At the end of September, Ryan Bethencourt and Mariliis Holm announced the launch of their new rolling fund, Sustainable Food Ventures (SFV), to advance the future of food. SFV is the first rolling fund on the AngelList platform to focus on cell-based, plant-based, and recombinant protein companies.
Both Bethencourt and Holm have a long history in the foodtech world. Bethencourt is currently the CEO and co-founder of sustainable pet food company Wild Earth, a partner at Babel Ventures, and part of the co-founding team at IndieBio. Holm previously co-founded the alt protein company Nonfood and previously worked in cell-based seafood company Finless Foods.
The idea behind SFV came to Bethencourt after angel investing in several early stage startups. “After being involved in several large venture capital funds, I was personally investing my own money into [early stage] founders. Shiok Meats is an example of a cheque that I cut personally out of my pocket. Since then, I’ve been doing more and more of that with companies both in the US and globally.
“When I saw some tech founders starting rolling funds to invest in software companies, I thought, ‘Well, wouldn’t it be great if we had something like that for the future of food? And so I decided to actually start that.’”
According to Bethencourt, compared to traditional fund structures, “A rolling fund is a way of democratizing access to investing in early stage companies. Typically, when you start a venture capital fund, the fund is basically locked the moment you announce it, so you can't bring new investors in.
“One of the incredible innovations that Naval and his team at AngelList has done is to create a platform for what is called a rolling fund structure.
“A rolling fund is essentially four separate funds, where, every quarter, there’s a new fund. It's a family of funds that fall under one primary fund. It allows you to talk actively about your fund, so people can actually invest in the fund if they like the types of companies you're investing in. Anyone can subscribe and actually start investing alongside you in the rolling fund.”
As the first rolling fund dedicated to the future of food, SFV has received a lot of interest. “So far we've actually had a lot of interest in people joining us to co-invest in the funds. So far, for just this quarter [Q4 2020], we’ve had an interest of about $2 million. As a rolling fund structure, that would mean the rolling fund would be about $8 million, assuming we can match that every quarter.”
SFV aims to look at early stage companies across the alternative protein field, from plant-based and recombinant protein all the way through to cell-based meat startups. “We are looking at everything from plant-based to recombinant, very similar to the likes of Geltor, Perfect Day and Clara Foods of the world, all the way through to cell-based, like the Memphis Meats and the Shiok Meats of the world.”
Based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, SFV aims to support new foodtech startups in areas typically bypassed by most other investors in the US and globally.
“We're trying to expand our radius outside of Silicon Valley and outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. For example, two of my recent favorites are Barvecue and BioBQ. They have very similar names and are both outside of the Bay Area.
“Barvecue is a plant-based meat company that was recently backed by Stray Dog Capital. They are probably a little too late for Sustainable Food Ventures, but that’s the type of plant-based company that is really bringing Carolina's barbecue to people’s houses. On the other hand, BioBQ would be really focused on [cell-based] meats, and it’s based in Austin, Texas. Those are the types of companies within the US that we are looking that.
“Outside of the US, we are really focusing on global markets and mission-driven entrepreneurs that really want to transform their local food system. For example, Veggie Victory is a startup where I cut a cheque with my co-investor Anant Joshi to Hakeem Jimo and the team at Veggie Victory.
“Veggie Victory is Nigeria's first plant-based meat company, so it's really exciting. There are currently 200 million people in Nigeria, and, in the next 20 to 30 years, there's going to be approximately 400 million people in the country. If things play out as we hope, there's the potential for multiple Beyond Meats, just in Nigeria. That's not including all of Africa, which has huge opportunities as well.
“So SFV really allows us to really be frontier investors and support those entrepreneurs that are pushing the frontiers wherever they are.”
Sustainable Food Ventures aims to be among the first investors in new startups by writing cheques between $50,000 and $150,000. Beyond being the first investor for some of these startups, Bethencourt wants SFV to support new founders in their mission to change our food system.
“It's about much more than making money. It's about helping people build the future of sustainable food. Often these [early stage] founders do not have the support that they need.
“The first [$50,000-$150,000] cheque really makes a big difference for these founders who really need that money just to get started, get a proof of concept, and then raise money. So, to help bridge the existing gap between an idea and a venture-funded company, that’s the place we want to be.
“There are a lot of founders that we could actually help go from an idea to an actual company, which hopefully will have incredible new products that are sustainable, cruelty-free, and animal-free. The future of food is a staggering opportunity, and I’m really excited to help those founders who may not be in the Bay Area or Silicon Valley or in the US.
"If all things go well, we want to accelerate the rate of innovation. By 2030, the food system will be absolutely transformed.”
With over a billion dollars invested into cellular agriculture companies to date, Sustainable Food Ventures aims to continue support early stage founders and new startups building the future of food.
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