Cellular Agriculture: meeting population growth demands

As a part of our spotlight series on the top startups to watch in 2020, we speak with CEO & Co-Founder of Cellular Agriculture,  Illtud Llyr Dunsford, on how the company will meet growing market demands head on. 

Could you tell me a little bit about what Cellular Agriculture company does?

Cellular Agriculture was founded in early 2016 as the first UK startup in the cell-based meat space. We want to bring cultured meat – meat grown rather than raised – to the mainstream.

Though working in the future of food, what we develop is enabling technology. Thanks to InnovateUK support, we built a proof of concept bioreactor system in 2018 and that same system has been on show at the Nemo Science Museum in Amsterdam this summer as the first public display of an automated solution for the industry. Our challenge and our research programme is designed to scale this process and deliver cell-based meat to the masses at the same price as traditional beef, lamb and pork.

What gives your company its competitive edge?

Our edge comes from our people and the potential scale of the cultured meat market. Our CTO and co-founder Dr. Marianne Ellis is the Head of Chemical Engineering at University of Bath, which is a world leader in academic research within the field. She has the experience of taking proven technology from laboratory to industrial scale having already commercialising technology for cell therapies

CEO and co-founder Illtud Llyr Dunsford comes from a long agricultural heritage and can trace this history back more than 300 years. He has worked extensively in the Agri-Food industry and his former charcuterie business won the title of Best Food Producer in the UK from the BBC Food and Farming Awards in 2016. 

Growing population and the need for additional high-quality protein demands a significant innovation in food production. In providing technology for this nascent industry, Cellular Agriculture is exceptionally positioned to scale aggressively. 

What was your last major milestone / award?

A recent pitching competition win organised by the Science Entrepreneur Club in the UK saw us shortlisted for the Merck Accelerator program. After a gruelling few days at their Innovation Centre in Darmstadt, we successfully secured a place in their 2020 cohort. It’s a key milestone, not least because Merck, the oldest chemical and pharmaceutical company in the World (est 1668) is a key incumbent player in the biomedical field. Their commitment to research and development is vast, with an R&D budget of US$2.2bn. 

Their shift into this field shows that industry is taking note of this field and is willing to commit their own time and resources to the field. This also provides considerable validity to our scientific research and development path, and ultimately our technology. 

Is there any exciting news you’d like to share with our Business Chief Europe readers?

Cellular Agriculture is currently fundraising on a new sustainable crowdfunding platform Koodoo and we are seeking to raise £500,000. It’s particularly exciting for us as it’s a unique opportunity for friends, family and the public to own a part of the future of food. Deep technology requires considerable funding, and with a project research budget in excess of £50m over the coming years we will, in the long term, look much more to large scale traditional funding routes.

This initial crowd investment contributes to our current research plan, which is due to last for two years. It’ll enable us to refine the design of our bioreactor technology at bench scale allowing us to plan to build a pilot plant. Essentially, turning the current hype around this technology to a commercial reality. 

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What can we expect from your company in 2020?

2020 is a year of growth. 2019 has seen significant business development as we build value chain partnerships from across the supply chain all the way from primary agriculture to large scale retail. A successful fundraiser will see us grow our team; we have a lead scientist in mind for the next stage of our work already and are looking to strengthen our academic partnerships with additional PhD students. The Merck Accelerator provides opportunities to co-develop IP with the pharmaceutical giant, which will go hand in hand with our core research of scaling our technology. The plans are to finalise pilot plant design in 2021 ready for our first build.

About Illtud Llyr Dunsford,  CEO & Co-Founder of Cellular Agriculture

Illtud’s family can trace their agricultural history for more than 300 years. He established Charcutier Ltd, a speciality meat processing business in 2011 as a farm diversification project. It won the title of Best Food Producer in the UK from the BBC Food and Farming Awards in 2016. 

His Nuffield Farming Scholarship led him to cell-based meat via the First Symposium for Cultured Meat at Maastricht University where he met Cellular Agriculture co-founder Dr Marianne Ellis. His consultancy work spans animal health, welfare and genetics along with food production and food policy.

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