The next generation of fermentation technology: Why we invested in Standing Ovation and MicroHarvest
At Astanor we are convinced that a fundamental change of our food system is inevitable and necessary (turn to co-founder Eric Archambeau’s new book Costing the Earth for more on that). Fermentation technology, i.e. controlled microbial growth and the conversion of food components through enzymatic reaction, has the potential to be a major driver of that change (see Why we invested in planetary).
That is why we are proud to announce our Series A investments in Standing Ovation and MicroHarvest. Two companies representing the next generation of fermentation technology newcomers who are breaking research and implementation frontiers to tackle the biggest problems of our time. Both ventures are tackling the production of proteins of the future from two very different angles.
Standing Ovation: Making the case for caseins
Paris-based Standing Ovation has developed the technology to make high-quality and cost-effective cheese with the same composition and taste as traditional cheese but without any animal protein. All of the components of cheese can be found in sources other than animal milk, except for caseins — they’re the proteins that give cheese its unique taste, texture and aroma. Unfortunately, caseins are notoriously tricky to make which is why current alternatives fall short of animal-based cheese in terms of taste, nutrition and texture.
In addition to the moral questions raised by industrial dairy practices, there are clear environmental benefits in finding viable alternatives: cattle and dairy cows are one of the largest sources of GHG emissions, and livestock takes up nearly 80% of global agricultural land while producing only 20% of the world’s supply of calories. To produce 1 liter of regular milk, 144 liters of water are needed. Cheese in particular produces among the highest emissions per kg of product — around 24kg of CO2eq to be precise.
That’s why we were so excited when we met Frédéric Paques and Romain Chayot. Both are experienced biotechnologists in the field of microbial fermentation, who have surrounded themselves with specialists in the food and cheese industries. With their expertise, Standing Ovation was able to develop a truly innovative technological process to manufacture casein through fermentation. This allows them to make their own cheese that does not fall short on aroma, texture, taste or nutrition. Of course, the results are truly delicious. After successfully validating the technology, the company will now work towards commercial scale and regulatory approval so you can soon taste for yourself!
MicroHarvest: Need for speed
MicroHarvest product samples are not equally as cheesy as those over at Standing Ovation, but their approach is just as interesting. While Standing Ovation cracked the code for one of the most difficult proteins to produce in the food field, MicroHarvest developed one of the fastest scaling protein fermentation processes out there to bring nutritious and sustainable microbial proteins to the masses. A particularly pressing challenge considering that protein demand is expected to double by 2050 due to growth in population size and its level of wealth.
The venture has designed an ‘elegantly simple’ fermentation technology approach that can be scaled in a decentralized way to produce single-cell proteins for different use cases varying from pet and human food to animal feed. MicroHarvest’s main differentiating factor evolves around unparalleled production speed: raw materials can be turned into final protein products within a single day (compared to months for plant-based or animal protein). This extraordinary exponential growth of biomass is made possible by the company’s proprietary technology.
MicroHarvest is led by highly complementary founders. CEO Kate Bekers combines both biotech expertise and business development acumen, CTO Luisa Cruz spent her entire academic and professional career in bioprocessing and COO Jonathan Roberz has been successful as an entrepreneur since graduating high school. Similar to the growth rate of their bacteria, the team has been able to achieve notable development milestones. To keep the momentum, a pilot plant will be built soon. At scale, MicroHarvest products can become a significant contributor to the urgently needed transition towards sustainable, affordable proteins. In addition, the decentralized production empowers the development towards more food independence and supply chain resilience.
Where do we go from here?
With the fresh capital injection and ambitious roadmaps ahead, both companies will expand their teams. If you want to contribute to the future of fermentation technology-based food production, we recommend you reach out to the teams. Our team at Astanor is certainly looking forward to accompanying them as they continue their impact journeys.
Astanor Ventures is an impact investor that backs ambitious entrepreneurs across the world with disruptive, scalable solutions that will create systemic change across the agrifood value chain, from soil to gut. Astanor partners with founders who are committed to restoring balance and sustainability to the land and oceans, prioritizing nature and culture, nurturing change and feeding growth.