by Heidi Roizen, Partner, Threshold Ventures
Uma Valeti may seem an unlikely candidate to run a revolutionary food company. As a successful Mayo Clinic trained cardiologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, he already had a burgeoning career in medicine, which included using emerging technology to grow replacement heart parts from stem cells. But, as someone who had been aware of the challenges facing the livestock industry since he was a child, Uma believed there was a much more impactful use for this technology — to grow meat from animal cells. So, Uma left his practice in 2015 and partnered up with stem cell biologist Dr. Nicholas Genovese to make his vision a reality.
The mission of Uma and his team at Memphis Meats is nothing short of world-changing.
Today, over a third of the arable land on earth is utilized in the production of meat for human consumption. Add to this the billions of tons per year of greenhouse gasses created by livestock, and the rising attractiveness of meat consumption (predicted to double by 2050) and you have the makings of a massive, global crisis.
When we first met Uma and Nick, they were in the process of relocating to Berkeley and setting up shop. We got to sample some duck they had grown from animal cells, precious fare at approximately $2,500 a pound to create. It tasted, well, exactly like duck! Because it is, in fact, duck, just not grown from inside a living animal.
We had conviction that not only was this a massive market facing issues insurmountable with current practices, but also that we were in the presence of the people who had the passion, vision, and deep technical chops to discover the breakthroughs needed to make cell-based meat a reality at massive scale and at a price that would be attractive to consumers.
We closed the Series A in July of 2017, and have been blown away by the progress made since then.
Fast-forward to today, and Memphis Meats has developed a “meat making” platform that can produce chicken, beef and duck with other species now under development. The company’s innovative work on identifying the most delicious and highest quality animal cells and developing essential cell feed (what the cells ‘eat’) has created a drop in cost of multiple orders of magnitude, and their custom cultivators are consistently performing as hoped.
While Memphis Meats still has much work to do, the trajectory they have been on is truly remarkable, and the recent $161 million investment they are announcing today will further enable this uniquely capable team to scale their technology and bring their products to market.
Memphis Meats has pioneered and led the cell-based meat industry with its unique “big tent” philosophy.
This philosophy goes to the core of the company’s founding. It’s essentially a deeply held belief that Uma talks about constantly: that nearly everyone in the world can get behind producing real meat without slaughter and with time, resources and the indomitable spirit (another core value) of their team, Memphis Meats can do just that. This round of support — which is nearly 10X larger than their prior round and one of the largest series B rounds for a food company in recent history — solidifies their leadership and offers them an incredible boost to go after a truly inspiring vision.
It is our joy to work with passionate, mission-driven entrepreneurs who make the world a better place. Uma, Nick, and the Memphis Meats team are an inspiration to us and we are beyond excited to be on this journey with them.