As meat production becomes more devastating for the environment, scientists are looking for an alternative that can significantly decrease the harmful impact. As time goes by, people are getting more conscious about what they eat and where it comes from.
In the same way, food security is also one of the major problems faced by world leaders according to the United Nations. The shrinkage in the global food supply has pushed innovators and scientists alike to find a solution that can cover the population growth in the future satisfactorily.
Lab-grown and cell-based meat is not a new concept. The world has seen the first lab-grown hamburger in 2013. So, there is a full-fledged ecosystem of startups focused on cultivated and lab-grown meat and/or fish. But there hasn't been a mainstream company like the Wildtype which is trying to bring sustainable food (meat and fish) on your plate to help reverse trends of global food insecurity.
“I’m not the first cardiologist to work on this, actually,” Aryé Elfenbein co-founder of Wildtype told Jewish Insider
The San Francisco-based company Wildtype is the brainchild of two innovators one of them is a Molecular Biologist and Cardiologist named Aryé Elfenbein. The other co-founder of Wildtype is a former Economy Policy Officer named Justin Kolbeck. Together, the duo is revolutionizing the way people consume fish by creating sushi-grade salmon in its well-equipped production facility.
“We’re not launching right now. We’re releasing the news that we have the next iteration of the product,” said co-founder Justin Kolbeck, a former U.S. diplomat who launched the company to address issues of food insecurity he’d seen firsthand while stationed in Afghanistan.
Recently, the 2016-founded company, Wildtype made headlines for launching and opening its first-ever cell-based fish plant in the heart of San Francisco, USA. Wildtype has managed to secure funding from around 14 major investors including Spark Capital, CRV, and L Catterton.
The journey of Wildtype started as a simple idea and a glimpse of the future that came into the mind of its co-founder Aryé Elfenbein who wished for a new-world kosher restaurant. Elfenbein imagined that restaurant menus in our new world would be filled with sustainable dishes made with lab-grown ingredients instead of a wild-caught animal.
“As a cardiologist, I wanted to create something healthier, so we didn’t want to just make ground beef,” Elfenbein noted.
Elfenbein was born in Petah Tikvah but he grew up in Australia where he was an undergrad student at Brandeis University. Elfenbein went to Dartmouth to complete his Ph.D. and MD. He is a cardiologist and research fellow of Gladstone Institutes who completed his post-doctorate from Kyoto University where he got to study the early stages of angiogenesis using advanced molecular imaging techniques.
Elfenbein was also a resident in Internal Medicine at Yale-New Haven Hospital for 2 years. It was during his residency and fellowship at the Yale School of Medicine that the two co-founders crossed paths. Aryé Elfenbein joined Justin Kolbeck in this venture who was a business student at Yale. Being a diplomat and having the experience of working in countries where food scarcity was a huge problem, Kolbeck had an interest in sustainable food.
“Most of my work for the Ph.D. was done in Japan, around the same time and in the same place that the discovery was made that we could create stem cells from ordinary skin cells,” Elfenbein explained. “Before then, there was a moratorium on [stem-cell] research in the U.S., because the only source that was available was from embryos, and this took all of the ethical issues off the table.”
In 2016, Elfenbein went back to his home in Australia for the first time after a long time in residency. Being in the presence of the huge rainforest gave him the idea of delving into cultivated meat, specifically, fish because the relevant companies back then did not focus on cultivating sustainable seafood.
“This question came to me of, ‘Do we need animals to produce meat?’ Which is a very strange question,” he acknowledged. “It just sort of stayed with me, this question of, Can there be a more efficient and a better and a more humane and more sustainable way to produce meat?”
Being a scientist, the idea of improving seafood for the world by researching a completely new research area excited Aryé Elfenbein. He shared his research with Kolbeck which included tissue engineering, stem cell biology, and cell development. After that, the duo entered a partnership to launch Wildtype with a mission to establish a platform where several types of technologies can be developed to scientifically produce any type of meat using specialized procedures.
