23 Aug 2017

Our Investment in Upside Foods: Using technology to tackle one of the world’s biggest problems

In January of this year we published our Manifesto as a venture capital firm for the very first time. In it we stated our belief that while the last decade has seen the most profound changes to how we communicate, keep in touch with friends, entertain ourselves, or even start businesses — all driven by technological innovation — the next will see change at a far more ambitious and meaningful scale. In particular, how we use increasingly scarce natural resources, access food and water and build a more sustainable planet. We believe with deep conviction that in our lifetime, entrepreneurs will use technology to solve some of humanity’s greatest and deepest challenges.

There are few challenges larger and more global than the sustainability of the way we eat. And the problem is only getting worse. According to the latest UN figures , the world’s population is set to increase 30% to 9.8bn by 2050, coupled with changes in eating habits leading to a projected demand for food of — demand that current livestock industry cannot meet. Our recent investment in Farmdrop , who are addressing this by fixing the supply chain with ethically produced local produce, is part of this investment thesis.

Make no mistake, the human race is in desperate need of a solution to feed ourselves. The solution has to be a sustainable one, capable of protecting our fragile planet’s global environment. And we need it fast.

The elephant in the room: mass production of livestock for human consumption today uses one third of Earth’s fresh water and land surface and generates nearly one fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions. Among other negative side effects, waste from concentrated animal rearing operations known as “feedlots” repeatedly cause contamination and disease outbreaks . The mass production methods necessitated by humanity’s voracious appetite for meat are actually changing the nutrient composition of that meat in the process.

However, meat eaters aren’t likely to change their habits any time soon. It is a passionate and diverse market, 7bn people strong, and is worth $750bn globally each year. It spans a variety of meat and poultry types, flavours, textures, geographies and must cater to all cultural preferences and budgets. So far, no single plant-based protein substitute has managed to break into the mainstream as a trusted, sought after and viable alternative to buying meat.

Possibly because… none of them are actually meat.

After a careful global search, taking into consideration both taste and science, we have come to the belief that Upside Foods leads the field in finding a sustainable solution that meat eaters will actually enjoy.

Because…well, it’s real meat. Minus the inefficiency and the environmental impact of rearing and slaughtering animals.

Upside Foods has successfully produced beef, chicken and duck directly from the cells of those animals, replicating the growth process an animal’s body goes through to end up in the same place, with both flavour and texture to boot. They, and others in their industry, aptly call it .

Jointly led by two of our food and agriculture sustainability-focused Partners, Carolina Brochado and Siraj Khaliq , we are extremely proud today to announce our participation in the company’s $17m Series A fundraising round, led by our friends over at DFJ in Silicon Valley, and alongside global entrepreneurial leaders including Bill Gates and Richard Branson. This marks the first public commitment to the clean meat movement by top venture investors, meat industry leaders and mission-driven groups.

Upside Foods plans to use the funds to continue developing delicious clean meat products, to accelerate its work in scaling up production, and to reduce costs to levels comparable to — and ultimately below — conventional meat. The company expects to quadruple its headcount, and has already begun growing its team of chefs, scientists, creatives and business people.

When they are ready, we will be on hand with our global Growth Acceleration team to help Upside Foods bring their revolutionary products to the world’s largest markets — China, Europe, Japan and Latin America.

At Atomico, we look for the most ambitious founders, the people who want to build the next global category leaders or create companies that change a fundamental component of how our economy and society work. In Dr Uma Valeti and Dr Nick Genovese, we have truly found founders who match. If they succeed, they will make one of the most lasting impacts imaginable for humanity and the planet. We are excited to help them realize this huge ambition, and immensely proud to be part of their journey.