Globally, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the world’s transportation systems combined. The science for growing real meat without animals exists, but the remaining challenge is scale. Multus Media have developed an animal-free replacement for blood serum that can be used to feed the cells affordably and profitably. This will accelerate the forefront of an industry that will mitigate the devastating impacts of livestock agriculture.
Cultivated meat can take a single animal cell and grow actual meat, giving the same taste and experience as conventional meat, just with only a fraction of the environmental impact, and without the need to kill animals or use antibiotics.
One of the key challenges facing this industry is the cost of production, where the feed, or growth media in this case, takes up more than 80% of production costs.
Traditionally, animal blood serum is used to grow stem cells for biomedical research, but this is not only very expensive but clearly goes against the ethical and sustainability aspirations of the cultivated meat industry.
Multus Media is developing the technology for creating completely animal-free replacements for blood serum. The challenge here is to develop high-performing growth media using ingredients that are inexpensive and scalable. We take care of growth media, so cultivated meat companies can focus on bringing tasty, sustainable meat to everyone.
Where did the idea originate from?
Kevin Pan, our CTO, first introduced the team to cultivated meat back in late 2018 and we were captivated by the possibility of eating sustainable, guilt-free meat. When we asked ourselves why we weren’t able to buy these products yet, the cost of production, or more specifically the cost of growth media, kept coming up as the major bottleneck holding this entire industry back. Since growth media has been developed for the biopharmaceutical and biomedical research industries for decades, we saw the challenge for producing an animal-free growth media that can be scaled to serve the emerging cultivated meat industry as an engineering challenge as opposed to a scientific challenge.
By moving away from the strict regulation of the pharmaceutical industry, we can embrace new methods for streamlining the production process and explore more efficient ways of providing cell nutrition using vegan ingredients.
How did your team meet?
The team met through the Imperial College Synthetic Biology Society, with many of us being first or second-year undergraduates. There was a competition to win some money to start a project in the Advanced Hackspace, so we rallied behind Kevin’s project of producing next-generation growth media for the cultivated meat industry to kickstart the product and business development.
Do you have any advisors?
We gained our first formal advisors through IVMS and have also benefited from scientific advice from the excellent academic staff at Imperial across the Department of Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Life Sciences and Faculty of Medicine, and we are grateful for their continued guidance today. We also have an external advisor, Tom Phillips, who is a former Sustainability Fellow at McKinsey & Co. who helps us with assessing and establishing strategic partnerships.
What stage is the business at and what are your plans moving forward?
Right now, we have the funding and lab space to develop our first proof of concept and patent our technology, which we can use to create our first products and and bring investors on board. Our goal is to launch our first product, Proliferum M, in 2021 and expand our catalogue to service companies working on mammalian cells, avian cells and different types of seafood as well to pave the way towards making cultivated meat available to everyone.
What’s been your biggest success so far?
Our biggest success has been getting on to the IndioBio New York Spring 2020 cohort, which is a venture-back accelerator programme for life science startups. This has given us the funding to really develop our product and de-risk our company in preparation for raising our next round of funding.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
We had a number of setbacks with our lab space and access to the facilities and equipment we need, and a fair few failed experiments -but such is biology. Balancing studies and working on Multus Media has also been stressful at times, but it has allowed us to enjoy the good times when they come around, and rally together when the going gets tough.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
The Enterprise Lab is a great place to start. There you can meet like-minded entrepreneurs, discuss with the experienced staff about what things you might need to think about next, and ultimately enter the first competitions that will propel you to developing your business idea. I would also recommend making use of the Hackspace since the staff there can help you prototype and test your product, which will serve you well when pitching at competitions and to investors. You can also join the Entrepreneurship Society to gain some inspiration and refine your ideas.
Support from Imperial
The FONS-MAD competition in 2019 was what enabled us to work on our project over the summer through providing mentorship, lab space, and funding to support both buying the reagents and consumables for research and also for us to stay in London with a bursary. Upon developing our first proof on concept and ultimately winning the competition, we had the funding and confidence to carry on to where we are now.
The Venture Catalyst Challenge (VCC) made us consider the business potential of Multus Media, and by working on pitching, customer discovery and developing some of the business plan, we recognised the value of commercialising our technology and transitioned from a project into a startup. The VCC also introduced us to the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem within the Enterprise Lab and set the foundations for us to make best use of the services available to us.
We have used the Experts-in-Residence support to discuss things like how we approach our funding strategy and competitions, protecting our intellectual property, reading through legal documents, and how we approach important negotiations.
The Advanced Hackspace was where we first worked on our science. Having access to not only the lab space, but also the excellent staff and discounted lab consumables meant we were able to advance far further than we would have if we were just left alone. There is also a community of other hackers that can be used troubleshoot specific problems, discuss new ideas and socialise with.
We gained our first formal advisors through the Imperial Venture Mentoring Service, who have been really useful in sharing their experiences and advice on many aspects relating to growing our business. What I’ve found most useful is being able to speak openly to someone about the challenges we’re facing and some of the difficult decisions we have coming up, and allowing them to weigh in based on their wide-reaching experience and also what they think will be best for our specific startup. Our advisors were especially useful when we were navigating our first investment contract and allowed us to better understand the implications of the terms we eventually signed up to. Since this is something we hadn’t done before, it definitely reassured us about taking that leap forward and made us aware of specific areas that we might not otherwise have considered to be significant. Forming good habits around properly preparing for and documenting these meetings has also prepared us well for other external meetings, such as those with potential customers and investors.
We have just moved into the Imperial White City Incubator, which has great lab facilities and has given us the freedom to build our base for research and development. Working alongside other startups is really beneficial, and there is scope for us to expand and grow into the future.
The Old Centralians’ Trust also supported us with some funding to attend conferences and set up our lab space, which is run through the CGCA.
The Climate Launchpad is the world largest green business ideas competition, supported by the European Institute of Innovation & Technology Climate Knowledge and Innovation Community. In 2019, we won the UK national finals and progressed into the global accelerator programme following our success in the global final. Reka won the Female Founders’ Award, presented by Women in Cleantech & Sustainability.
Earlier this year we also won the regional final winner of the Hult Prize, a global social entrepreneurship competition to tackle the challenge set by former U.S. president Bill Clinton of creating a positive impact on the planet with every dollar earned. We also won the McKinsey Venture Academy 2020 to received continued consulting support over the next year, and a £10,000 grant prize.
2018 – Venture Catalyst Challenge
2019 – Imperial College Advanced Hackspace
2019 – FoNS MAD
2019 – Experts-in-Residence
2019 – ClimateKIC Climate Launchpad
2019 – Imperial Venture Mentoring Service
2020 – Imperial White City Incubator