The “power 5” startups driving a sustainable, regenerative, and nutritious protein sub-sector in Asia
Launched in partnership with Food Futures Company with the support of Innovate UK, the GROW Future Protein Programme is a 5-month internationalisation hub helping scaleups accelerate their expansion into Asia and secure commercial opportunities, while catalysing systems change in Asia’s protein sub-sector.
After a highly selective process, we are excited to introduce you to the 5 startups selected for our inaugural cohort. Collectively, they reflect our ambitions for protein in Asia: soil rehabilitation and reforestation as a result of livestock farming, nature-based solutions for boosting yields of plant-based ingredients for alternative protein, introducing new products in Asia’s large seafood market, and encouraging consumers in Asia to shift behaviour by tracking carbon “calories”. Each startup represents a novel innovation at a key juncture across protein supply chains, both upstream and downstream.
Aerseeds: Regenerating Asia’s farmlands with aerodynamic nutrient and seed pods
The story of building better future protein supply chains begins upstream, with the regeneration of deforested areas and degraded farm lands.
Southeast Asia’s forests, which act as a carbon sink and are home to 4 globally-important hotspots of biodiversity, are being deforested at an unprecedented rate due to agricultural expansion. It’s estimated that the region has already lost 50% of its original forest cover. This deforestation urgently needs to be stopped, and we need solutions to aid in the recovery of these ecosystems.
Hailing from the UK and led by twin founders Begum Ayaskan and Bike Ayaskan, Aerseeds offers a unique, upstream nature-powered solution to this problem. Aerseeds are aerodynamic nutrient and seed pods made from food waste. These innovative pods are designed to work with nature, leveraging the power of the wind to deliver essential nutrients and seeds to areas that have been depleted by human activity. By mimicking natural processes, Aerseeds make it possible to cover large areas and reach difficult terrains; accelerating natural regeneration up to 10x. The initiative has three phases: soil regeneration, seed dispersal, and natural regeneration. With the emphasis on nature based solutions, Aerseeds’ goal is to create resilient and adaptable circular bioeconomy models that repurpose food waste, capture carbon in the form of biomass and reincorporate the value back into the economy through carbon credits. Most importantly integrating nature’s agency into the solution creating a full circle, closing the carbon cycle.
Begum and Bike said, “We are very excited to be involved with GROW as our goal was always to start pilot projects for Aerseeds where we could create interventions that would help restore our soils, forests and biodiversity globally. We believe that the programme will give us a unique insight into the Southeast Asian markets and allow us to forge partnerships in the spirit of open innovation. This region is particularly interesting for us, as the effects of climate change are more imminent with its forests shrinking faster than anywhere else in the world. Therefore it’s very important for us to understand the needs of the market and bring Aerseeds as an alternative solution to existing agricultural practices, promoting a solution that puts Nature at the centre of the solution and the decision making process.”
RAINSTICK: COMBINING TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE WITH MODERN TECH TO BOOST CROP PRODUCTION
Rainstick offers a nature-based solution to accelerate the growth and increase the yield of plants and fungi, which are central ingredients of many alternative protein products. As we work toward a future with increased production of alternative proteins, technologies like Rainstick will play a role in supporting the sustainable production of crops needed for this protein transition.
They combine ancient wisdom with modern technology to create the Rainstick solution. Plants and fungi are heavily influenced by environmental electrical charges, a phenomenon which is under-utilised in modern agriculture. Rainstick mimics the effects of an electrical storm for cleaner, tailored food and bioproducts. Their novel variable electric field (VEF) technology solution delivers specific frequencies to small biological switches inside plants and fungi, which has been shown to demonstrably increase yields and speed of growth while simultaneously inhibiting mould growth, eliminating the need for fungicides.
Co-founder Darryl Lyons said: “The ancient wisdom stems from my ancestors the Maiawali people, an Aboriginal tribe from south west Queensland. We are a Rainmaker tribe living in semi-arid dry environment– the Diamantina channel country– for over 30,000 years. My ancestors acknowledged the effect thunderstorms had on growing food each year. We used our ‘chuggera’ – our lightning stick used in ceremony (rain dance) – to influence the system to bring thunderstorms to provide food for the year. Similar practices were carried out by other Indigenous tribes around the world, as they acknowledged the effect of bioelectricity to provide food. The Maiawali were the first people on the planet to practise this. Bioelectricity is a natural force and disregarded in modern agriculture. We are combining this knowledge and understanding with modern technology to mimic the natural bioelectric effect of thunderstorms to grow plants and fungi bigger and faster, without chemicals.”
Darryl and his co-founder Mic Black recognise Singapore as a hotspot that welcomes and tests the latest technological innovations in agrifoodtech – especially given the urgency of reaching its target of producing 30 percent of local nutritional needs by 2030. They see Singapore as a place of opportunity to collaborate with local research institutions and industry partners to demonstrate their product. They also want to leverage Singapore’s position as a leading regional hub agrifoodtech to prove, showcase, and validate their tech for the rest of Southeast Asia.
