Hello tofu steak: US$50m fund launched in Singapore to help grow meat clones

Dumplings by Shiok Meats, which are made with shrimp grown from shrimp cells.
Dumplings by Shiok Meats, which are made with shrimp grown from shrimp cells.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Up for grabs is US$50 million (S$68 million) for those who can produce proteins of the future, be it lab-grown meat or tofu that tastes like steak.

The fund, backed by the likes of Temasek Holdings and meat-giant Tyson Foods, has already put money into Shiok Meats, a local start-up working on lab-grown seafood.

It was launched on Thursday (April 25) on the sidelines of the 2019 Food for the Future Summit - and is part of a push to make Singapore a global food tech investment hub.

The fund, run by American venture firm Big Idea Ventures, intends to make investments in more than 100 companies over the next four years.

Mr Andrew Ive, managing director of Big Idea Ventures, told The Straits Times that the company would invest mainly in companies with the technology to create plant-based proteins.

He hopes to collect around US$100 million in funds, to give more companies a shot at scaling up their business.

"Starting with $250,000 in seed funding, we will work with them every day for five months to grow their business," he said, adding that 25 per cent of the best-performing companies in this fund accelerator would be given an additional $3 million in funds to grow their business.

 
 
 

Mr Ive said investing in these new companies would allow for more variations of plant-based alternative proteins to be developed across the world.

"This could have the most positive effect on climate change, and animal welfare. While people are moving towards a flexitarian diet, we need more innovation as well in the plant-based foods category," Mr Ive said, referring to a semi-vegetarian diet.

"Food matters, and we have some big challenges over the next decades. Entrepreneurs will solve these challenges for us, by creating really great-tasting, efficiently produced plant-based foods. I think plant-based foods will ultimately be part of the big solution, to make sure we have enough food for the future," Mr Ive said.

The fund is setting up offices in New York and in Singapore.

Mr Ive said the New York office would give companies in the North American market access to the funds, while the Singapore office would work with companies in the region.

Using science and technology to produce novel food that is safe to eat remains a priority locally.

Mr Lim Kok Thai, CEO of the new Singapore Food Agency, said at the summit that Singapore should work on science and technological innovations, to grow more with less in a sustainable manner.

"Global food production faces challenges to keep up with the increased demand due to scarcity of resources like land, water and energy," he said, adding that the production yields in agriculture might further be affected by the impacts of climate change such as extreme temperature, droughts and floods from rising sea levels.

"We want to expand agriculture production in high-tech, controlled environments. The future of farming will be more like manufacturing," said Mr Lim.