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Where’s the money: These 15CK food startups raised VC funding last quarter

U.S. approves cultivated meat for commercial sale and sustainable shrimp farming gets a boost.

Tractor robot in the field

 Ecorobotix's autonomous spraying robots in the fields can help famers apply nutrients more precisely. Image courtesy of  Ecorobotix.

With summer getting into full gear, it’s time for another set of quarterly roundups. As always, we’ll first look at the startup scene and, after a July 4th holiday break next week, turn our attention to the bigger food and agriculture companies. Let me know if you’ve been working on something exciting we should include over the past months. 

Last week’s approval of cultivated meat for commercial sale in the U.S. has probably been the most notable innovation news of the quarter, and we’ll take a closer look at the sector’s growth below. We also unpack major agtech developments and spotlight emerging sustainable fisheries investments. 

Cultivated meat got commercial clearance in the U.S. 

Last Wednesday marked a historic moment in the alternative protein world. Two California-based cultivated meat companies — Good Meat (a subsidiary of Eat Just) and Upside Foods — completed the third and final step to receive commercial approval for sale of their products in the U.S. This means that both companies’ products and manufacturing processes have been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

Following Singapore, the announcement makes the U.S. the second country in the world to approve cultivated meat products. But consumers still need patience. Good Meat and Upside Foods have yet to scale up manufacturing or announce details about their collaboration with celebrity chefs José Andrés and Dominique Crenn, respectively, as each company’s debut into the consumer market.

Despite this encouraging news, cultivated meat consumption still remains in the far future for mainstream consumers. Costs remain high, and startups need to overcome a series of roadblocks that stand in the way of large-scale manufacturing — but progress continues to be made, as this quarter’s investments and other updates show. 

Here are a few examples:

  • Omeat, a Los Angeles-based company producing cheaper and more ethical growth factors for cultivated meat, came out of stealth mode with a $40 million round. 

  • The Netherlands showed progress with Mosa Meatopening a new production facility in Maastricht and Meatable announcing decreased pork cultivation time from three weeks to eight days.

  • The U.K. government directed $15.2 million to a new cellular agriculture research center led by the University of Bath to support the industry’s scaling efforts. 

So the sector continues to advance, and I expect that the U.S. regulatory approval will give investors and governments worldwide more confidence to dial up support for this climate technology.

Money still flows into digitizing agriculture 

This quarter came with a diverse set of updates in the agtech space. The two major clusters I’ve seen evolve around crop protection and digital farm management tools. 

Switzerland’s Ecorobotix cashed the largest check in the crop protection space with a  $52 million round. It’s working on bringing its automated precision spraying robots for row crops and pastures to the Americas. 

Carbon Robotics also brought in a big win with a $30 million round. The startup develops an autonomous robot that uses AI and laser technology to eliminate weeds in fields without damaging crops or disturbing soil. 

Guardian Agriculture came in third with a $20 million series A, with which it aims to expand its autonomous drones to provide precision crop protection. 

This quarter’s second agtech trend again evolved around smart farm management tools. Many startups want to help farmers digitize their operations for more precise management of inputs and outputs and to measure environmental metrics such as soil carbon, water and biodiversity. 

The startups cashing in big this quarter include Agreena ($50 million), Greenlabs (38.4 million), CropX ($30 million) and Chrysalabs ($11 million). 

An additional agtech win worth knowing about evolved around more sustainable livestock. Kansas-based Vytelle bagged $20 million to improve cattle genetics with an integrated technology platform that allows the industry to speed up genetic improvements for production efficiency.  

Sustainable shrimp is catching a wave

Just in time for the summer seafood season, there was a significant uptick in investment in aquaculture. 

At the end of May, Indonesian eFishery  became the first aquaculture startup to reach unicorn status by raising a $108 million Series D. The company deploys a digital farm management system that hones production efficiency across its operations, such as a smart feeding schedule. By increasing productivity and decreasing land use, eFishery hopes to reduce deforestation rates and other environmental problems associated with shrimp farming in Indonesia. 

Over in Vietnam, Tepbac raised $2.24 million to improve the productivity and sustainability of the country’s thriving shrimp farming sector. 

Providing American consumers with a local solution to the shrimp industry’s environmental problems, Indianapolis-based Atarraya  intends to raise a $25 million soon. It produces shrimp in urban containers and expects to have 40 installed around the city by the end of this year. If the production process scales successfully, consumers around the world could gain access to locally farmed and sustainable shrimp. 

Finally, Kenya’s Victory Farms raised a $35 million series B. Thus far, the startup has focused on building a large-scale tilapia farm in Lake Victoria to address rapidly declining fish catch and contribute to regional food security. The funding influx will allow the innovators to grow existing operations in Kenya and Rwanda and expand into Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania. 

This emerging focus on seafood likely won’t be a temporary trend. With $185 million in March, SWEN Capital Partners raised the world’s largest venture capital fund focused on ocean regeneration. Ocean 14 Capital is nearing the finish line of raising a $168 million fund for sustainable marine ecosystems and ocean-based food production. 

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Atarraya had raised a $25 million round. Atarraya intends to raise a $25 million round soon.

This article originally appeared as part of our Food Weekly newsletter. Subscribe to get sustainability food news in your inbox every Thursday.

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