Forsea: Bringing cultivated eel and seafood to your plate
Asia accounts for two-thirds of all seafood consumption globally, and this is projected to rise by 78% by 2050 as Asia’s rapidly growing middle class drives increased demand. Cultivated meat production therefore represents another vital area of innovation needed to revolutionise protein supply chains, by offering a sustainable, nutritious, and humane alternative to traditional methods of seafood production. Additionally, with Singapore as the first country to authorise the sale of cultivated meat, Asia is an enticing market for companies in this sector.
Based in Israel, Forsea Foods is scaling up cultivated seafood production with disruptive technologies. They are a cultivated seafood company with a unique organoid technology to produce products similar to nature. The company’s technology significantly reduces the usage of growth factors and improves scalability. Forsea focuses on highly-priced, endangered species with unmet market need. The company’s first product is cultivated eel.
Forsea’s organoid technology allows a significant reduction in the usage of growth factors, better scalability due to the simplification of the production process, and the elimination of the scaffolding stage. Hence, Forsea can bring the cultivated fish and seafood promise to the plate.
Roee Nir, CEO of Forsea, said: “Our initial commercial focus is on the Asian market. As such we are looking to be educated and supported about what are the best ways to scale our business into this region. We are excited to be part of GROW, which has already built its reputation around collaborating with start-up companies in the field. We are hoping to build the right networking that will allow us to build a solid presence and business in East Asia. Forsea aims to provide healthy and tasty fish and seafood products while helping our aquatic ecosystem continue to prosper.”
Reewild: Helping businesses and consumers to reduce their dietary carbon footprint
Asia is poised to become a powerhouse of global consumption– but the region is also particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate breakdown. Therefore, there is a need for innovations that can support more ambitious climate change mitigation strategies and transition Asia to more sustainable patterns of food production and consumption. As consumers in Asia become more conscious with their spending, there is an opportunity for downstream innovations to reinforce and incentivise more climate-friendly consumer behaviour.
UK-based company Reewild does just that by helping people uncover the environmental impact of everyday products and discover greener alternatives. They have built a climate tech platform that helps businesses and consumers to track, reduce and offset their climate footprint, all in one engaging and gamified solution. They use digital receipt technology, web browser extensions, barcode scanning and offline POS API’s to track payments on an itemised level at retail. Their technology drives digital loyalty for brands and rewards consumers for buying lower impact products.
They believe that engaging with the narrative behind food – where food comes from and how it was made – is an important step towards greater transparency and sustainability in protein supply chains. By rewarding users for buying low impact products, this helps contribute to the reduction of Co2 by influencing consumers’ diets and purchasing behaviour. In addition, they direct carbon offsets to some of the world’s best climate solutions.
CEO of Reewild Frederick Lintell said: “We’re always looking to expand our network and expertise in new territories, and we see the Asia market playing a vital role in the transition to a net zero economy. So we’re delighted to participate in the market entry programme and gain insight from the Future Protein Programme. We hope to bring more transparency to the Asian market and help fund some of the best nature-based solutions.”
Seaweedery: Rescuing flavours and nutrition from seafood supply chains
Another critical intervention in our protein supply chains will be re-designing them to be more circular. With ASEAN countries accounting for a quarter of global seafood production, there is an incredible amount of seafood waste in the region that can be upcycled and valorised.
For example, when you buy frozen prawns, their shells are often missing. Usually these shells go straight to the landfill, sharing the same route as almost 50% of all seafood catch, which includes prawn shells, fish carcasses, and heads. These parts hold the most flavour and nutrition, and are often prized by chefs.
Co-founders Natalie Kalinova and Elke Travers started Seaweedery in Australia to rescue these flavours and nutrition and bring them to your table – starting with tasty prawn oil, made from prawn shells discarded by sustainable fisheries certified by the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council). Their product provides additional income to the fisheries and creates a natural flavourful product that consumers love, ultimately helping to protect oceans and promote sustainable fisheries.
Most chefs are already familiar with prawn oil and often make it themselves at the restaurant kitchen, but it is usually quite a long and laborious process. Additionally, some seafood species are only available seasonally. Seaweedery’s product is a convenient, time-saving solution for chefs, with sustainability at heart. For consumers, home cooks, and foodies, just a teaspoon of the product helps to achieve restaurant-level gourmet meal flavours.
Accelerating all protein transformations
At GROW, we believe in catalysing a future food system in which traditional and new proteins sustainably coexist together. As you can see, the five startups we selected offer unique solutions to driving forward this vision: all the way from accelerating the natural regeneration of land, to scaling up crop yields and cultivated seafood production, upcycling waste generated from seafood supply chains, and simplifying dietary climate action for the everyday consumer.
Over the course of the next few months, we will be working closely with the founders to validate their go-to-market strategies, de-risk their expansion plans, and ultimately fast-track their launch into Asian markets. We can’t wait!
Learn more about the Future Protein Programme: https://gogrow.co/why-future-protein-programme/