The Upside (and Downside) of Cultivated Meat

Um well we're all familiar by now I Think with the fact that meat is a major Contributor to carbon uh in our Atmosphere CO2 emissions uh we're all Addicted to it chicken and pork and beef Um and uh but what if we just grew it in The lab And reduce those carbon emissions Greatly and and it tasted good and Basically we're all still happy so to Talk about this Uma valetti who's founder and CEO of Upside Foods is aiming to do just that To grow all of our meat in the lab and To get consumers to literally take a Bite so please welcome him along with TechCrunch reporter Christine Hall who's Going to moderate this session Round of Applause everyone [Applause] [Music] [Music] Thank you [Music] Thank you [Music] [Music] [Music] Foreign Foreign [Music] [Music] [Music] Thank you

[Music] [Applause] Everyone was so excited the lights went Off it's good Well great well so upside Foods has Raised over 600 million dollars toward The cultivation toward cultivated meat And in a recent article you talked about How what upside Foods is doing is not Easy in fact you likened it to putting a Man on the moon so level with us all of Us out here what's more challenging Scaling or getting people to eat it Scaling we have lots of people wanting To eat it right now we just can't make Enough yeah that's and that's one of the Things I wanted to ask too Um you know there are reports that are Suggesting that upside Foods hasn't been Able to make the large-scale quantity Meat that you want to what's the problem There well we are trying to scale to Make meat that will go to Consumer Markets at a price they can afford okay Therefore what we've done so far with The product that's on the market now is To win with an iconic not start product That shows the potential of what Cultivated meat is so we picked the Hardest thing to do we said let's Reproduce The Taste the texture the Flavor of a full chicken whole cut Breast a chicken filet and when people Taste that

They're shocked they're like this is the Flavor explosion in our mouth If you can do this why would I not sign Up and that that was a better product we Wanted to get it out now what we're Doing in the next Generation products is All about scale Okay that's where we built an epic and Manufacturing facility we opened about a Year and a half ago we've commissioned It in the last nine months we've been Continuously making stuff that can go to Scale in our next Generation products it Can go up to tens of thousands of pounds And we just announced last week we're Going to come to Chicago We're coming to Midwest we just announced a 140 million Dollar production facility that can make Millions of pounds of meat now this is Innovation it has to go in steps right And so is is the facility would you say That that's the problem or is it people Facilities and or people well this is an Industry that hasn't existed 10 years Ago okay and that's the reality so we Had to make sure we put it in the Context the idea is transformative the Idea is to say let's look back 50 years From now and there is cultivated meat as A choice at every place you get meat in Order to do that it's not disruption It's transformation over years and Decades and so the first step is to show People love the product that's what

We've done so far in getting to first Sale industry has been seven years old We went through two of the most toughest Regulatory agencies in the world both The FDA and the USDA to get a stamp of Approval for safety okay The next step is going from first sale To formidable scale And that is the Journey of scalability It's not easy But I have more conviction now than I Found when I founded the company in 2015 That our team is going to be able to get Us across to that line of showing we can Do formidable scale okay Well will it also take a lot of money Like are you going to need to raise more Money in order to get the facilities to To do the large-scale production we're Fortunate that we raised 400 million Last year and we are still still sitting On most of it so we will be able to Build a facility in Chicago okay but the Idea of doing that is to show now we're Talking industrial scale now we are Talking about taking products that can Start showing the pathway To lower cost and show the box that Works okay now There is 1.7 trillion dollars of meat That's sold in the world in which case It's being made in facilities that are Hundreds of billions of dollars Therefore we need a lot of

Infrastructure and for this industry to Get to scale it offers opportunity for An enormous ecosystem of suppliers Manufacturers Distributors and lots of Companies because we're looking to open The door and be one of the people That'll say let's transform come join us Yeah and as pioneers and leaders that's Our responsibility and there'll be lots More Capital that needs to be erased in This industry okay great and I know you Said that Challenge Has been your strategy in getting Consumers to actually want to step up to Your plate and put their your cultivated Chicken in their mouth I mean the strategy is Let's make sure the product is as good As it can be Not wait for Perfection okay let's get a Great product out let's get as many People to taste it as quickly as Possible That's the magical moment people have to Taste it the second magical moment is Having people come and tour where it's Made okay It's not made in a lab it's made in a Clean production facility And when people walk out of our facility At Emeryville or the one in Chicago what We call as Rubicon They're going to be inspired

