Why VCs are interested in animal-free food with Lisa Feria

CEO of Stray Dog Capital Lisa Feria discusses how capital is accelerating the plant-based and cell-based meat sectors—and why food is suddenly such a hot place to invest.
Lisa feria good food conference

Lisa Feria knows the importance of harnessing the market to transform the way the world produces food. It’s part of her mission as the CEO of Stray Dog Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in startups striving to replace animals in the supply chain through groundbreaking products and services.

With more than 26 investments, including Beyond Burger, Kite Hill, Miyoko’s Kitchen, and Purple Carrot, Stray Dog Capital is a primary supporter of early-stage plant-based food and cell-based meat companies. And Lisa’s in charge, with an MBA from the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business and an expert eye for sustainable science and business models. She also brings over 15 years of experience in management, operations, and engineering at Blue Chip companies like General Mills, as well as over 14 years of experience focused on food operation and profit and loss strategy for billion-dollar brands. 

We’re honored to have Stray Dog Capital as a gold sponsor (for the second year in a row!) at the Good Food Conference this September! We’re especially excited that Lisa will share her deep expertise about how capital is accelerating the plant-based and cell-based meat sectors at the conference. Luckily, we even managed to chat with her beforehand for a quick interview! 

Julia: How have you seen the sector change since last year’s Good Food Conference?

Lisa: Since last year, the amount of media, consumer interest and attention and focus on the plant and cell-based markets has continued to explode. Beyond Meat’s IPO put an additional spotlight on the potential for these products to deliver great investor returns and to offer consumers a better choice.

What’s the significance of VC funding in the shift toward animal-free food?

The average venture capitalist focuses on the tech world. Investments that require low infrastructure, have high profit margins, and can be sold in a few years. Food hasn’t typically been a hot place to invest…until now. The pace of growth in the plant-based world has been nothing short of astounding, and with Beyond Meat’s successful IPO, more investors are sitting up and taking notice.

What are the limitations of VC funding in supporting the development of the plant-based and cell-based sectors?

Most, if not all, of the current cell-based startups have received sufficient funding to get to the next step. However, the cell-based technology will require time, resources, and patient capital to succeed. Non-mission-based investors have limited patience (and timelines), and they will need to see tangible improvements and results before making the large check-size investments that will be needed to drive the category forward. Entrepreneurs will be moving from the early-stage investors, like Stray Dog Capital, into growth-stage investors who have a different profile and expectations.

For the plant-based market, it’s a period of high investments, bullish investors, and available capital, but if history teaches us anything, it’s that nothing lasts forever. Smart entrepreneurs will ensure that they have the capital they need to sustain them as long as possible and focus on achieving a sustainable (break-even) profit model that can withstand longer periods or smaller capital investments. In tight markets, VCs become a lot pickier and tougher on companies that are making slow progress, cannot proceed without large and constant infusions of cash, or aren’t focused on delivering their long-term vision.

From your vantage point as a woman of color in venture capital and food tech, what are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities in these spaces? 

We need to do better at making the private (specifically, the investment) and nonprofit community more inclusive of all people. We cannot win and achieve the size of impact we’re looking for if we can’t reach all these communities. I believe we all recognize that this is our current, sad reality but that we all have a responsibility to do something to improve it. At Stray Dog Capital, we’ve started a mentorship and internship program designed to bolster the number of people of color in our segments.

What’s the story behind the name Stray Dog Capital?

When the Stray Dog Capital Founders named the original fund, Quinn Capital, it was named after their first rescue dog, Quinn.  Then, the plant-based investments within Quinn Capital were moved into a new fund, Stray Dog Capital, in honor of all the stray rescue dogs that had come into their lives and their work in companion animal welfare. We have over 20 rescued animals amongst the Stray Dog Capital team and we believe in, and live, a culture of care and appreciation for all animals

Register now for the Good Food Conference 2019, September 4-6 in San Francisco to hear Lisa talk good food investment IRL. 


The good food institute icon in white on a seaweed circle background

Julia John