, because it's good for the industry of your work together and really communicate what the problems are and how collectively we solve division and use points that will be what we attaining when there's different horses for different courses.
There's different circumstances where you would require different solutions, and that is where it comes down to the individual companies to say okay, this is a nuanced take on how we're changing our diets and protein, but as an industry, there is a real, I think a real burden amongst all of us to be able to really clearly communicate.” Why alternative protein is such a big thing and not just a hype, not just a buzzword, but something that we really need to fix in the next 10 years?
Tommaso: It's here to stay for sure. It really needs a lot of education in order to get the collaboration. Eventually as a CEO we have always a couple of things in common, huge vision to change the world, unlimited resources to do so. Question is, how are you going to differentiate things that are repackaged in kind of labeled alternative protein because this is also a trend or a movement that we see from bigger plays and then those startups who really are into sustainability, into a circular economy approach. So, what needs to happen in order for the consumer standing in front of the shelf and say I recognize this ABC, I can recognize this label already, this sigma and that's exactly what I want to represent, that's exactly what I want to eat. What are your thoughts there?
Pete: Yeah, well, I think this is a really important problem, certainly for us to think about and I presumed Virginia as well, because if you think about those companies that you're referencing there, a lot of the consumers are facing or at least they're only separated by one degree from the consumer.
In contrast, we don't even sell a product to farmers. We work with animal feed producers to then sell to farmers, and then it goes through a distributor package, and then it gets sold to market shelves. So, we're really far in the future from the end user or the end consumer of that protein product. So really being able to develop our communication channels with consumers and understand that there is a great importance in that. I mean I can give a good example of another company here in the Netherlands that is doing a great job with this. What they've done is, they're also in an insect company called Protix. They've partnered with an egg producer, they have insect fed eggs on the supermarket shelf that I can go and buy here today. And that's basically engaging with the consumer to say “look, you can make informed decisions based on what the animals that are created these products are fed”. And that is one of the only examples I can really find where I as a consumer can go and make that choice which is really fantastic I think.
Virginia: Yeah, I think that's an example I was actually going to bring up. They've done a great job and certainly the challenges in the US are different than in Europe. The European base is already very back into sustainability and sort of the consumers are a lot more motivated and educated than in the US where I think that there's some different talents in just put to the table for sustainability. But I would say, yeah, this choice is really important. And as much as we can align with this idea of something being natural, as opposed to synthetic. Something being sustainable as opposed to even the real alternative really say “alternative protein”, it’s just protein. Protein labeling it alternative, we're putting ourselves in this category that sort of takes us away from the table with the other protein players, it's all just protein, and I would almost say sustainable protein is probably the better label, because that's a unifying theme. The reason there's been a drive to look for other options is because there's either an environmental or economic, or some other issue with the sustainability of the existing supply chain and part of it is this volume of demand and part of it is what the consumers are looking for. I know here we've also been trying to forge some relationships directly with producers that have more interaction with the consumer to help sort of drive demand and that egg example is a great one and there's a company here in Washington that have a labeled vegetarian fed eggs which they thought would be very successful until they started getting calls from people saying “well, I know that chickens eat bugs so that's not really the right label”, and so they actually removed that from their label because of that. So, I think it's kind of aligned with like it's natural for the animals that we're feeding to eat these things and it's more sustainable when we have this more circular approach to the food system and those are the kinds of words that we need to use more.
Alex: I think the issue at hand really is perception. So alternative, I was thinking about alternative music, for example, that has become really this word that you understand that it's not mainstream although that has become mainstream. That was back when alternative. So, it’s similar, the word choice and how you define what these proteins are, where they are, where you find them as problematical because you have a case of traditional proteins and then where do you find what is not traditional?
So those things have started to move together, and that's very important because when they do, it's a better chance for companies that are innovating in their proteins to really showcase what they're about to communicate and to educate and to really make it part of the protein that we eat, that we consume, and we could be happy with. That we can be proud of. Not to say that you shouldn't be happier if you're eating chicken or fish or some sustainably harvested, but I think having those alternatives actually come into the mainstream will really make for a better system over food.
