Jaipur, Rajasthan, India — Andrew Chung, CEO of venture firm 1955 Capital, seeks to solve global food security challenges by investing in technology startups that apply science to agriculture. Through agriscience, these early-stage tech companies decrease the amount of energy, water, and pesticides needed for animal protein production and create new plant-based alternatives that are less resource-heavy.
An expert in advanced technologies, Chung founded 1955 Capital in 2016 to invest in early-stage technologies in energy, food, agriculture, education, and health. Chung’s investment team manages a $500 million fund to build a high-return model for sustainability investing.
The 1955 Capital team finds global market opportunities in agriculture and aquaculture that balance economic development with environmental protection. The result is a diverse portfolio that includes many agriscience stars. One standout is Nature’s Fynd, an agrifood tech startup that creates meatless food products, including breakfast patties and cream cheese, from protein-rich microorganisms. Another is Crop Enhancement, a maker of sustainable crop-protection products including the CropCoat line of solutions that minimize pesticide use, increase crop yield, and add nutrients to the soil.
In the United States, increasing numbers of consumers are responding to ethical, environmental, and health concerns when making household and lifestyle purchases. They warmly welcome companies like Nature’s Fynd and Crop Enhancement, whose products align with their values and the issues that are important to them. But in developing nations, such advances in food and agriculture go beyond conscious consumerism. There, they are quickly becoming survival-driven necessities.
“There are a lot of [technological advances] in food and agriculture that are nice to have in the U.S. but could mean the difference between life or death in China or India,” Chung says. “The populations of these Asian countries are growing along with the middle classes who can afford to buy healthy food, and they want safe, plentiful, and varied food to choose from. Unfortunately, they’re saddled with terrible soil conditions, not enough arable land, and insufficient controls over local farming practices. Tech could be the answer to that.”
Andrew Chung sees enormous opportunities to invest in startups that create new types of food, and modern ways to farm, improve crop yields, and sustainably control pests. He isn’t alone. According to Crunchbase data, investment in foodtech reached a record $12.8 billion in venture investment globally in 2021, doubling its prior-year total. Nearly half — $5.8 billion — went toward companies creating alternatives to traditionally produced meat and dairy.
The alternative-protein market is one to watch. According to a report by Meticulous Research, the sector is expected to reach $27.05 billion by 2027. This considerable growth in alternative-protein investment comes on the heels of Beyond Meat’s successful IPO in 2019, which raised $241 million and saw a $1.5 billion valuation. Agrifood tech giant Impossible Foods, which makes plant-based substitutes for meat, now has investors salivating for its stock due to its much-anticipated IPO and a recent $7 billion valuation. Chung was involved at the inception of Impossible Foods back in 2011, then as a general partner of Khosla Ventures.
As a growing number of consumers turn to products that are less taxing on the environment, 1955 Capital’s mission to build what Chung calls a “save-the-world portfolio” is timelier than ever. Nature’s Fynd, founded in Chicago in 2012, has found success — and a recent entry into Whole Foods Market — as yet another alternative-protein producer to disrupt the global meat-and-dairy sector. Under Chung’s direction, 1955 Capital invested $50 million early on in Nature’s Fynd, which has accrued total financing of more than $500 million as of this publication.
“We were the Series A lead investor in Nature’s Fynd in 2018, and we have remained strong supporters in every round since,” Chung says.
Nature’s Fynd makes meat and dairy alternatives with Fy™, a nutritional fungi protein born of NASA research on microbes discovered in the geothermal springs of Yellowstone National Park. The company’s meatless products are produced from the firm’s breakthrough fermentation method. It takes a fraction of the water, land, and energy used in traditional animal farming to create Fy™.
The meat industry routinely destroys forests to make way for cattle grazing and livestock feed. According to World Resources Institute, a global sustainability research group, cattle ranching has driven the vast majority of the deforestation in the Amazon rainforest since 1970.
“The biggest transformational change is needed in the way in which we produce and consume food,” warns the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which calls agricultural expansion “the main driver of deforestation.”
Agriscience developments dovetail with statistics from A Well-Fed World, a food security and environmental advocacy organization advancing plant-based foods and farming. The organization finds that livestock animals are woefully inefficient in feeding developing nations. For example, it can take 25 pounds of grain to yield just 1 pound of ground beef, while 1 acre of land can generate 12 to 20 times more plant-based food than animal-based food.
Andrew Chung and the 1955 Capital team are serious about investing in entrepreneurs who push the envelope on what’s possible in sustainable food production. Team members closely follow the ongoing developments in agriscience, seeking startups that deliver timely sustainability solutions essential to ending world hunger amid climate change.
The 1955 Capital team also enjoys investing in early-stage technology startups like Crop Enhancement, which creates products to decrease or eliminate the use of hazardous chemical pesticides in the environment. Based in San Jose, California, this portfolio member makes CropCoat brand products that minimize pesticide use while adding nutrients to the soil.
CropCoat products are based on botanical extracts that form durable, biodegradable coatings on plant surfaces to camouflage plants from damaging pests and simultaneously disrupt the biological systems of any insects that happen to eat the plants. CropCoat offers a sustainable approach to pest and disease control for high-value crops.
1955 Capital and Andrew Chung target investment sectors that address the world’s most significant challenges. The firm identifies ways for breakthrough tech to address survival-driven needs before others do. These sometimes-underappreciated companies can provide the highest risk-return potential — and they might save the world while they’re at it.
Name: Shailesh Kumar
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