They're not going to be feeling like Walking out of a slaughterhouse where They're scarred for the rest of their Life now that's a magical moment and the Last one is when it's available for them Yeah when you mentioned this earlier you Know walk us through you know in terms Of like challenges walk us through what It was like to go through that Regulatory approval process Okay all right Uh we did not take regulation for Granted at all from Day from the day we Founded the company our employee number Six was a regulator who worked the FDA For six years okay the PHD in stem cell Biology cell biology and we're like it Is really important for us to start Working with The Regulators from day one So we're not moving fast and breaking Things but building the bridges to say Here so we're establishing a framework Of how you could grow animal cells With clean nutrients in a clean Production facility and make a product That is safe that's going to take years Of dialogue so we've been in dialogue With them for many many years Yeah what would you say was kind of the Government's biggest hang up with this Well I think that what we've learned is we've Worked with both both sides of the aisle Yeah because when we started the company

It was the Democrats Majority of the face of our company it Was Republicans and as we got regulatory Approved it was the Democrats okay we Realized that there's a bipartisan Appeal to this Okay which is the following one is Innovation and increment industry Have to coexist for America to maintain The leadership for food Security in the World And governments across the aisle Recognize that and they're like we need Innovation like this to stay in the United States that was very helpful the Second thing is both recognize that There are some hot button items related To climate And related to Animal Welfare And related to the environmental risks Of the society we live in and no matter Which side of the aisle you're on which Extreme you're on They all felt like it was worth giving a Chance to cultivated meat and it took Time to talk to people and say look you Might hear a lot of things that are Misconceptions mischaracterizations Intentional misrepresentations as can Happen in anything sure but we're just Asking for a chance so we can put a Choice on the table and then you can Decide and that was very helpful on both Sides of the aisle okay do you did you

Know with being able to talk to both Sides and then also them you know Wanting to keep this type of technology In the United States Did you have any kind of Leverage on That or you were just as you said really Taking this seriously and not trying to You know mess up anything I wouldn't use The term leverage because we just don't We have a different worldview we just Reject status call we just think status Quo is not okay and when we talk with Authenticity backed by A plan that can sustain the rigorous of Deep diligence and the questions and That we say this is our point of view And we're willing to learn No path to a transformative change is Going to be a perfectly linear line and When we recognize that and people who Interact with the recognize that this is A reasonable party to work with they're Not going to just blindly defend stuff They're doing if there's a point of Learning they'll learn I think that was Abundantly clear when we started talking About it and it's it'll always be part Of the DNA of the company yeah and since You were the first do you have a concern At all that Some of the some of your competitors are Now you know writing your coattails on This in terms of you know because I I Assume that all of this work was

Expensive it wasn't free so you know are You worried at all that people are Coming behind you I don't think so I mean the honest Answer is the reason I started this uh Is to get more people into it okay Because transformative change is not Going to happen with one company and one Team it's that team that has to inspire That change and it was really codified In like the first conversation I had With the Venture capitalists who find it As saying that we're going to set the Stage we're going to set the platform The ecosystem has to really see a Massive opportunity here to truly cause Change I didn't give up Cardiology to Come and do like a niche business I'm Here to say look this is a really Incredibly hard problem to solve I feel like my life in cardiology and Dealing with life and debt this since Every single day and bringing people Back to life that were declared dead on The field has prepared me for this and That's abundantly clear because there's Challenges but I believe these Challenges are not unsurmountable and We're going after it Okay great so it's safe to say that You're more optimistic now than you were Five years ago about this space I am Because look at what we've done in five Seven years ago the space did not exist

Let's look now we have 150 companies on The wall going after the space and every Major meat producing country We have undergrad and PHD programs in The top food and dag universities that Have been started we have regulatory Approval by two of the top regulatory Agencies in the world in the United States and in Singapore and other Countries doing it and lastly We have three billion dollars of Financing that went into it in the Absence of any meaningful significant Revenue shown so it tells you that this Is a idea that has captured people's Imagination and having a regulatory Approach having products served All of this has happened As we predicted and we are on track to Make the change we may miss a deadline Here or there are delayed but keep in Mind when we started this industry Kobe did not exist half of our lifetime As a company that is innovating with the Level of complexity we have Manufacturing regulatory has been during Covet if we didn't have that it would Have been a different story but we're Still here And now that you have approval in the United States are you going to go to Other countries now to to get approval There as well here's what we'd like to Do we'd like to be open we'd like to

