Lower cost and more sustainable feedstocks essential for microbial fermentation to flourish, says Synthesis Capital after launching $300m food tech fund

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

'Just like we can’t rely on coconut fat for all plant-based meat products, we can’t rely on glucose to fuel every fermentation process…’ Synthesis Capital co-founders Rosie Wardle, Costa Yiannoulis, and David Welch. Image credit: Synthesis Capital
'Just like we can’t rely on coconut fat for all plant-based meat products, we can’t rely on glucose to fuel every fermentation process…’ Synthesis Capital co-founders Rosie Wardle, Costa Yiannoulis, and David Welch. Image credit: Synthesis Capital

Related tags: Food tech, Microbial fermentation, recombinant protein

While much of the press coverage in food tech is devoted to brands making meat, egg, and dairy alternatives, these technologies will only be scalable – and sustainable - if we pay the same level of attention to the enabling technologies underpinning them, says Synthesis Capital, which has just launched what it claims is the world’s largest dedicated food tech venture capital fund.

The fund - with over $300m* in capital commitments – is anchored by private equity pioneer Jeremy Coller, through CPT Capital, with a cornerstone investment from Société Familiale d’Investissements, and will be deployed in around 15 companies globally, with an average check size of $15m.

Some of this capital may go to firms in the plant-based, single-cell, recombinant, and cultivated meat verticals. But equal emphasis will be placed on enabling technologies, from synthetic biology to bioprocess science, precision breeding and gene editing, Synthesis Capital co-founder and CSO Dr David Welch told FoodNavigator-USA.  

‘Just like we can’t rely on coconut fat for all plant-based meat products, we can’t rely on glucose to fuel every fermentation process…’

When it comes to microbial fermentation, for example, whereby firms are growing microbes such as fungi strains as protein-packed whole food sources (biomass), or using them as microscopic food factories to produce everything from ‘animal-free’ dairy proteins to flavors, colors and sweeteners (precision fermentation), “lower cost and more sustainable feedstocks are essential” ​if the segment is to “capture the market share predictions we see in market reports,” ​said Welch.

“Just like we can’t rely on coconut fat for all plant-based meat products, we can’t rely on glucose to fuel every fermentation process ​[most companies are currently using corn-derived feedstocks].

“The challenge is finding source materials that are straightforward to process into a feedstock that doesn’t significantly reduce fermentation efficiency or require complex bioreactor and purification systems. This is one reason I’m excited about our portfolio company Arkeon. Their archea platform uses CO2 as its primary carbon source and a simple retrofit of standard bioreactor to sparge in the CO2.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of interesting developments around sustainable feedstocks, circular processes that utilize side streams from multiple industries, and synthetic biology innovations that rewire microbes to use alternate feedstocks.”

‘Some of the most important areas of focus are the less hyped enabling technologies that will accelerate scale and efficiency’

More generally, he said, Synthesis is looking at a lot of ‘under the radar’ technologies that will drive scale and efficiency: “I think some of the most important ​[areas of focus​] are the less hyped enabling technologies that will accelerate scale and efficiency. For example, we hear a lot about AI and machine learning, which are important tools, but big data is arguably more important. Companies that are allocating time and resources to the generation of large data sets to the power of predictive algorithms will be more successful in the long term.

“In addition, we need new bioprocessing technologies to lower the costs of fermentation and animal cell cultivation. I’m excited about companies combining chemical engineering and next generation materials to develop lower cost and more sustainable bioreactors and downstream purification systems that are designed for large scale food applications.”

Investments to date

Synthesis Capital portfolio companies to date include cultivated meat co Upside Foods​; Perfect Day​, which deploys precision fermentation to make dairy proteins without cows; and Redefine Meat​, which has developed proprietary and scalable 3D printing technology to create whole-cuts of plant-based meat.

It has also invested in platforms and enabling technologies with potential to be applied across the industry such as Culture Biosciences​, a ‘biomanufacturing-as-a-service’ platform.

The “unsustainable, animal-reliant food industry​” is at a critical inflection point with a growing number of mouths to feed with limited resources, with challenges exacerbated by climate change, the pandemic, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, said Synthesis Capital, which is based in London, with operations in the US, UK, and Guernsey.

* The Fund also received significant commitments from Nuveen (a TIAA company), Credit Suisse Climate Innovation Fund, Sir Ronald Cohen through Dynamic Loop Capital, DisruptAD (ADQ’s venture platform), The Nest, Heyi Holdings, trusts associated with the Sainsbury family, Interogo Holding (advised by IH International Advisors), WTT Investment Ltd (Tsai Family Office), and CIFF, amongst others.

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