Local biotech start-up TurtleTree Labs wins $1m green challenge with cell-based milk

Mr Max Rye (left) and Ms Fengru Lin (2nd from left) were presented the $1 million winning award by Mr Lim Hock Chuan, chief executive of Temasek Foundation Ecosperity. PHOTO: ECO-BUSINESS

SINGAPORE - A Singapore-based start-up is the winner of the annual Liveability Challenge, a global platform which calls for companies to come up with innovative solutions for sustainability in tropical cities.

The challenge saw more than 400 participants from over 60 countries compete for the award, which is sponsored by local non-profit organisation Temasek Foundation.

From innovative food-wrapping film to cell-based dairy alternatives, the six finalists pitched solutions to help tropical cities like Singapore reduce waste, minimise emissions and work towards becoming greener.

Local biotech start-up TurtleTree Labs was named the winner on Wednesday (July 8) at a virtual live stream of the event, and was awarded a $1 million fund.

The brainchild of co-founders Fengru Lin, 32, and Max Rye, 40, the company leverages cell-based methods to produce full-composition milk, and it is able to do so by reducing the carbon footprint of milk production by 98 per cent, compared to that of dairy milk.

Partnering with the top five dairy companies in the world, the start-up is working towards upscaling its production, with targets to produce some 50,000 litres of milk by the end of next year.

On top of the $1 million fund, TurtleTree Labs also won a $100,000 investment, introductions to at least 10 impact investors with mentoring, and a spot on an accelerator programme with Planet Rise, a Singapore-based impact investment firm.

This year's competition focuses on three themes - urban food production, circular packaging and de-carbonisation.

It is organised by Singapore-based media organisation Eco-Business, which focuses on sustainable development, and it is convened by Closed Loop Partners, a New York-based investment firm which focuses on building the circular economy.

One of the judges at the event, Mr Lim Hock Chuan, chief executive of Temasek Foundation Ecosperity, who oversees sustainability programmes, said: "This is a win for both sustainable use of our resources and for our food security in the long term.

"We are happy to support their effort to bring awareness to disruptive food-tech solutions, and look forward to seeing their innovation (scale) up successfully beyond milk, (and) into other dairy products."

The Liveability Challenge is in its third edition this year and it is supported by 54 partners from around the world.

Singapore-registered company Sophie's Kitchen, now re-named Sophie's BioNutrients, was last year's winner for its technology solution, which produces food-grade protein flour using microalgae as an alternative to animal- and plant-based protein.

Mr Eugene Wang, co-founder and chief executive officer of the company, said the $1 million funding has been spent primarily on plans to scale up its manufacturing capacity for the business.

The first laboratory and fermentation factory will be set up in Singapore at the end of this year.

The company has now scaled up production with a manufacturer, and has produced a few hundred kilos of protein flour so far.

It is continuing its research and development efforts to improve its current production capability.

Mr Wang said: "So far, this has proven to us that our technology is viable, so we are now working to bring down costs of our final product, so that it can be more affordable in consumer markets."

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