Virginia: I think Pete and I are in the same boat where our customers are on this side of the equation. People love to eat meat but they don't think about what meat eats, that's just not in anyone's mind. So, we also end up constantly having to remind everyone that we're not interested in having you eat bugs. Don't be afraid. This is not “let's give everyone bugs and some sort of dystopian science fiction”. We are trying to replace proteins in animal diets that are less sustainable and more volatile. We're trying to really help farmers and the producers. Make their products better. So I think that can also become a communication challenge because this whole fed sector is just one that serves most consumers and so becomes a marketing challenge for companies that are in the food sector, because immediately the thought is “well, you want me to eat microbes. You want me to eat bacteria. You want me to eat algae. You want me to eat bugs. Like that's not what we are trying to do but there are a lot of mixed messages that they think about.
Pete: I think the food industry is actually a really good example to point to when you talk about protein. Here it's really talking about really precise nutrition, because these animals basically have a very similar diet for a longer life. So, if you're not optimizing that single meal that they’re eating, then over time they will be nutrient deficiency. You need to be sure that you're really nailing that nutrition, far more than you'd expect, maybe within an Olympic athlete. These guys have much tactic control over animal nutrition than anyone would do for athletes. But if you look at what goes into a lot of this soy protein meal, that’s where it comes from what a top 10 previous crop box worldwide, 90% of soy goes into feeding the animals.
It's not really for any other reasons other than protein. So, I think Virginia, you probably agree with me on this one that it makes more sense to find alternative means of pride in that nutrition, rather than using arable land that could be used to make something much more interesting. We were talking about just purely providing nutritional content and protein, but let's not forget the whole pleasure of eating food is the variety we can grow in our land and enjoying that. So let's not waste all our land just making some purity protein when there are much more sustainable needs to do so.
Virginia: Yeah, there's already a third crop in feeding animals, it could be making some extra food for humans and producing proteins that people do want to directly eat, pea proteins that are going into some of these new products. Yeah, it's interesting because I think also the protein conversation obscures this fact that there's other nutrients, like 30% of our product is actually fat and oils, so we can be replacing fish oil in animal diets, and that has sometimes more value than the protein component of our products.
So I think this idea of more nutrition, anytime you have a crop, that crop is made of building blocks that have values across the supply chain. So any company that's like Beta Hatch is doing basically a platform of production that from there there's a lot of opportunity in nutrition, in pharmaceuticals, in material science, is basically a new raw ingredient in the building block for the food system. That's what we're working on and I think the protein conversation is fantastic, but that's not the only piece of the puzzle here, there's in our case even plant nutrition becomes really important because we produce a fertilizer product as a byproduct of our meal or production grasses.
So you know, grass happens and Beta Hatch and it's actually very valuable. So, I think these conversations can sometimes get a little oversimplified on the protein side.
Pete: I think it's also important in agriculture to recognize that circular economy isn't brilliant to you when it comes to farming and Alex, you're from a farm, I come from a farming background myself. I think knowing, having grown up around farmers, you're using everything you have available. And yes, new technologies come along and it’s a great thing, but it's easy to look at an agricultural system and say that it's broken. But at the same time, you need to look at where we come from. So over the last 50 years through agricultural evolution that we've seen massive for a 200 year time frame or 10,000 year time frame.
So it's a natural evolution. And it's great that we're making all these great leaps forward, but I think we shouldn't be criticizing the people that are making the food and saying that they are bad people vilified because I think farmers have always had a really important role in our food system and maybe over the last few decades we've forgotten about that.
Animal feed and food
Tommaso: What's coming down the pipeline as it pertains to the co2 to protein animal feed and food? I’m curious to hear your thoughts here.
Pete: Yeah. So, I guess, echoing what you just said there in the sense of departure is the only way forward, especially when we're talking about developing novel technology that we are integrating quite a high value chain. So, what we've gone through great efforts to do at the branch over the last few years, is really work on our partnerships with all the key stakeholders that we interact with. So, a couple of months ago we announced a big partnership that we've been working on with 10 different institutes and organizations amongst them are Drax who are the UK biggest renewable energy producing bio energy and we use the co2 from the bio energy to make our protein, the protein that we generate, we then provide to the Biomar who are one of the world's biggest aquafeed producers and the Avi one of Europe's biggest producers of chicken feed. So we've co developing feeds for salmon, feeds for poultry, with these two feed producers respectively. And over the two years we'll be getting those market features that will lead to a point in two years time where we have our market options so in the meantime we've recently announced our pilot facility, which we're currently building in the Netherlands, and we’re super excited about that. It's a new jerff before us to ensure that goes swimmingly perfect. Yeah that's basically what's coming up next on the radar for us in the next few years.
