How I try to make a difference with every meal–and every investment

January 19, 2022, 5:15 PM UTC
The innovations by today's sustainable food startups will have an outsize impact when they become mainstream.
NICHOLAS YEO - Getty Images

There isn’t much more to be said about greenhouse gasses, the climate crisis, and factory farming that hasn’t already been said.

Factory farming, and many other traditional production methods of red meat, white meat, and seafood, contribute to the all-encompassing issue referred to as climate change. It’s a lot to wrap your head around, but what you eat is quite literally affecting the state of the planet.

However, there are alternatives, and those alternatives are better for Earth. While I am completely satisfied by a whole-food vegan diet, I don’t believe that everyone else is or will be–one of the key reasons why I back food tech startups. There are now impact-driven businesses that will help you eat what you like, without all the nasty environmental repercussions.

I am so concerned that I invest in easy-to-swallow solutions like delicious plant-based chicken nuggets and chewy mushroom jerky meant to replace the ubiquitous beef snack. I have also invested, a few times over, in what can be considered emerging food technologies like precision fermentation and cell-based meat, chicken, fish, and dairy.

You may have heard “impact investing” tossed around like so many other sustainability-oriented buzz concepts–but it works. If you’re committing dollars to charity annually, like so many givers out there are, then consider becoming a mission-driven angel investor. Consider joining a fund or a crowd investing platform that allows small startups the chance to raise rounds. 

We can also find ways to feed the world’s growing population with less. Investors have been chasing funding opportunities with this in mind for years. We’ve been seeking out startups that can produce high-quality foodstuffs that use less natural resources, cost less to create, and reduce inequality across geographies and populations

Not only are mission-driven companies putting sustainable production into play, but they are also serving up the answers to food security and food scarcity issues that the world is hurtling towards. Amidst the countless socioeconomic disparities accelerated by the pandemic, we were also reminded of the fragility and vulnerability of our global food supply. It’s a promising opportunity for governments, private sector entities, and startups to reimagine our food chains to be cleaner, greener, and smarter.

Mission-driven ventures in the food tech and green tech spaces don’t suffer from a shortage of vision or potential to scale. They lack the funding to scale to a point where their solutions become more affordable for consumers. I serve on the XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion Challenge advisory board, a competition that aims to fund alt-protein solutions for chicken or fish. There are promising entries from all over the world seeking to feed the next billion with their tech. My hope? That in a few years, some of them will produce the sustainable chicken breast or fish filet that will end up on your plate for lunch or dinner.

KBW Ventures’ first-ever investment in cell-cultured meat was Upside Foods, formerly Memphis Meats, and we have since reinvested in the company’s Series B. The second was Blue Nalu. Two years ago, we invested in a company called Blue Planet Ecosystems that promised to “turn sunlight into CO2-neutral seafood” using land-based automated recirculating aquaculture–a technology that has massive potential in my home country of Saudi Arabia.

Not only is investing in the food tech space good for the planet, but it can also be very lucrative. I see huge potential in startups tackling niche categories. One such startup is focused on “heritage” meats: Orbillion Bio is targeting cell-cultured elk, deer, and bison, and was just awarded a $ 250,000-second prize in the Entrepreneurship World Cup. Slovenian startup Juicy Marbles is specializing in “fancy” cuts of alt-protein plant-based beef: filet mignon sirloins, rumps, filets, tomahawks, and more.

While the startups addressing the trickier, harder–to–impress palate will add a lot to the sustainable food space, the impact of their innovations will be even greater in the hands of fast food giants. Getting consumers to switch to sustainably produced “junk food” and fast food will save vital resources–and potentially make a significant dent in global warming.

Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud is a venture capitalist committed to purpose-driven investments, a climate change awareness advocate, and a believer in the transformative power of mobilizing tech for good. KBW Ventures has invested in the following companies mentioned or alluded to in this article: Moku Foods, Rebellyous Foods, Upside Foods, BlueNalu, and Blue Planet Ecosystems.

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