The Future of Protein Production Summit Speaker Profile: Neha Poddar, Principal, Investments, Good Startup
The entrepreneurs building the next generation of food by creating alternative protein sources hold the key to a better future. Good Startup exists to help them build the next wave of great technologies and companies and to help them accelerate and scale their efforts. Neha Poddar, Principal, Investments, Good Startup explains more
Neha, could tell us about your journey into food-tech?
I made a switch from investment banking to impact Investing in 2019. Initially, I was pursuing broader industry verticals within impact investing when I came across Good Startup. I was very impressed with the background of both the founders and the manifesto of the company. Not only did it fall at the perfect intersection of my training (I am a chemical engineer), my background (+13 years in finance) and my passion (impact investing), it also resonated with me at a personal level (I have been a vegetarian all my life mainly because of animal welfare concerns). Good Startup is a VC fund headquartered in Singapore that is specifically focused on the alternative protein sector. We are a multi-stage fund that invests globally.
Collaboration is really important for a nascent industry such as alternative proteins. Do you think there is enough of it at the moment?
While uniqueness of technology is one of the key parameters that determines the valuation of any business, there are avenues for knowledge sharing and collaboration within the industry in order to reduce work duplication and fast track the progress of the industry. Additionally, collaboration should not just be limited to startups but can extend beyond to other ecosystem players such as governments and regulatory bodies in order to fast track regulatory approvals across the globe.
Recent developments – Good Meat at COP27, FDA's no-concerns letter to UPSIDE Foods, etc – have been good news for the cell ag movement. What were your thoughts particularly on the FDA-UPSIDE news. We know what this means, but perhaps more importantly what does it not mean?
Regulatory approval in the US has been a highly anticipated event. Although many believe that this will open up the regulatory pathway for cultivated meat in other regions as well as for other companies in the USA, each company is working on different technology that has distinct nuances. There are elements from the UPSIDE approval that can be leveraged but every company will have to go through its own process. If we take Singapore, the first approval came in 2020 but it has been two years since and we are yet to see another company receive regulatory approval. UPSIDE Foods' approval is a promising start but we need a critical mass of companies with regulatory approval for the cultivated technology stack to truly take off.
You will be appearing on a panel at The Future of Protein Production on the topic of ‘Innovative financing mechanisms to fund the future of alternative proteins’. What will be the key takeaways for our delegates from what you bring to the table?
Although we have primarily been looking at VC funds and equity to fund the startups in the alternative protein sector, given the amount of work needed around infrastructure enhancement and the very early nature of the industry, we should perhaps explore other innovative financing mechanisms – debt financing to fund infrastructure; some sort of private-public partnership to fund projects that are in very early stages of R&D development. Additionally, we can explore some creative funding disbursement mechanisms based on milestones that can help de-risk the investments for investors.
What are the elephants in the room of the alternative proteins sector? Consumer acceptance is still a massive hurdle, price parity is challenging, even taste and texture remains a barrier for some products. In your opinion, are there things that are not being discussed in alt proteins that should be?
The trifecta of taste, price, and texture are really what will drive consumer adoption. While taste and texture are largely associated with R&D improvements and price with scale, for the latter, we need to factor in the fact that the meat industry currently is highly subsidized. Without the subsidies, alternative protein companies will have a more even playing field and can potentially reach price parity much sooner. Additionally positioning, labelling and marketing will play a crucial role in determining consumer adoption and the sooner the industry converges on a universal framework, the better it will be for adoption.
How exactly will future generations benefit from a societal shift towards alternative protein sources to meat?
Alternative proteins offer the promise of using up to 80% less energy, 99% less land and water and reducing emissions by up to 90%. A shift towards alternative proteins will benefit future generations across a multitude of facets, be it food security, animal welfare, climate change, sustainability or even from a nutritional standpoint.
What are the biggest challenges you see when it comes to scaling alt protein products? And how can they be overcome?
The biggest challenge in my view is consumer adoption. To scale adoption we need products with identical taste and texture, at comparable or cheaper price and with a better nutritional profile. And to achieve that we need technological advancements for which we need the right talent to flow into the sector.
How have you seen the investment landscape change over the past 12 months, from the boom of 2020-2021 to a more challenging year when it comes to attracting finance?
The sector has seen significant valuation corrections over the past 12 months. The lofty valuations and only a growth mindset has given way to prudent cash flow management, focus on unit economics and profitability. It is a return back to the basics and allows investors to not only pick founders who will be able to weather the storm but also conduct enhanced due diligence and work more closely with these startups. Al;though not all startups will be able to make it through the economic downturn, the ones that do will not only be more resilient but they will also be able to take their learnings and apply them to build more sustainable businesses in the future.
The Future of Protein Production Summit takes place virtually on 21/22/23 February 2023. Tickets are on sale now so to register to hear Mariano and more than 80 other speakers, 50 presentations, eight panel discussions, and three start up pitch symposiums, click here
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