Tommaso: Congratulations on your part and on your pipeline. I’m really curious to follow what you guys are doing. Virginia, let's talk about the Beta Hatch. How can you enable what are your experiences with insects, sticks to cost effectively the global scale of demand for animal feed and crop fertilizer?
Virginia: Yeah, I mean I think scale is always one of the biggest questions for the sector because the food markets are so huge. In particular, it’s six billion dollars. These are huge markets and so there's a lot of volume. And so this is something that we've really been thinking strategically about how do we unlock that rapid scaling and how do we unlock volume and looking at successful models, we've taken a more distributed approach in our production projects and the Netherlands have built a very large, very expensive factory. But I think that those solutions are not always going to be workable in all geographies and here in the US, they certainly need more Rural Economic Development.
It's a very large country so there's a need for shortening of transportation businesses, that's a huge part of the carbon footprint of our food. And so our approach is much more distributed with this focus on a smaller scale of operations, and it's modeled after successful production of livestock in this country. So, I think that there's a lot of need, not just for technology innovation, but also business models innovation. I think on the technology side, there's also this multiple sort of pillars of that technology, and you could specialize just in say breeding and the genetic piece of that equation, you could specialize as a feed producer for diet formulations or the challenges when you have a new industry like the insect sectors you kind of need to do a little bit of it all to make your business succeed.
That's always the challenge of being a leader is that the whole sort of like Tesla, this idea of motorized electric vehicles, they needed to also get battery companies, before they can really be a part of that. So I think that we have in the food sector some similar challenges with new innovations, is that you need to be addressing multiple parts of that environment that supports your production. That's where the involvement, as Pete mentioned, partners is very valuable because it's very difficult as a small company to do all of that, so trying to find the right partners to help you in each part of that supply chain.
Tommaso: Speaking of startups and the challenges of startups, Alex, I want to pick your brain on this and there are many entrepreneurs for projects in university so you may be thinking of launching something in sustainable protein. So if you have in mind to launch a startup and say “okay this is what I want to launch, what I want to release. So, this is the new product.” So what needs to be considered? What can you share with the audience that is watching?
Alex: Well, I think that we need to go through a process and that process really is about having such as what we do at BranFirst. What we do is we will look at the competitive landscape, we'll immerse ourselves in that to understand. So what is the derivative of? How can understanding the competition bring about more understanding about this new company's innovation and how they want to communicate? So, we position their brand through naming tagline identity messaging, all of those things are all steps that we take to try to get a hold on what the front facing language is going to be, as well as logos and lovely things like that.
So at the end of the day when someone picks up a packet, and they're looking at it, the right things are communicating. But it's not just the package, it's also information on the website. It's information on social media, all of those things playing together cohesively to dispel misinformation and notions that, for example, like Virginia was talking about, chickens chickens eating bugs, right? Yes. Chickens do eat bugs, but you don't really want to necessarily bring that forward, because people start thinking “Eww! Gross!”. Well, it's part of reality. But sometimes you have to really kind of skim some of those things out to make sure that you're not putting somebody off.
So, an example is shrubs. That is a ship that was made with insects. I believe it was cricket powder that was integrated into the shrub. It was very interesting how they marketed it and they've changed a couple of iterations of packaging. The second you fear insects, and if somebody put off eating insects, they're going to be put off. So the question is how do you find the language and the explanation of why eating insects is good. Why could taste good and lead with that, and not be the opposite of this. I mean that's really very obvious stuff, but it's amazing how complex perception is when it comes to people, assuming things and jumping into conclusions.
Tommaso: It sounds obvious once you hear it right Alex? But the ability of you having a framework or a comber that guides who gets you there is tremendously challenging because when we go back when we were discussing from a startup perspective, we have so much on the table. And, most probably most of the scientists are more technically oriented, especially for technically what you're doing right? So, if it comes to the law and you have a great product, but the value and the value proposition is differentiator, so many times I have had exactly the same in all the acceleration programs that we have been doing here in Siliconval.ly. So the challenge is how are you different? I mean, what's your unique selling point of what are you? What's your value proposition? Then you see brands who simply out of complexity they create simplicity and they say “wow this resonates to me”. This is “oh yeah that's I like the slogan, I like the value proposition” and this is a huge journey and that's when a consumer connects with a brand. So what sounds obvious is actually a really challenging pathway, a challenging learning.
