My Investment Takes: IntegriCulture - a Cellular-Meat innovator

20 Apr 2022

My Investment Takes is a weekly dive into the startups I find the most innovative & interesting.

The term ‘cellular meat’ might not be familiar to everyone. To some, it might conjure up a piece of steak with a 4G signal. To others, a chicken nugget behind bars. Not quite.
The industry is based around the idea of being able to grow full slabs of meat in a lab, butcher free, cruelty-free, animal friendly. 

When I first heard about the industry, I jumped at the idea. I’ve been vegetarian for the last couple of years but the idea of a piece of steak grown in a sustainable way, without the associated harm to animals or the environment… I wouldn’t say no to that.
No more soy-steaks or bean-burgers or seitan sausages, just a good old-fashioned steak, no strings attached. 

IntegriCulture is an innovative biotech specialised in the production of cellular meat, based out of Tokyo. They have developed a proprietary CulNet system, which is a universally accessible agriculture platform. Or in simpler terms, they are planning on helping manufacturers of cellular meat to produce more ethically, and for cheaper.

I’ve been keeping my eye on them over the last couple of years and watched them raise their Series A from the likes of Resona Capital, Beyond Next Ventures, VU Venture Partners, Real Tech Fund, Future Food Fund, Yamaguchi Capital, Kemuri Ventures, Iyogin Capital, and AgFunder.

What I love

An industry still in its infancy

Now granted, cellular meat still requires more investment, heavy investment, and time. But I think it’s the one with the largest potential out of all protein alternatives: it will look like the real stuff, taste like the real stuff, and for all intent and purposes, is the real stuff. I think this method is the most likely to disrupt the $1.3 trillion meat industry.

Plus, the sector is still in the growth stage, with an increase of Series A at 128% but no pick-up in the number of exits showing a lack of incumbents or clear winners.

A gold medal is up for grabs.

The Challenges to face

The race for gold isn’t without its obstacles. At the moment, there are two major technological challenges the industry will have to resolve.

The first is the ability to scale production. Due to current technological limitations, cell-cultured meat has to be developed in individual Petri dishes before being “fed” growth serum. While the process is relatively quick (3-4 weeks vs. 2-3 years with livestock), the production is limited by the number of available bioreactors. There is a need for a new medium of production.

The second challenge is the use of Foetal Bovine Serum, a lab-culture medium that is causing the industry a massive headache. It’s expensive, it’s extracted from farm animals which means we can wave our vegan buyer base goodbye, and worse- it tastes awful.

As for the non-technological challenges, they are initial market acceptance – succeeding in getting the customers to consume the product – and the legislative issues that will inevitably arise in the future when governments set rules on quality standards, production processes, and appropriate names to use. There’s a good chance after all that the meat industry will lobby to block the use of the word “meat” by cell-based manufacturers.

CulNet® system, the differentiator

In comes IntegriCulture.

Their CulNet system has been specifically developed to answer both challenges, which are essentially related to each other. Their methodology mimics the natural process of an animal body, where organs communicate to manifold cells. Feeder cells are given instead of FBS to grow those in the product bioreactor, resulting in textured meat rather than a simple multiplication of meat cells.

It’s cheaper, as the system constantly supplies components for a period shown to last as long as 130 days, and has a wide range of other applications – think leather, cosmetics, etc.

The added bonus

Through their first experiments, IntegriCulture has found the best organ combination to grow duck liver, which resulted in the first laboratory grown, cultured foie gras (gavage-fed goose or duck livers, a French delicacy) which should hit the shelves later this year.
I called it a bonus because I think it will be a unique opportunity to estimate the public’s appetite for such products.

The Questions I have for the Team

-       It seems like cellular meat is only your first step in a long journey. In which direction to you see IntegriCulture grow in the next 10 years

-       Your foie gras is scheduled to be distributed in 2022, do you have an idea of what the public reception will be?

My Conviction

IntegriCulture is not alone in its quest. Earlier this year, Mosa Meats – the Dutch startup founded by the creator of cellular meat – revealed it was successful in getting rid of FBS in its production, as CellMEAT (Korea) and Upside Foods (US).

But IntegriCulture’s highly competent team, who already has a product ready to be commercialised and a patented system, make me think they have a slight edge.

Plus, they have positioned themselves as a facilitator, and I’m very fond of the idea. By going upstream by a little bit, they can keep their head above the B2C fray, and simply be the cheap and reliable growth factor distributor.

If you’re excited to check them out, take a look at their website, and leave a comment on this post if you have any thoughts or comments!

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Awesome take! Personally, I feel like vegan food has a bad stigma as “tasting bad” and if they are able to solve this problem and actually have vegan food like cellular meat taste good, then I reckon it will have real potential! Listening to customer feedback would be ultra useful here imo
I know that producing meat also increases carbon footprint, if labmade food tastes good and is also better for the environment, it will eventually become more popular!