Open up the regulatory Frameworks across The world and we're willing to help any Country that wants it or companies in Any country okay but we have a laser Focus on the United States because this Is where the Innovation started it's an American innovation the first company in The space is an American company that's Upside foods and we want to make sure we Get into the United States first and if We have the opportunity to go to other Countries or partner with we will okay If if scale wasn't a problem is is there Any challenges that you see that that Are in in the way of getting meet where It was where it needs to be Um well scale and cost are connected so My conviction is as we scale cost is Going to come down we'll start in the Premium and then we'll go to sub premium And we'll go into like mainstream and Then we'll be better than conventional In cost The other thing is there's a lot of Expectations for this to happen all Quickly all at once because there is a Lot of interest and I think being Patient is a must-have Keeping the view of this is not Disruption this is transformation it's a Very massive opportunities I must have And knowing that the path's not going to Be linear we're going to have like we're Going to have some gut punches along the

Way sure but that's par for the course And making sure that people who want to Have a true experience in this engage With this We have to learn how to communicate Better every single day and that is the Challenge I see not just cars and scale Because in the company we are like Trying to do a number of important Things sure and we're always going to be Ahead of what we can communicate where We are there's always going to be a gap And when we know there's a gap that's Relevant we'll close it as quickly as Possible but just being open to that and Saying look this is an aspirational Target this is where we are let's keep Closing the gap That's another challenge in terms of Cost it was you know during the pandemic When there was like a meat shortage The cost of meat you know traditional Meat went up and almost to Cost parity with cultivated meat in in a Way Um do you feel like that was a missed Opportunity in terms of trying to get More of the cultivated meat out there Because it was around the same price or You could get it you know closer to that Price well let me be clear we had no Regulatory approval to actually even go Into the market so that option didn't Exist okay but if in the future there is

An opportunity like that we'd like to Get there but we need to keep in mind That was a blip right it has to be about Consistent sustainable ability to feed People products they love so the Long-term Innovation is always there but Maybe this is a quarter to quarter Variation will be you know on the Lookout for things like that okay and You're now in restaurants right one Restaurant One Restaurant Um how what what did you have to do to Talk to them about you know taking a Risk on you and and betting on your Product Um look a lot of things in life happen Intentionally and a lot of things happen Fortuitously this one was a ladder where We started talking to Dominique kren and It was the pandemic she's like hey I'm Really curious about what you're doing I Took meat off my menu and I want to see What you're doing and we said okay well We can't take you into the labs because We can't get new people and we'll do an Outdoor cookout we did an outdoor Cookout took a few chicken breasts and Then once she saw the raw me she's like Okay can I just take over and cook She started cooking on the grill and she Just started like oh my gosh this is Sizzling oh my gosh it's Pikmin golden Brown like a you know chicken breast Would be and then she sliced it up and

Said oh there's chicken fibers I mean The muscle fibers what are these and Then she tasted it and she said Something that we had no idea that Existed in the world she said this Chicken tastes like lemon Rouge which Apparently is one of the most expensive Tasty chickens in the world out of France she grew up in France and she's Like did you know that I said no we Don't even know what level Rouge is She's like okay Um she's like I've been eating chicken In America for the last 20 years And this flavor does not exist our Palettes have become so Bland there was A explosion in her mind and she's like I Want to get this in my restaurant can I Be your first restaurant That's how it happened that's great well I'm sure we have a lot of Founders out In the audience that are wanting to get Into the cultivated meat industry if They haven't already what kind of advice Would you give to them I'd say it's one Of the most meaningful things that you Can get into and go after and solve Because there's enough problems to solve We want more people together to work With us I am very happy to help any Founder I've actually talked to the First 2025 Founders in cultivated meat Companies to think about the common Things that will help us all educating

