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September 10, 2017

Lab-grown food startup Memphis Meats raises $17 million from DFJ, Cargill, Bill Gates, others

Meat grown in a laboratory is the future, if certain sustainable food advocates have their way, and one startup just raised a bucketload of cash from major investors to make this goal a reality.

Memphis Meats produces a variety of meat products using animal cells, with no animals bred, fed, or slaughtered in the process. The San Francisco-based startup had previously raised around $5 million in funding through a couple of seed rounds and an equity crowdfunding initiative last year, but the company has now brought out the big guns as it looks to commercialize its goods over the next few years.

Leading the $17 million series A round was venture capital (VC) firm DFJ, backer of Skype, Tesla, SpaceX, Tumblr, Foursquare, Baidu, and Box. But digging down into the details reveals some other big names, including food giant Cargill, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and European VC giant Atomico.

“We are committed to growing our traditional protein business and investing in innovative new proteins to ultimately provide a complete basket of goods to our customers,” noted Sonya McCullum Roberts, president of growth ventures at Cargill Protein. “Our investment in Memphis Meats is an exciting way for Cargill to explore the potential in this growing segment of the protein market.”

Meat up

It’s well understood that maintaining animals raised for meat has a significant impact on the environment, through the consumption of land, energy, and water. This is why a number of companies are working to fix a problem that will only worsen if natural resources continue on their current trajectory.

Food tech company Hampton Creek, funded to the tune of $220 million, recently revealed it was developing its own meat in a lab, with a view to being first to get it in stores. But Memphis Meats introduced its first lab-grown chicken earlier this year as a “proof of concept,” calling it at the time the “world’s first clean poultry.”

“We’re going to bring meat to the plate in a more sustainable, affordable, and delicious way,” said Memphis Meats CEO and cofounder Uma Valeti. “The world loves to eat meat, and it is core to many of our cultures and traditions. Meat demand is growing rapidly around the world. We want the world to keep eating what it loves. However, the way conventional meat is produced today creates huge problems for the environment, animal welfare, and human health. These are problems that everyone wants to solve, and we can solve them by bringing this incredible group of partners under one tent.”

One sure-fire way of fixing real-world problems is to promise profits to any venture willing to come up with a viable and scalable solution — this applies to green energy companies and, indeed, lab-grown food firms such as Memphis Meats. The company noted that its endeavors are not entirely altruistic and it’s very much seeking its share of the “near-trillion dollar global market” for meat.

“This is a moment where the investment potential and the potential to do good for the world are both off the charts,” added DFJ partner Steve Jurvetson. “Investors have been watching this space for years, and Memphis Meats has emerged as the clear leader.”

With another $17 million in the bank, Memphis Meats said that it plans to “continue developing delicious products,” focus on scaling up its “clean meat” production, and reduce production costs so they’re roughly on a par with conventional methods. The company added that it plans to quadruple its headcount.

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