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Horizons Ventures, the Hong Kong-based firm of billionaire investor Li Ka-shing, led a $10 million Series A investment in Modern Meadow Inc. Modern Meadow’s aim is to grow meat and leather in the lab.
The company aims to help fashion designers and makers of leather goods meet the increasing global demand for their wares without taking such a toll on animals and the environment says a report in the Wall Street Journal. (see Editor’s choice on the ILM homepage).
The Brooklyn startup, previously based in Columbia, Mo, uses a tissue engineering technique called “biofabrication,” to grow leather from skin cells in trays in a lab. The company is also developing biofabricated meat, fish and poultry from muscle cells.
The cells the company stores and uses to “brew” leather and meat are obtained through small biopsies that don’t hurt, injure or kill animals, Chief Executive Andras Forgacs said.
According to an industry report by Research and Markets, sales of leather goods–including luggage, apparel and accessories–are expected to reach $91.2 billion globally by 2018. Profit margins in the industry have been strained in recent years as the cost to produce leather via traditional means has risen sharply, Mr. Forgacs said.
An early Modern Meadow investor, Lindy Fishburne, executive director of Breakout Labs, says that other businesses are exploring biofabrication within the realm of human health–growing “patches” that can heal a heart, lung, liver or bones, for example. But Modern Meadow is probably the only company employing the technology for the manufacture of consumer goods.
The startup previously received attention for its “steak chips,” a biofabricated beef snack, but Bart Swanson of Horizons Ventures said the company’s greatest market opportunity is in producing leather that’s “free of imperfections, like bites, scars and odd colouring,” found in typical animal skins.
Biofab leather can be used to make consumer goods like apparel, shoes and accessories, luggage and sporting goods without hesitation from consumers, he said. But regulators and consumers will want to know more about biofab meat before they make it part of a daily diet.
With 10 employees, Modern Meadow plans to ramp up hiring, expand into a new lab and office space in Brooklyn, and begin making “small run” batches of biofab leathers for a select few fashion and design partners, Forgacs said.
The company is working on optimising the production of its biofab leather until it is as affordable as traditional leather and hides, but of a higher quality, without a need for water- and chemical-intensive treatment processes, the CEO said.
Currently it takes Modern Meadow about 1.5 months to make a square-foot leather sample that’s fully finished. That compares to 2-3 years to obtain, care for and feed an animal.
The startup’s founders previously started Organovo, a now-public company with a $562 million market cap that “bioprints” human tissue for use in drug development, testing and other medical applications.
Previously, Modern Meadow raised $250,000 in USDA and NSF Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants. It also raised about $3 million in seed funding from Breakout Labs, Sequoia Capital, Artis Ventures and Iconiq.
The deal values the company at about $60 million.
Modern Meadow was the subject of a recent ILM Editorial. Click on the link to read more.