Working with regulators and recognizing That there is going to be challenges Along the way and building this kind of Matrix and connective tissue is a Must-have let's not put our head in the Sand and be in stealth mode Let's talk About what we have to do so I'd say one Of the most meaningful opportunity Exists here this is technology life Sciences and food and the benefit is an Environment ethics like there's not many Opportunities like this And is the technology for cultivated Meat is that pretty much set in stone or Is there opportunity for innovation in This area look I we've been at The Cutting Edge of this for the last seven Years and we are still seeing enormous Amounts of opportunity there's a lot of Unknown opportunities here where like Which direction can we take like the Fundamental principles are very sound We're taking cells that are inside an Animal and saying let's grow it outside An animal Because the cell is already programmed To do what it's meant to do so it gives All the flavors and the textures and the Nutrients and let's find the best Quality feed for it let's grow it in a Clean environment and let's make Products out of it I think the palette Of products we can make are going to Completely be you know different an

Opportunity and speed than what we can Do in the confines of an animal okay Glad you brought up feed because Based industry It's really a high cost is that similar To cultivated meat as well right now yes And it will be for a while Here's why feed is basically a Combination of fats sugars proteins Vitamins minerals and growth signaling Molecules When you break it down and we take a Very dispassionate approach we don't Need to depend on animal for many of Those things but much of them used to Come from an animal source We've completely gotten rid of some Really difficult animal sources by Something called fetal Bowen serum where You have to take it from fetal caps and Well we don't need that anymore we use a We used for the first product a little Bit of adult serum of an animal And we don't have to do that for our Next generation of products now if we Had said I'll only go to market when I Have this whole thing done no one's Going to believe that this is actually Going to be worth it so we're like let's Take a very you know Pragmatic view of how do we get a Transformative Innovation to the table And the sequence is first depend on Animals then you depend on some animal

Components then you don't depend on any Animal components so you completely Detach it except that the animal cell Itself is what you need and we're Looking at developing an entire library Of animal breeds of cells okay that can Just grow and you don't have to go back To the animal and I think some Founders In in this industry don't exactly like The term you know lab-grown meat but it Sounds like that's kind of where it's Going where it's you know you're Reducing the the The the animal Instance and and are actually doing Something in the laboratory not in the Laboratory like I mean if let's say this If we're going to call what we're doing Laboratory meat or laboratory Foods then I think if you walk into a Safeway 90 Percent of the things that you'll buy And save here are actually designed and Made in labs in the first time And then they get out into a large clean Manufacturing food facility which is What we have in California which is what Will happen in in Illinois in Chicago Therefore people have to walk through And say oh what is this headline telling Me this is this is not a lab this is the Cleanest production facility I've seen It is massive it's you know 100 100 000 Square feet 200 000 square feet there is No lab that is doing work in that area

So it looked like a a brewery that's Probably the closest analogy okay okay Great Um and just a little bit more for for Our Founders out there Um going back to talking about the Regulatory process what advice do you Have for them to initially go after that Because I mean now that now that there Is approval for people you know the Companies still have to go after it Themselves it's not just a given so what Do you have advice do you have for them Going after that well the regulatory Process is something that is real and You know for food for medicines you have The most regulated environment that you Can think of because this is going to Have to be Passing a much higher bar than maybe Something else therefore I think you Should be prepared for it the earliest Members on your team should be from some Regulatory experience so they understand The language because a lot of this is Language and understanding it'll take Time to build a framework and giving Them the time to do it Okay perfect and so you know Tell me a little bit about like your Favorite recipe that you've made with You with your meat thus far okay all Right Um so my mom is in town my mom is has

Never tasted the chicken we made okay And uh we just did that two weekends ago Where I said you know I've tasted a lot Of recipes and I love the one that Dominique cran makes the the the that Are cata negro tempura battered Fried Chicken that is amazing And I said I want to try something that We used to make at home when I was Growing up every week we used to go to The market and buy chicken and we used To bring it back my mom used to make the The curries the masalas and make a Curried chicken And that's what we made two weekends ago Because I've been wanting to do it but I Didn't want to take the meat until my Mom was here and ready to cook she did That and that I said that's my favorite Favorite chicken recipe Well great well thank thanks for that I Can't wait to try that out to Restaurants absolutely well thank you For having me yeah thank you so much for Being here I appreciate it thank you [Applause]


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