Dutch startups no farm announced today that it has raised €1.2 million in pre-seed equity funding at an undisclosed valuation to bring proteins that don’t require traditional farming operations to our dinner tables. The climate crisis means that it has never been more urgent to develop alternative food sources to protect our planet and feed a growing population efficiently and sustainably. Adnan Oner, founder and CEO of Farmless, believes that Farmless’ new method of protein production can bring about positive changes in the way we eat and produce.
“A few years ago, I was wondering how to make the biggest impact on my next startup,” Ona said in an exclusive interview with TechCrunch. “I have found very few people who have significantly improved the land and resource efficiency of food production. Efficient food production is critical if we are to reverse centuries of agricultural sprawl and reforest the world in my lifetime… I was very excited when I discovered that there was a better way to get food than traditional farming: fermentation based on renewable electricity.”
There are already quite a few non-animal protein alternatives available, but Farmless believes its fermentation methods are heading in a completely different direction.Its production process does not rely on sugar, but on a liquid raw material made from carbon dioxide2, hydrogen and renewable energy. This means that not only does it require five percent less land than animal protein production, but it requires 10 to 25 times less land than other types of plant protein production.
“Through our fermentation platform, we aim to move significantly beyond the livestock industry and reliably produce low-cost protein on a global scale,” said Oner. “We believe this technology has the potential to end factory farming, rebuild our planet and reduce carbon emissions by a billion tons.”
Farmless has raised €1.2 million in pre-seed funding from co-leaders Revent, Nucleus Capital and Possible Ventures, with participation from HackCapital, Sustainable Food Ventures, VOYAGERS Climate-Tech Fund, TET Ventures and angel investor Jenny Saft through the Atomico Angel program, and Ron Shigeta, Martin Weber, Rick Bernstein, Nadine Geiser, Joy Faucher, Michele Tarawneh, Alexander Hoffmann and Christian Stiebner.
Oner spoke with TechCrunch about the short- and long-term possibilities unlocked by this funding.
“With this round, we were able to find microbes that taste and behave like animal protein, set up the lab and build a dedicated team of fermentation and food scientists,” Ona said. “We are currently developing our initial product prototype, which is a highly functional complete protein of amino acids.”
In addition to meeting these basic requirements for building a business, the funding should help scale Farmless and push the limits of what’s possible with synthetic proteins.
“We’re also pushing the boundaries of fermentation process performance,” Ona said. “The next steps are moving to larger fermentation vessels, building our supply chain, obtaining regulatory approval for our first product, and bringing it to market with the right partners.”
In the long run, Farmless has high hopes for its protein alternatives.
“The Farmless fermentation platform has the potential to create an entirely new food bank, producing proteins, carbohydrates, good fats, vitamins and minerals from the bottom up,” Ona said. “We are creating a new interface between food and electricity, which means we are domesticating microbes selected for their food properties and their ability to grow on renewable energy-based feedstocks.”
From Farmless’ perspective, it has the potential to be a game changer in the next 10 years.
“If all goes according to plan, we will bring food fermentation into the mainstream within the next decade,” Ona said. “Our ultimate goal is to free food production from animals and agricultural land, so we can return vast amounts of land to rebuild our planet, reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere, and free animals from the food system.”
As Oner explained, despite the positivity expressed by Farmless and its investors, there are still some potential regulatory hurdles in its fermentation process to produce protein.
“Within the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the new food procedure is broadly divided into two phases; one is the food safety part, which is great,” Ona said. “However, after receiving a favorable opinion from EFSA, all member states can vote, making it a highly politicized and unpredictable process.”
Due to regulatory constraints, Farmless may face some problems producing protein alternatives that people actually want to eat.
“Currently, public tasting of fermentation-based products is not allowed under any circumstances in the Netherlands,” said Ona, “which complicates the process of obtaining customer feedback before going through the regulatory process.”
Farmless, as well as any other company that relies on infrastructure, also faces potential funding bottlenecks.
“Typical VCs want a high return on investment, which doesn’t match up with infrastructure projects,” Ona said. “These bridges need to be filled through project financing, ideally with government support, to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable and affordable food system, as we have done with renewable energy and electric vehicles.”
No matter how difficult it may be to pursue this and other technologies, Farmless believes it is absolutely imperative that humans develop a viable alternative to animal protein. It would be even better if it wasn’t too land intensive.
“The livestock industry falls into the same category as the fossil fuel industry,” Ona said. “It does a lot of bad things: biodiversity loss (>90% deforestation in the tropics), CO2 Emissions, disease, increased antibiotic resistance, pesticide use, freshwater depletion, soil erosion, algal blooms – the list goes on. “
The Oner and Farmless teams are delighted to have the backing of investors who share their sense of urgency and potential.
“We are proud to have the support of this large group of seasoned climate technology investors who share our mission,” Ona said. “They share our desire to find a reliable way to produce low-cost protein on a global scale, end factory farming and rebuild our planet.”