The Alternative Protein Pitch Slam
Always a favorite event at the Good Food Conference (GFC), the Pitch Slam is an exciting opportunity for emerging startups to showcase their food system innovations. The call for entries is both exhilarating and overwhelming as companies worldwide vie for an opportunity to take center stage in front of a diverse group of alternative protein stakeholders. Selected startups pitch to an audience of investors, strategic partners, potential customers, members of the media, alternative protein companies, and large corporations.
As a nascent industry with entrepreneurs working tirelessly to shift the food system, the alternative protein sector boasts over 1,000 startups globally. Some of these companies are working on end products, while others are creating services, equipment, ingredients, or software that will enable the industry to thrive. As our sector evolves, the lines continue to blur across platforms and technologies. And as collaboration grows and siloes slip away, the entire sector benefits.
With that in mind, GFI undertook the massive challenge of selecting just five GFC Pitch Slam participants from nearly 100 applicants in 2023. A sixth startup was selected to participate in the GFI Entrepreneur in Residence program. The selection process was daunting, to say the least. The scientific and technical breakthroughs in our sector have the potential to be world-changing, and each company doing the hard work of shifting the food system has a unique story, motivation, and approach. While just six startups became finalists, many more were standouts. GFI made our selection based on innovation, white space focus, geographic representation, and the stage of the company.
Congratulations to the startups that pitched at the GFC 2023 Pitch Slam (listed alphabetically)
Technology: Animal-free growth factors
BioBetter is a molecular farming startup focused on harnessing tobacco plants as efficient protein factories. The startup is addressing the growing demand for animal-free growth factors in cultivated meat. They offer a cost-efficient solution that works at all stages of production, including commercialization.
The smart and creative folks at BioBetter stood out in the application process by structuring their pitch as a poem. When asked about why the tobacco plant was the crop of choice for BioBetter, they explained how the unique properties of this plant can safely serve the needs of the cultivated meat industry.
“Tobacco suffers from a tarnished reputation, but unjustly because it is a very capable plant with many advantages. It’s easily transferable with new DNA constructs and it expresses high levels of protein, even compared to soy. It also has one important advantage which is that it’s not a food crop. For the purpose of expressing growth factors which are all considered biopharmaceuticals, you have to think of safety. The tobacco crop is very safe and prevents transfer of DNA expressing insulin or fibroblast growth factors.”Amit Yaari, CEO
Speaker: Lucie Rein, Chief Commercial Officer
Technology: Alternative fat
Cultivated Biosciences is creating a dairy-free, creamy fat ingredient to improve the mouthfeel of plant-based dairy through scalable biomass fermentation. The ingredient is cholesterol-, lactose-, and GMO-free. At scale, the startup believes their solution will reach price parity with dairy cream.
“There’s a huge gap between consumer action and consumer intention when it comes to buying plant-based dairy. People want to eat healthier and more sustainable products but in practice, they still stick to the cheapest products or the best tasting products. We want to help the food industry unlock this business opportunity and seize this growth by helping them bridge the gap between dairy and dairy free alternatives in terms of texture, but also without compromising on the health, sustainability and price.”Lucie Rein, chief commercial officer
Speaker: Alan She, CEO
Location: U.S. and Singapore
Technology: Modular bioreactors for cultivated meat and precision fermentation
Dynacyte Biosciences has created an affordable, modular bioreactor system for cultivated meat and precision fermentation. The solution offers a cloud-based platform that streamlines the biotech experimentation and production process, making it more attainable and scalable for various companies.
“Data is what’s going to allow us to improve to make progress on the way we produce cultivated meats, support fermentation processes, and approach what millions of years of evolution did. But now we’re doing it in the span of 10-20 years.”Alan She, CEO
Speaker: Will Milligan, Founder & CEO
Technology: Scaling and infrastructure for cultivated meat
Extracellular enables the scale-up process for cultivated meat by providing manufacturing and R&D services. The startup has the potential to save cultivated meat and seafood companies millions of dollars in capital expenditure, drastically reduce development timelines, and mitigate technical and commercial risks. Extracellular wants to exemplify transparency and collaboration in the sector, building those objectives into their offering.
During the pitch slam, Will announced updates on Europe’s largest contract pilot facility for cultivated foods. This facility aims to produce up to 100 tonnes of cultivated meat and seafood sales annually.
“Our mission is simple: to accelerate the potential of cultivated meat. There are more than 150 companies around the world developing cultivated meat and seafood as a sustainable and ethical source of nutrition. We’re trying to do the hard and expensive stuff to allow these cultivated meat and seafood companies to focus on developing great consumer products. And for us that means focusing on biomanufacturing – installing and operating those large bio reactors to produce the cultivated meat cells.”Will Milligan, Founder and CEO
Speaker: Deimena Drąsutytė, Founder & CEO
Technology: Microorganism optimization and discovery for precision fermentation
HERlab (High Efficiency Research laboratory) is a synthetic biology and AI startup combining cutting edge technologies and interdisciplinary expertise to create a platform that discovers and optimizes next-generation microorganisms for scalable precision fermentation. Founder and CEO, Deimena Drąsutytė, was selected out of 130 applicants to be GFI’s inaugural Entrepreneur in Residence.
“HERlab is a company that is changing the food system by finding hidden gems in 1000s of undiscovered and unexplored yeasts. In biotech, there are yeasts that have been used quite successfully. However, to use the same yeast for precision fermentation in food production and in high volumes, is prohibitively expensive. There’s only so much you can do to make a bicycle work like a plane. At HERlab, we thought we should just use the plane, and this is exactly what we are doing.”Deimena (Dei) Drąsutytė, Founder and CEO
Speaker: Ryan Chung, Co-CEO
Location: U.S. and South Korea
Technology: Plant-based meat, seafood, and dairy
UNLIMEAT produces plant-based products including meat, seafood, and dairy with diverse textures and flavors. The startup has developed its own low moisture meat analogue and high moisture meat analogue proteins. In addition, the company has customized its extrusion process to achieve a multi-layered alternative protein that can mimic complex muscle structure and fats including marbling. UNLIMEAT is committed to the worldwide Net Zero movement through its “Let’s ZERO” campaign.
“We at UNLIMEAT seek to serve those people who are looking for new products. Whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or meat eater, if you’re one of those people who gets excited about a new restaurant that’s opened up or if you’re going extra miles to find your favorite items at a different grocery store, you are our customers. And the values that we are trying to provide to you are the diversity and excitement through this new category of plant-based meat.”Ryan Chung, Co-CEO
Special thanks to Brian Cooley
Brian is a pro moderator, making this year’s GFC Pitch Slam fun and informative for all involved. We’re also grateful to Brian for his generous participation in our mentor program, supporting startups at all stages.