Why Accelerator Firm Big Idea Ventures is Backing Alternative Protein Tech Companies
The alternative protein industry, which includes cell-based and plant-based companies, has been mushrooming over the last few years spurring a movement to change the way we eat. The products may be different but their collective goal is to repair our broken food systems and achieve a more sustainable future by reducing global meat consumption and replacing them with other protein-rich solutions.
Food security is a precarious issue especially in Singapore where arable land is scarce and produce is generally imported. However, the government is strategically focusing on producing 30 per cent of the population’s nutritional needs by 2030 through an innovative route. With scores of industry experts, like-minded investors, and an open-minded dining scene, Singapore offers a promising ecosystem for the following food tech companies to thrive and launch their global crusade to change how food is made, distributed and consumed right here on our shores.
The top-line mission for Big Idea Ventures, a New York- and Singapore-based venture capital and accelerator firm founded in 2018, is “to solve the world’s greatest challenges by supporting the world’s best entrepreneurs”. Backed by investors such as Singapore’s Temasek Holdings and US food giant Tyson Foods, the firm’s first fund—the $50 million New Protein Fund in 2019—focused on cell-based meat, seafood and dairy products, as well as those facilitating the ingredients and technologies in the ecosystem startups. In 2021, the company will be opening new offices in France and India. Its New York-based founder and managing general partner Andrew D Ive believes that cell-based food tech, instead of plant-based, is the long-term solution. He shares why he’s investing in the world of alternative proteins.
Why do you think Singapore is at the forefront of the innovative plant-based and cell-based meat industries?
Andrew Ive (AI) There are a couple of components to that. The Singapore government is very supportive of food innovation and improving food security. They have a long-term plan, and they are prepared to invest and bring the right people together. It’s about building a hub and a strong ecosystem that functions well together. You also need the entire value chain, the ingredient providers, contract manufacturers, distributors, retailers and producers.
The government recognises this ecosystem approach and encourages its development. We were the first accelerator firm in the alternative protein space that they invested in. We appreciate being right in the middle of this ecosystem. In addition, plant-based food has a tradition in Asia. So, it’s not too much a leap for consumers to grab on to the [plant-based] innovation.
Ultimately, a lot of global food companies have decided that Singapore is a great headquarters because of the infrastructure, the educated workforce, the rule of law, and the respect for intellectual property. It is also liveable, multicultural, and has great food.
Why is there a real urgency to embrace alternative proteins today?
AI In Singapore, 95 per cent of the food consumed is imported. If there is a disruption or a pandemic, it won’t take very long before the borders are closed, and that’s a concern. But I think the answer in the long term is cell-based, rather than plant-based. Because for plant-based, you still need pea protein or wheat as the core ingredient. And if you can’t get the ingredient, plant-based isn’t going to work either.
How important is the New Protein Fund in the post-pandemic world?
AI Our goal is to fund 100 amazing companies in the alternative protein space over a four to five year period, and to support and back them. But we don’t just give money. We have mentors and experts to help them avoid normal challenges that young companies face when they grow too quickly. We want to help them grow, survive, and ultimately become global brands. I want to walk into a grocery store in 10 years’ time and see that we’ve supported 20 to 30 per cent of the products on the shelves.
What do you predict will be the next big thing?
AI Fermentation is a key area of exploration in the food innovation space. We have seen companies growing honey using fermentation—without bees. We’ve seen companies create plant-based fish and shrimp using micro-bio fermentation or mycelium (mushrooms).
Another more cutting-edge innovation is using regular plants as bioreactors. For example, there’s a company that puts dairy fat inside a crop, and when it grows, the milk inside multiplies.
Will we be seeing a lot more innovative menus in the near future?
AI I would actually prefer it if we had the traditional menus that people love but with ingredients that are more sustainable—and that are more cell- and plant-based versus animal- or seafood-based. We want the food to be great tasting, great for people and the planet. People are not going to change to these new ingredients unless the taste is as good if not better than what they’re used to.