But several concerns were awaiting Kolbeck and Elfenbein in the path towards finally launching Wildtype. Against all odds, by 2016, Wildtype managed to create cultivated salmon and thus entered the league of a handful of companies to have grown animal protein successfully by using just a few cells of a live fish.
What started as a noble scientific idea has now grown into a food production company with approximately 30 employees and several direct as well as indirect competitors. According to co-founder and CEO Justin Kolbeck, the companies active in cultivated meat industries must differentiate on a single element of the supply chain.
“What we’ve created is special in its ability to provide cells with the right signals to organize and mature,” said Elfenbein.
Wildtype basically makes a scaffold to offer the right guidance in different cells. As of now, the company has achieved success in creating sushi-grade high-quality salmon which provides the same (even better) nutritional benefits such as healthy omega 3 fats as wild-caught salmon.
According to the co-founders, Wildtype has been out from commercial products for the past 6 years but now they are looking forward to partnering with selected chefs around the world to work with their lab-grown “real” sushi-grade salmon. Their first product is named Coho, or the silver salmon.
The cell-cultivated seafood created in the production plant of Wildtype is clean and helps protect the wildlife in the ocean. The lab conditions under which animal protein is grown and developed are kept pristine and completely hygienic. Therefore, wild-type salmon is free from any bacteria and other contaminants that could be found in unethically-sourced sushi-grade salmon.
The idea behind Wildtype is simple and straightforward which is why it works to reverse the issues with global food insecurity by incorporating meat substitutes. While the salmon that are grown within Wildtype facilities look exactly like real fish, it also provides the same nutritional benefits.
Since Wildtype salmon is grown and carefully developed under utmost hygienic conditions within the specialized production plant before reaching your plate, it is safe to consume. This salmon has no mercury content, microplastics, or antibiotics to ruin its flavor and nutritional components.
“There was this emerging awareness of what was happening — what is happening — in our oceans,” Elfenbein said, referring to pollution and overfishing, “as well as the fact that from here in San Francisco to Alaska’s salmon country, and in all of the little streams that are out here, where there used to be salmon all the time, and now there are none.”
Steps involved in growing salmon by Wildtype
The process begins with this step where the salmon cells are found in pacific salmon.
The cells are kept in Wildtype’s state-of-the-art cultivation system which allows the cells to grow to create the same conditions like those within a wild fish.
Cells are harvested from cultivators and seeded into plant-based structures to receive guidance to become salmon.
For creating sushi-grade salmon, the Wildtype team ensures purity, deliciousness, and texture in this step so that the end result is a tasty and nutritional salmon.
Competitors, Market Growth, Investors, and Partners
Plant-based meat and other meat substitutes have gone mainstream by now. Companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are two of the strongest contenders whose growth shows that the interest in sustainable alternatives has grown remarkably. According to Reuter’s report, last year, Impossible Foods was exploring an IPO of valuation worth $10 billion.
“When we began, I think there were maybe three or four other startups in the world working on this,” Elfenbein said of him and his co-founder, Justin Kolbeck. “Now there’s, I think, more than 60.”
Wildtype’s newly-opened pilot production plant in San Francisco is capable of producing 50,000 pounds of cultivated fish each year. The maximum capacity of this plant is said to be about 200,000 pounds. The reason for choosing San Francisco as the location was to tap into the city’s cultivated sushi-grade salmon requirements while also avoiding transportation issues.
“For the kosher consumer, [cultivated] meat — even as a potential — theoretically is very huge,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union’s Kashrut Division.
According to Justin Kolbeck, Wildtype planned to launch its products commercially in 2021 but there was no actual date as the discussions with FDA were still underway. The company has managed to cut down its costs exceptionally well and it is possible to fall even further.
“It was easy to find people who found this idea absolutely fascinating and could see the vision, and could recognize the problems in our food system and could very easily understand how this could be one solution,” said Elfenbein. “That said, the economics of producing this type of food in the way that we were describing was very, very difficult for people to think to embrace in an investment sense.”
The San Diego-based food processing company specializes in producing and marketing cell-based seafood products. It has a yearly revenue of up to $2 million with a total of 30 employees working under the leadership of president and CEO Lou Cooperhouse.
