On March 8th, Pinduoduo hosted the Women in Agri-Food Tech Webinar. Through the event, attendees heard from Ilanit Kabessa, venture partner at Novozymes, a Denmark based biological solutions company, Huiyi Lin, founder of Asymmetrics Research, a market research firm, and Dr. Sandhya Sriram, stem cell scientist and co-founder and CEO of Shiok Meats, a cell-based food tech startup based in Singapore.
I had the privilege to attend the event and share the key takeaways from each of the incredible panelists on a wide ranging set of topics from their journeys to the role of motherhood to the evolution of alternative meats and more.
Ilanit Kabessa, venture partner at Novozymes
Ilanit’s career has centered around building innovation units in large corporations. She shares a key hurdle large companies face in driving internal innovation: they prioritize the present over the future. Ilanit is excited to see the evolution of corporate innovation from one focused on acquisitions to one focused on collaboration. In her view, the next generation of growth in large enterprises will integrate investment and innovation where these large companies work collaboratively with startups and the broader ecosystem.
Ilanit shares the 3 generations of alternative proteins:
Generation 1: focused on mimicry, developing plant based proteins to close the hunger gap and support weight management; the focus was primarily around taste and texture
Generation 2: focused on leveraging microproteins, incorporating fungi (which is similar to meat in creating the umami taste), and using fermentation for cleaner and more nutritious forms of alternative protein
Generation 3: focused on culture based approaches to food creation, not only in traditional meats but also dairy and eggs
Looking ahead, Ilanit is excited about increasing cultural accessibility of alternative proteins, taking a bespoke approach with each country to ensure strong global adoption of sustainable foods and agritech innovations.
Huiyi Lin, founder of Asymmetric Research
Huiyi is the founder of Asymmetric Research, where she works with clients on tailored market research projects to help them better understand new landscapes and opportunities. She has conducted studies from ecological footprints of farming to comparative analyses of food budgets in countries around the world.
Huiyi highlights several key lessons for the future of alternative protein adoption:
Work through partnerships. Chinese consumers are excited about and open to trying alternative proteins. A gradual and more stable approach to driving this adoption is through partnering with brands, such as national restaurants or coffee jobs, that consumers trust.
Segment consumers. Take the time to categorize and understand the different preferences, motivations, and behaviors of distinct consumer groups. Tailor your approaches to each group to ensure you are meeting people where they are, especially as you introduce new innovations.
Leverage art as a communication medium. Huiyi is an artist and has found art to be an incredibly powerful medium for sharing messages with diverse groups.
Dr. Sandhya Sriram, co-founder and CEO of Shiok Meats
Dr. Sandhya Sriram is the co-founder and CEO of Shiok Meats, a cell based meat startup in Singapore. The team is starting with seafood, using shrimp stem cells to grow seafood in labs. Through cultured meat, Sandhya aims to eliminate the need for large scale farms and fishing, creating a more sustainable future.
When founding Shiok Meats, Sandhya and her co-founder faced immense obstacles. In particular, most research driven innovation in Singapore comes in the form of university spinouts. However, Sandhya and her co-founder were both far removed from university, working full time in the industry prior to founding Shiok Meats. They gave themselves 12 months to raise money to found the company. They started with just $10K in angel funding and have grown the company, team, and technology since.
Sandhya shares key insights around building culture based alternative proteins:
Nutrient soup is a key cost center. At present, this nutrient soup is created by pharma companies. Sandhya is creating an alternative plant based version for the cells she is culturing. Through her approach, she has brought down the cost from $10K per kilogram to $3.5 K.
Singapore is a major hub for alternative proteins. A recent survey showed that 78% (more than any other country) of people are open to trying alternative proteins in Singapore. Moreover, Singapore is the first country to build a regulatory framework around cultured meats.
All food is ultimately lab processed. People have been hesitant to adopt cultured meats in part because of the understanding that they are grown in labs. However, in reality, all processed food is lab processed at some point in the supply chain.
You need both food and pharma talent. In building Shiok Meats, Sandhya has realized the importance of hiring from both the food and pharma worlds and especially people with experience and passion for both.
Looking ahead, Sandhya is excited for the mainstream adoption of alternative proteins. She believes the alternative protein revolution will be much like the internet revolution. In the early days, only a small set of people had internet access, and it was slow and expensive. But now, we can hardly imagine our lives without it. In Sandhya’s view, alternative proteins will follow a similarly exciting and explosive trajectory.