Bill Gates and Richard Branson are throwing their weight behind a startup that promises to change the way we eat. The two billionaires are a part of a large consortium that invested $17 million in Memphis Meats, a clean meat company that grows animal tissue from stem cells. Other investors in the round include food giant Cargill, venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), Former GE Chairman Jack Welch and his wife Suzy, Twitch founder Kyle Vogt and food entrepreneur Kimbal Musk.
“We’re going to bring meat to the plate in a more sustainable, affordable and delicious way,” said Memphis Meats Co-founder and CEO Uma Valeti, M.D., in a press release. “The world loves to eat meat, and it is core to many of our cultures and traditions. Meat demand is growing rapidly around the world. We want the world to keep eating what it loves. However, the way conventional meat is produced today creates challenges for the environment, animal welfare and human health.”
The company has already managed to produce beef, chicken and duck from stem cells and unveiled its poultry offering in March. Last year, it released a clean version of the meat ball.
According to OECD data, more than 28,790 thousand tonnes of beef and poultry meat was consumed in the U.S. in 2015. Those numbers alone offer a huge potential for companies looking at sustainable ways to produce meat.
The other valuable aspect of producing meat this way is the environmental benefit. For many years, environmental groups have argued that rearing animals for meat production leads to higher greenhouse gas emissions. In 2011, the Environmental Working Group produced its Meat Eater’s Guide citing data from research firm CleanMetrics that pegged carbon dioxide emission per kg of beef produced at 15.23 kg.
Both Gates and Branson support various environmental campaigns through their respective charity foundations. Last year, they invested in a $1 billion green energy fund to fight climate change.
Given the potential, the niche also attracts investors.
“Clean meat is an enormous technological shift for humanity, and an opportunity to invest in something so important does not come along often,” said DFJ Partner Steve Jurvetson. “This is a moment where the investment potential and the potential to do good for the world are both off the charts.
That is evident from the fact that Memphis Meats is not the only company working on alternative meat production techniques. Impossible Foods, another California-based start firm, manufactures meats and cheeses entirely from plants. The company has so far managed to raise $275 million in five equity rounds with the backing of Temasek Holdings and UBS, according to data from Crunchbase.