Virginia: I'm going to jump in and discuss the final nail in the coffin of alternative protein, I think that kind of language is alternative suggests equality, it's like different, but the same. I think that what we're building to bring into value is actually a better product. And sustainability claims which some of them still need to be sorted. It will take time to lay those out and to really validate that at scale, but at least on a performance basis, you know like, no arms yet 30% improvements in feed conversion, 35% improvements in growth, 50% improvements in survival, we're seeing it like this is not a substitute.
So I think that's something as well, just kind of my new language is not just the substitute language. I really try to elevate the product, because the value is clear and most of our customers I should say on the decision making side are scientists driven by the performance metrics and the cost considerations, but it needs to be married with the sort of pool on the consumer side, they need to see the appeal for how it can help them sell their products better. So certainly that's very you know, Alex who's got this sort of focus on messaging that kind of work is important to do in the sector for sure.
Tommaso: Then it always depends on what generation we are serving, generation Y, generation Z or even the generation in the battery generation which comes after the generation Z. They're very self aware that we need a sustainable way of being fed and eating, so they're already grown in their habits and in their genes.
Questions from the audience
Tommaso: I would like to start with Virginia, questions coming from that audience, and this one is coming from Elizabeth in California. Elizabeth, thanks for the question. As the world's population grows, the production of animal feed is increasing on land and water. What insects could provide much of the protein at a much needed lower environmental costs? Are insects the ideal animals fed of the future?
Virginia: I won't disagree with that. Certainly my job as the founder of this company I truly believe in insects having a credible potential to feed niches in the food system. What I like to do is remind everyone that this system tends to do best when it emulates nature. So we see polyculture outperforming monoculture and we see crop diversity improving the immune function of different crops and bugs are part of the natural process of nature and the recyclers of nutrients are the basis in the food chain in the wild.
So it makes sense that they would be part of the food system. We just haven't had the technology yet to do that at large scale. So that's what we've been building, is the ability to basically elevate insects back into their role in the food system. I think we're seeing a lot of this sort of renewal of old farming concepts coming in and now being industrialized to massive the scale of our food systems.
Tommaso: Awesome, thank you so much Virginia. Elizabeth again thanks for the question. Question for Alex. Karl from Berkeley. What are some of the biggest challenges that would either significantly slow down or prevent environmentally friendly foods from reaching consumer accessibility?
Alex: Environmental considerations, I would say that the biggest hurdles that I can see really is scaling things up for a company. That's the biggest issue at hand, especially with alternative proteins, being able to catalyze them, grow them in the tanks that they're going to figure out how to do that. It’s a huge task, but I would say from a more traditional aspect, just within packaging if I could take it there. It really is making sure that when something is launched and it's new and it's innovative, that the prescient points of why it's good and keeping in mind this competition you're competing with all of proteins and you really need to have the right platform, mechanism to communicate that.
Tommaso: Last but not least, for Pete we have Ruby, from LA. Why should we consider eating a burger made out of co2 captured from the air and how could we expect to see it available in supermarkets and restaurants? I love that. Pete, you are responding to that one.
Pete: So, our primary focus is actually on developing co2 based animal feeds so if you're talking about a burger it's more likely that it will be made of an animal that’s eaten our product, but that is discussed in the future. We do think it's a viable opportunity to move into the human food market to Alex's point this is where messaging exactly is really important in terms of putting a timeline on that. I'd expect at some point in the next five years, you could see a co2 based burger and I'm certainly looking forward to that.
Tommaso: I always love learning every single day, every single episode so thank you so much for allowing us to share your knowledge, your experiences, your insights with the world. That's exactly the purpose here, and we’d like to close our broadcast always with something that I learned to crop in terms of an investor and it’s a call like this:
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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And this series is brought you by:
Awesm Ventures: A VC that unlike others, invests exclusively with and on behalf of corporations in fragmented industries. http://www.awesm.ventures
SiliconVal.ly: The Innovation institute focused on helping future-proof corporations in traditional industries. http://www.siliconval.ly .
This is a proteinX Series. http://www.proteinX.org
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