The past week has seen a lot of movement in the alternative protein industry, including U.S. regulators’ first approval for Upside Foods and Good Meat to sell their farm-raised chicken products in the country.
A new venture capital fund poised to help booming startups in the space Happy Entrepreneurship, which just closed $23 million of its $25 million fund. Advisors and investors include Björn Öste, co-founder of Oatly; Dr. Sandhya Sriram, CEO of Shiok Meats; Ryan Bethencourt, co-founder of Indie Bio and CEO of Wild Earth; and Arturo Elizondo, CEO of EVERY ( Arturo Elizondo).
The women and LGBTQIA+ led fund was co-founded by Jennifer Stojkovic, founder of Vegan Women Summit; Milo Runkle, co-founder of Good Food Institute; and Blaine Vess, co-founder of edtech startup Student Brands. They are both general partners at Joyful Ventures in Los Angeles.
To learn more about the fund and how the trio plans to advance climate solutions, we caught up with Stojkovic, who told TechCrunch that the fund will invest in pre-seed and seed-stage startups that have a strong B2B opportunity and are innovating technology , including plant-based, precision fermentation, mycoprotein, molecular agriculture and cultivation techniques.
The company has already made two investments through the fund, including New School Foods (which raised $12 million earlier this year to produce plant-based salmon) and Orbillion Bio (a company that makes cultured Wagyu beef and other products).
The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
TC: What inspired the three of you to start Joyful Ventures?
JS: There is still a lack of awareness about the impact of food. In my opinion, we will build the next big era of great startups by unlocking the potential of investment. There are billions of dollars of dry VC powder on the market. I read that about 50% is dedicated to climate investing, that some VCs are very interested in climate, but most of the people I talk to don’t know the connection.
Why the Special Focus on Sustainable Protein?
When we say sustainable protein, we’re really talking about the wider food ecosystem and how it relates to it. We’re working on everything from how to reduce our water footprint or improve the texture of plant-based protein crops, all the way to the end product on grocery store shelves. The protein side is the driver of the emissions, but the wide-ranging changes that would need to happen in the system to support a shift to it are innumerable.
We need to think holistically: what are the different mechanisms and levers that need to be in place to actually change the system? It’s not as simple as making a product and they will appear. How can we reduce costs? This will invest in a larger farming system.
What is the fundraising environment like? How long did it take you to raise funds?
bad! It’s June and we’re closing out from November. This can give you an idea of how long it will take to get your first investment. It’s tough. We are very pleased to have such a double-digit fund. These days, this is very rare. Of course, there are recurring debates about the future of the field (alternative proteins).
The Cargills and the larger entities of the world, the ones with centuries of scale in producing food on the planet, are now coming to the negotiating table and saying, “No, this is not just a blip during a pandemic. “These are the people we’re talking to, and that’s the point of view we hold. It’s a long game. Food isn’t the best option if you want to make a quick buck, but if you want to make a lasting sustainable change that actually saves the planet, we’re the team for you.
What concerns does your LP have?
Inflation is a big part of that. Grocery stores face very real challenges. The unfortunate reality is that brands won’t be able to sell at the prices consumers are now able to pay. If you’re a broad protein manufacturer, you have a huge product portfolio and can crunch the numbers. But if you’re a new startup, you don’t have the power to change your exposure.
Do you think this will continue to move in the right direction as Upside Foods and Good Meat move into the next phase?
Absolutely. It’s huge. Our products have been selling in Singapore for the past two years. Now, the U.S. is arguably the largest meat market in the world (depending on which metric is used), ready to serve consumers by the end of 2023. You need a market like the US to change the status quo. Once the U.S. does that, you’ll see more countries join in. Things could start snowballing very quickly.
What are you looking for in investing?
We invest in founders who have been in the industry for a long time. We don’t invest in founders who have just heard that alternative protein is a hot area. We’re looking for people who understand how to upend a 100-year-old system, and companies that can eliminate animal ingredients not only for food, but for high-end cosmetic companies as well. I believe one of the most important things we do for this industry is to build companies that have multiple revenue streams. You can get 90% of your profits on high end cosmetics, which allows you to price the food items you also need to offer.
Why should founders choose you as their investment partner?
We look at companies all over the world regardless of geography. We also very consciously avoid hype. We’ve looked at hundreds of deals since closing this round, and we’re very thorough about our process and the types of opportunities we’re looking at.
Additionally, Brian is a two-time exit founder who built his company from the ground up as CEO, so we have the ability to really see who the founders were to lead the company to the finish line.
If you have interesting news or leads about what’s going on in the food tech and venture capital space, you can reach Christine Hall at email@example.com or Signal at 832-862-1051.Anonymous requests will be honored.