Entrepreneurs

Why Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Jack Welch all invested in this start-up that grows meat in a lab

Memphis Meats made this meatball in February 2016.
Photo courtesy Memphis Meats
Memphis Meats made this meatball in February 2016.

Billionaires Richard Branson and Bill Gates are both into it. So is legendary General Electric CEO Jack Welch. Elon Musk's brother Kimbal is too. Then there's the venture capital firm DFJ, which invested in Tesla, SpaceX and Skype, and food and agriculture behemoth Cargill.

What's got such a diverse group of successful leaders excited? Meat — chicken, beef, duck — that is grown in labs. It's called "clean meat," and it does not require the slaughter of animals.

San Francisco Bay Area-based start-up Memphis Meats announced a $17 million funding round Wednesday, and all of the aforementioned put money into the company.

Memphis Meats harvests meat cells from live animals and grows those in a lab for between four to six weeks. Then, the meat can be cooked and eaten. The start-up produced a meatball out of beef in February 2016 and chicken and duck in March 2017.

Clean meat takes less land, water and energy to produce than meat that comes from live animals. Also, there are no slaughterhouses involved.

Southern fried chicken made by Memphis Meats
Photo courtesy Memphis Meats
Southern fried chicken made by Memphis Meats

"The world loves to eat meat, and it is core to many of our cultures and traditions," says Uma Valeti, co-founder and CEO of Memphis Meats, in a statement announcing the funding raise. "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. These are problems that everyone wants to solve."

The company is still in the research and development phase, so there are no Memphis Meats products available on the market yet, but early investors have been able to taste test.

"It is thrilling to watch the team work, and to try the products," says DJF partner Steve Jurvetson in a statement.

"There are few challenges larger and more global than the sustainability of the way we eat." -Carolina Brochado, partner, Atomico

Perhaps there could be some debate about whether meat grown in "cultivators" is the "real thing." While those who avoid consuming meat only because of the poor treatment of animals may decide to eat the lab-grown product, Memphis Meats says the clean meat it sells is absolutely not vegetarian.

Memphis Meats will use the $17 million for product development and hiring chefs, scientists and business people.

DFJ led the Series A, according to a written statement from the company. Venture capital firms Atomico, New Crop Capital, SOSV, Fifty Years, KBW Ventures and Inevitable Ventures were also part of the round. In addition to Gates, Branson, Welch and Musk, Kyle Vogt, founder of self-driving car start-up Cruise, also invested.

Duck à l'Orange made by Memphis Meats
Photo courtesy Memphis Meats
Duck à l'Orange made by Memphis Meats

"There are few challenges larger and more global than the sustainability of the way we eat," says Carolina Brochado, partner at Atomico, in the statement.

"Meat production today uses one third of Earth's fresh water and land surface and generates nearly one fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions. With a projected demand growing by nearly 70 percent by 2050, we know we are in desperate need of a solution," she says.

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