Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are two of the best-known companies disrupting the food sector.
Now, the pipeline of alt-food companies includes Biomilq, a North Carolina-based start-up that's targeting infant nutrition by attempting to reproduce mother's breast milk in a lab.
While that may seem like a moon shot, Biomilq has just earned the backing of the world's top investors, raising $3.5 million in Series A funding from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Bill Gates' investment firm focused on climate change.
Breakthough Ventures' investing coalition includes Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Masayoshi Son, Jack Ma, Michael Bloomberg and Marc Benioff.
Biomilq co-founder and CEO Michelle Egger is a food scientist who worked on the Larabar at General Mills before moving onto business school and a stint at the Gates Foundation. She and her co-founder, CSO Leila Strickland, hope that the breast milk produced by Biomilq from culturing mammary epithelial cells will help reduce the carbon footprint from the global infant formula market, which Fortune Business Insights says will surpass $103 billion by 2026. The top infant formula manufacturers include Abbott Labs, Danone and Nestle.
"Right now, by the estimations we have been able to make, at least 10% of the dairy market globally ends up in infant formula," Eggers said. "That means per-infant-fed formula in the U.S., 5,700 metric tons of CO2 are produced, and 4,300 gallons of freshwater are consumed each year to feed a child. Parents want to do what's best for their kids but shouldn't have to decide between feeding their children and protecting the planet."
For Strickland, the journey has been more personal. She struggled to breastfeed her son when he was born prematurely.
"Breastfeeding my child had been important to me because of the nutritional and immunological benefits, but my son was born a few weeks early and had a tough time latching on and nursing effectively, so my milk production was not fully stimulated," Strickland said. Her difficulties with breastfeeding prompted her to look for a solution for other moms struggling with breastfeeding.
While the pair unveiled their proof of concept in February, Eggers says they're still in the early stages and are looking to fill several positions with the money they've raised. They're not the only player in the space; Singapore's Turtle Tree Labs is also working to bring cultured breast milk to market. Biomilq's founders say their mission is to reach more working women, and they hope to have a product on store shelves within five years.
"We can provide better nutrition for the 84% of babies in the U.S. who are switched to formula either partially or exclusively in the first six months of life and reduce the impacts of animal agriculture on our Earth," Strickland said.