Dutch start-up Farmless announced today that it has raised a €1.2 million pre-seed equity round at an undisclosed valuation to bring to our tables proteins made without the need for traditional farming. With the climate crisis, it has never been more urgent to develop alternative food sources to both protect our planet and feed the ever-growing population both effectively and sustainably. Farmless founder and CEO Adnan Oner believes that Farmless’ new approach to protein production can make a positive change in what we eat and how we produce it.
“A few years ago, I wondered how I could make the most impact with my next startup,” Oner said in an exclusive interview with MinRegion. “I found out that there are very few people who make food production dramatically more land and resource efficient. Efficient food production is crucial if we are to reverse centuries of agricultural expansion and reforest the world in my lifetime… I got quite excited when I discovered that there is a much better way to food than traditional agriculture: fermentation powered by renewable electricity.
There are plenty of non-animal protein alternatives already available, but Farmless believes it’s onto something completely different with its fermentation approach. The production process does not depend on sugar, but on a liquid raw material made with CO2, hydrogen and renewable energy. This means that not only does it require five hundredths the amount of land compared to animal protein production, but also between 10 and 25 times less land than other types of plant protein.
“With our fermentation platform, we want to outperform livestock farming and reliably produce low-cost proteins on a planetary scale,” said Oner. “We believe this technology has the potential to end factory farming, rewild our planet and extract gigatons of carbon.”
Farmless has raised its €1.2 million pre-seed round from co-leaders Revent, Nucleus Capital and Possible Ventures with participation from HackCapital, Sustainable Food Ventures, VOYAGERS Climate-Tech Fund, TET Ventures and angels Jenny Saft through the Atomico Angel- program, and Ron Shigeta, Martin Weber, Rick Bernstein, Nadine Geiser, Joy Faucher, Michele Tarawneh, Alexander Hoffmann, and Christian Stiebner.
Oner talked MinRegion through both the short-term and long-term opportunities this funding has unlocked.
“With this round, we were able to find microbes that taste and behave like animal proteins, set up a lab and assemble a team of dedicated fermentation and food scientists,” Oner said. “We are currently developing our first product prototype, a high functionality amino acid complete protein.”
In addition to putting in place these essential requirements for building a business, the funding should help expand Farmless and push the boundaries of what can be achieved with synthetically produced proteins.
“We are also pushing the boundaries of the performance of our fermentation process,” says Oner. “The next steps are moving to larger fermenters, building our supply chain, getting regulatory approval for our first product and bringing it to market with the right partners.”
In the long run, Farmless has huge hopes for its protein alternative.
“The Farmless fermentation platform has the potential to create an entirely new food repertoire, producing proteins, carbohydrates, beneficial fats, vitamins and minerals from the bottom up,” said Oner. “We’re building a new interface between food and electricity, which means we’re domesticating microbes selected for their nutritional properties and their ability to grow on renewable energy resources.”
From a Farmless perspective, it has the potential to spark earth-changing developments over the next 10 years.
“If all goes according to plan, we will make food fermentation mainstream in the next decade,” Oner said. “Our ultimate goal is to free food production from animals and farmland so that we can return massive amounts of land to rewild our planet, take carbon from the atmosphere and free animals from the food system.”
Despite the positivity from both Farmless and its investors, there are some potential regulatory hurdles in its journey into fermentation-produced proteins, as Oner explained.
“Within the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the novel food procedure roughly has two phases; one is the food safety part, which is great,” Oner said. “But after a favorable opinion from EFSA, all Member States are allowed to vote, making it a very political and unpredictable process.”
Due to regulatory restrictions, Farmless may have trouble producing a protein alternative that people actually want to eat.
“Currently, public tastings of fermentation-based products are not allowed in the Netherlands under any circumstances,” said Oner, “making it a more complicated process to get customer feedback before going through the regulatory process.”
There are also potential funding bottlenecks on the horizon for Farmless, and for all other infrastructure-dependent businesses.
“Typical venture capital wants a high return on investment, which doesn’t suit infrastructure projects,” says Oner. “These bridges need to be filled with project funding, ideally with government support to increase the transition to a more sustainable and affordable food system, just as we did for renewables and electric vehicles.”
As difficult as it is to pursue these and other technologies, Farmless believes it is absolutely essential that people develop a workable alternative to animal proteins. And if it’s not too arable intensive either, that’s even better.
“Livestock farming is in the same category as the fossil fuel industry,” says Oner. “It causes so many bad things: biodiversity loss (>90% of tropical deforestation), CO2 emissions, disease, increase in antibiotic resistance, pesticide use, freshwater depletion, soil erosion, algal blooms – the list goes on.”
Oner and the Farmless team are delighted with the backing of investors who share their sense of urgency and potential.
“We are proud to be backed by this large group of experienced climate technology investors who share our radical mission,” said Oner. “They’re just as excited as we are to find a reliable way to produce low-cost protein on a planetary scale, end factory farming and rebuild our planet.”