Shiok Meats is not short of money and investors.
The Singaporean cell-based meat startup says it received so much interest for its $4.6 million seed round, it had to turn investors away. The round itself was already oversubscribed. Shiok had initially targeted just $3.5-4 million.
“We’re actually already speaking to a number of investors for an early Series A,” said Sandhya Sriram, CEO of Shiok Meats. “We are very choosy with our investors. From day one, Yi Ling (Shiok’s co-founder) and I were very insistent about only taking in money that made sense for us.”
Founded in August 2018, Shiok Meats is led by Sandya Sriram and Ka Yi Ling, two former stem cell scientists from Singapore’s A*STAR institute. The two were disillusioned by academia, choosing to take the route most scientists could only dream (or fear) of pursuing – being entrepreneurs.
As a cell-based company, Shiok Meat taps stem cell technology to reproduce animal parts for human consumption. It targets crustaceans – shrimps in particular, which alone represents a $40 billion global industry. It is also an industry that’s been marred by poor hygiene and lackadaisical ethical standards.
According to Sriram, most shrimp farmers around the world have taken advantage of shrimps as being natural bottom feeders. This has led to widespread practices of growing shrimp in – quite unbelievably – sewage water.
“Shrimps, by nature, eat dirt. That is what they eat. That’s why when you peel a shrimp, you remove that black thing on its back? That’s all dirt inside. It’s the digestive tract,” said Sriram.
Large vats of antibiotics are then dumped into the ocean to clean these shrimps, after which they are washed with water and shipped for human consumption.
“This is not spoken about as much because shrimps don’t really feel pain,” explained Sriram. “They don’t have a nervous system and people worry more about animal cruelty than they do about the environment and health.”
Unlike traditionally farmed shrimps, Shiok Meats says its product is clean, healthy, environmentally friendly and uses zero antibiotics. It has already developed its first batch of Shiok shrimp, but it currently costs a hefty $1,000 a kilo.
Its next steps will be to lower this down dramatically.
“We want it to be $50 per kilo by the end of next year,” said Sriram. “That’s still expensive, but it’s okay when you start selling your products in a premium restaurant where people are willing to pay $25-$30 per dish.”
It also has several other barriers to knock down – including costly patent registrations which will likely take 2 to 3 years to clear across multiple markets. Food safety licenses will also need to be acquired in order to commercialise their product later down the line.
It’s a long journey ahead, but Sriram is convinced that the global tide of sustainability and clean meats is going to work in their favour.
“I think people are very worried about sustainability and personal health. Several food companies have come under fire of late for poor food practices, pathogens, epidemics and all of it, so I think they want to keep a very clean food processing facility as well,” said Sriram.
“I think they see our technology as one of those.”
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