“Israel really is on the forefront of this field, not just in terms of the startups that have emerged there, but I think also in terms of the government’s willingness to engage in terms of constructing a regulatory framework,” Elfenbein pointed out. “As a very generally progressive society, it’s one that has embraced technologies such as these.”
Shiok Meats is a private company based in Singapore which supplies seafood products like crabs, shrimps, and lobsters. The chairman & CEO of the company is Sandhya Sriram under whose leadership, they have acquired Gaia Foods for an undisclosed amount last year. Shiok Meats has received approximately $30.7 in funding till now.
Finless Foods uses cellular biology technology to make lag-grown seafood almost like Wildtype. The total funding received by this company is $3.5 million. Finless Foods was co-founded by Michael Selden who is currently the CEO of its headquarters in Emeryville, California.
Since it has been founded, Wildtype has been funded thrice by a total of 14 investors. Wildtype has 3 leading investors that are L Catterton (series B), CRV (series A), and Spark Capital (seed). The total amount raised by funding up until now comes close to $116 million as the latest series B funding brought in $100 million.
According to our research, the Oddup metrics for Wildtype come as post valuation after series B $3 billion. The post-money valuation of Series B is $3.33 billion. Wildtype’s Oddup score, which we have calculated via numerous algorithmic calculations after long and careful research is close to 73.34.
Back in 2018, Wildtype announced its seed funding round with 4 participating investors. This was San Francisco-based company’s initial funding round. The total money raised during the seed round was $3.5 million. Participating investors were Spark Capital, Root Ventures, Mission Bay Capital, and For Good Ventures. John Melas-Kyriazi of Spark Capital led the round and joined the company’s board.
John Melas-Kyriazi said “This is an area we have been interested in for a long time at Spark: What is the protein source that is going to feed the world over the next 50 to 100 years,” he asked. He loved Wild Type’s product focus
The following year of seed funding round completion, Wildtype led Series A round with 5 investors. This round was led by CRV and closed at $12.5 million with the support of others like Spark Capital, Mission BioCapital, Maven Ventures, and Root Ventures. By this time, the co-founders still could not announce when their product would be available in the market.
CEO and co-founder Kolbeck said, “This is a Series A in the seafood space, which is interesting.”
Series B funding round of Wildtype was announced last month and it raised the bar even higher for this cellular agriculture company as two renowned entities joined the list of investors. One was the consumer-focused L Catterton and the other was Hollywood star, Leonardo DiCaprio. The total amount raised in series B was $100 million. Existing investors like Spark Capital, CRV also joined.
Wildtype Co-Founder Aryé Elfenbein said, “This capital raise will allow us to deliver on the promise of cultivated seafood: protection of our oceans with a truly sustainable, nutritious, and contaminant-free source of seafood. Wildtype’s scaled-up production systems will also enable us to bring an unprecedented level of transparency and traceability to the salmon supply chain.
A year ago, the co-founder of Wildtype clarified that their goal back then was not to launch but to release the news of their next iteration of the product. Their newly-opened production plant is not dedicated to the production of fish only. A converted loading dock would be used as a tasting room where visitors can try out Wildtype’s produce.
Making this production plant open to the public would raise awareness regarding cultivated fish and lab-grown meat as entirely new and better substitutes. Wildtype is also planning to launch its own U.S-based restaurant after clearing all necessary regulatory requirements and discussions with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“I imagine a future where if you go to a restaurant,” Elfenbein explained, “there would be many things on the menu, everything from wild-caught — and hopefully that would be sustainably wild-caught — fish… Then there could be farmed fish, there could be plant-based alternatives and then there could be cultivated seafood like we’re producing and maybe some new category.”
Wildtype’s co-founder duo has already received encouragement from consumers as well as chefs and restaurant owners. Some of the first-time tasting sessions have gone extremely well where world-class chefs were unable to distinguish between Wildtype salmon and wild-caught salmon. It is only a matter of time before Wildtype salmon and such meat substitutes become available at grocery stores at competitive prices.