From punk rock to bio-punk
When friends Lejjy Gafour, Matthew Anderson-Baron and Jalene Anderson-Baron first founded Future Fields they were focused on the goal of producing lab grown meat through a process known as cellular agriculture. Concerned about the environmental impact of traditional agriculture, and with a view to solving some of the world’s biggest challenges around food security, the friends believed that cellular agriculture could provide the solutions.
“We met hanging out in the punk scene in Edmonton,” said Lejjy Gafour, CEO of Future Fields. “We like to say we went from punk rock to bio-punk. We all have really diverse backgrounds – that’s been one of our strengths. Because we were focused on doing something completely new, we’ve looked to many different sectors including biotechnology, software and design, systems design and social sciences to build a path forward.”
Addressing some of the world’s biggest challenges
Feeding a growing population, addressing climate change, and mitigating the threat of antibiotic resistant and zoonotic diseases are some of the biggest challenges we are facing as a planet. It’s clear that the food industry as we currently know it, will not be able to meet the demand for animal-derived food products by 2050. As climate change accelerates and we experience the spread of these diseases, the industry is in need of positive change. Lejjy, Matthew and Jalene wanted to be a part of the solution.
What they soon discovered was that one of the biggest challenges cellular agriculture faced was around the commercialization of the technology – specifically it’s scalability. Cultured meat was expensive to produce, making it inaccessible to most of the population.
“Right now, there’s a restaurant in Singapore that actually serves lab grown chicken,” said Lejjy Gafour, co-founder and CEO of Future Fields. “This technology is real, but the cost of growth media is still a key hurdle to mass commercialization of cellular agriculture – we have the key to solving that problem.”
“For me, tackling food insecurity is incredibly important and it’s not an abstract concept at all,” said Lejjy. “Growing up, I personally experienced what is politely called food insecurity. I can remember very clearly what it was like to not know where my next meal was coming from – and what that felt like.”
A bold mission
This personal connection to the company’s mission is probably why Future Fields’ ambitions have grown far beyond bringing lab-grown chicken nuggets to market. They aren’t interested in launching an expensive and inaccessible consumer product just to have something on the market. Instead, their team is playing the long game and have developed the underlying technology that meat developers need to produce lab-grown meat on par with the cost of traditional meat. Their mission is a bold one – to unleash the full potential of cellular agriculture – and they’ve recently taken a big step forward in accomplishing that goal.
Just last month they shipped their first round of cellular growth medium to customers to be used to produce lab grown meat. Cellular growth medium is the most important ingredient needed in cellular agriculture and up until now, the solutions have been incredibly expensive, making it impossible for companies in this sector to scale. But Future Fields’ growth medium is significantly cheaper to produce – up to 10,000x less expensive than what is currently available – allowing businesses to create lab grown meat that is nearly on par with the cost of traditional meat.
“This is a critical step forward in the rapid commercialization of this industry. By solving one of its biggest challenges – providing affordable, high quality, customized growth media, this material will allow our customers to create price parity products at scale,” said Lejjy. “We made the decision earlier on to put all of our efforts behind accelerating the growth of the entire cellular agriculture industry by focussing on developing a growth medium that was exponentially cheaper. By removing the cost to scale from the perspective of growth media, we see huge potential for this sector to take off and grow exponentially.”
This is an important milestone for the company, and for the cellular agriculture industry as a whole, as it represents a hurdle that was previously unsolved. According to Lejjy, Future Fields expects to see products incorporating their growth factor entering the retail market within the next 2 years.
“One of the other exciting things we are seeing is an expansion of the scope of this technology,” said Lejjy. “We have customers who are using our products to work on solutions for milks, and then there are also applications for producing materials like leather or other materials that were traditionally harvested from animals.”
A huge opportunity
For investors, the potential market size of cellular agriculture and alternative protein products can’t be overstated. The current animal products market was estimated to be worth $2.17 trillion in 2018 with human food accounting for 85% of this market. The alternative meat market is expected to grow from $4.6 billion in 2018 to $140 billion in ten years. You don’t need to be overly optimistic to see the potential for the alternative protein market.
Aside from completing their first shipment to clients, it’s been a busy couple of months for Future Fields. Just last week they pitched as a finalist in the Innovative Worlds category at the SXSW Pitch competition – Future Fields was selected as one of 40 finalists across 8 categories from all over the world. And they recently landed $2.2 million in seed funding.
The Edmonton region advantage
“We have plans to expand our team and build up our production capacity right here in the Edmonton region, to match the massive demand we are seeing from our customers. As we continue to ship products to customers, we know we will need to produce growth medium at a much larger scale for the commercial market,” said Lejjy. “There’s a bit of a global race going on right now around who’s going to solve the commercialization issue first. We’re really playing the role of technology enabler for the industry and this is a great place for us to grow. We have access to incredible talent out of the post-secondary institutions here, and manufacturing facilities are affordable for a startup like ourselves.”
Lejjy points out that the opportunity for this industry is massive and it is still very early.
“We really see ourselves as the path to unleashing the full potential of cellular agriculture and we want people to join us. We believe that there is incredible opportunity to build a hub for cellular agriculture in Alberta and in the Edmonton region,” said Lejjy. Long-term, we plan to keep our headquarters in the Edmonton region with satellite production facilities to support the international demand we are seeing for our products. Within the Edmonton region we have the inputs and the talent. And there’s an entrepreneurial spirit in the biotechnology sector. Agriculture has a rich history here and we can be at the forefront of the evolution of this industry. It can be done here – and the proof is that we are already doing it.”