Shiru: An Investment in the Future, One Alternative Protein at a Time

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Lux takes pride in investing in people inventing the future. But the future for generations to come is increasingly at risk due to the unsustainable use of global physical resources — a large proportion of which can be directly attributed to agriculture and the production and consumption of animal proteins.

70% of global fresh water is currently used for agriculture — most of that for meat. Roughly ¼ of the world’s arable land is utilized for livestock, and ⅓ of the world’s cropland is used as food for animals. Meanwhile, meat consumption only continues to rise — up 7x in China over the last 35 years. There is simply not enough clean water and arable land to meet the global growing demand. According to a recent authoritative report published by the World Bank and United Nations, continuing to feed the world’s population at this pace until 2050 will “entail clearing most of the world’s remaining forests, wiping out thousands more species, and releasing enough GHG emissions to exceed the 1.5° C and 2° C warming targets enshrined in the Paris Agreement — even if emissions from all other human activities were entirely eliminated.”

With this gloomy backdrop, it is no surprise that we’ve seen a recent proliferation of “food tech” companies emerge to help take on this challenge — from consumer burger replacements to dairy alternatives. We’ve seen a number of such different approaches taking on particular facets of the supply chain or targeting individual use cases on the consumer side.

But in our view, one company clearly rose to the top — harnessing rapid advances in computing and precision fermentation to develop an iterative approach to search for the best natural proteins and optimize them via machine learning.

We are thrilled to announce Shiru’s $3.5M seed funding, led by Lux Capital and joined by investors including S2G, CPT, and Y Combinator.

Shiru is the first and only food technology company applying machine learning to produce better protein — developing the only database linking protein structure to food specific functionality and validating computational hits via high throughput functionality screening. With this model, the applications for custom and precision manufacturing are virtually limitless. An open source model for biology makes for a much more efficient and resilient process than the anachronistic livestock production status quo — with orders of magnitude more efficiency in land, water, feedstock, and time. And Shiru is approaching it one ingredient at a time, with a unique business model that offers enhanced protein solutions for companies struggling to keep up with innovation.

But it wasn’t just Shiru’s model that gave us conviction. Shiru’s founder, Dr. Jasmin Hume, was a key factor in the equation. Jasmin wrote her PhD dissertation on the topic of engineering the organic/inorganic interface between proteins and metal nanoparticles for the creation of novel biomaterials; she was also previously Director of Food Chemistry at JUST Foods. And Lux has had the pleasure of knowing Jasmin for years — ever since she was a summer associate in our NYC office while completing her PhD. Her passion and conviction — coupled with deep technical grounding and a clear understanding of what it takes to get traction in industry — are the ideal ingredients to grow this company into the breakthrough business we believe it will become.

Shiru is an investment in the future in every sense of the word; they are just getting started, and we look forward to partnering with Jasmin through this next chapter in the company’s growth.

Written by

Partner at Lux Capital. Investing in breakthrough technologies and teams advancing humanity. Formerly GV, Google, Google.org and U.S. Dept of State/USAID.

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