Investment Notes: Vow

The need to sustainably meet the world’s growing demand for protein has fueled the growth of the cellular (or cultivated) meat industry, which has attracted more than US $350 million in venture capital to date. While the industry is still nascent, it is rapidly evolving: Singapore issued the first-ever regulatory approval for a cellular meat product in 2020 and US-based company Eat Just made the world’s first commercial sale just a few weeks ago. 

Most of the companies developing cellular meat products are in the business of replicating and directly substituting commonly consumed meat options (e.g., beef, chicken, pork, salmon, etc.). But Vow, our fourth investment, is taking a novel approach to cellular meat: creating an entirely new category of food, rather than competing with conventional products.

We invested in a US$6M round, led by Square Peg Capital, alongside Blackbird Ventures and Grok Ventures. Here are our investments notes.

What they do: make meat better than animals

Vow is a Sydney-based cellular agriculture company that makes meat products designed to be better and more delicious than anything animals could produce alone. Vow’s business model is based on building a proprietary, technology-enabled library of animal cells and optimizing across food science and manufacturing to create a house of brands that targets premium, niche experiences (initially) through to mass market consumers (eventually).

Vow is creating a new category of products, rather than competing with existing products that consumers are familiar with. Vow currently operates a “vertically integrated” model to achieve this: they have built, and are optimizing across, the end to end process from cell line identification through to end product development. 

In 2019, Vow’s Kangaroo Dumpling became the first cellular meat product to be made from an undomesticated animal, and in 2020, celebrity chef Neil Perry presented six different dishes made using six different meats produced by Vow. Vow’s growing library of cells is the largest of its kind, housing more animal species than any other company in the industry. 

Why we love it: novel, tech-enabled food production

Vow is daring to be differentiated and bold. Their vision isn’t merely about replacing what we know and are comfortable with, but also defining a new category of products that are designed to be even better. 

Competing with conventional meat products is really hard-- most of us are experts in what burgers taste and feel like, so it’s not easy to make a convincing substitute. Further, most cell-ag companies are setting themselves up to compete in commodity categories, where getting to price parity while maintaining sustainability credentials will be a big challenge. Vow, on the other hand, is changing our understanding of meat as we know it today. 97% of meat consumed today comes from 0.02% animal species- Vow is exploring the other 99.98% of species in a quest to deliver the best possible culinary experiences. 

Supporting Vow’s ambitious vision is a tech-enabled R&D and manufacturing process. In a unique blend of best practice biotech & software development, they are investing in custom tools and automation to rapidly increase efficiencies at each stage of the product development process. These efficiency gains have enabled them to run experiments in 2-week sprints to test hypotheses and collect data about what works--both in terms of production processes as well as product characteristics (i.e., what tastes good, has the right texture, etc.)--and to more rapidly, and cost effectively, develop and iterate new products. The ability to experiment and quickly learn and adapt is crucial for developing a portfolio of new products that are tailored to customer needs.

Alternative proteins: the great debate

There’s no doubt that the alternative protein sector, including both plant-based and cellular meats, has generated a lot of buzz and solicited a wide range of opinions. There are those who think alternative proteins will and should displace conventional agriculture, those who believe both production systems can co-exist, and those who doubt that alternative proteins are better or viable. 

We believe in a future with multiple sources of sustainable protein, including from animals. And yet, we don’t expect the debate on alternative proteins to fade anytime soon. In fact, we think that consumer-focused, tech-enabled innovation led by companies like Vow is critical to building a carbon neutral and climate change resilient food system. 

We are proud to back Vow and their bold, ambitious vision to push our collective imaginations and culinary experiences to a new frontier.

Sound interesting? They’re hiring :) 

Are you a startup revolutionizing agriculture? Get in touch with Tenacious Ventures.

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