Editor’s note: This content was originally created by our team for Innovate78.
In 2016, two entrepreneurs in the Netherlands – Maurits van de Ven and Tony Martens – came up with a solution to help address the world’s hunger problems via the production of the aquatic plant lemna and formed an AgTech company called Plantible Foods.
In order to continue their R&D activities for this protein-rich plant, relocation to the United States was a logical choice due to friendly regulations around new food ingredients, availability of capital, and better weather conditions for year-round cultivation, van de Ven said. While searching for potential locations, the founders increasingly focused on Southern California and stumbled on a potential site in San Marcos, which, they discovered, has the perfect climate to further test the potential for lemna during year-round cultivation trials.
“Many sunny days and a relatively mild climate are very favorable conditions for reliable cultivation R&D results,” van de Ven explained.
And so, the entrepreneurs packed up and moved to San Marcos in the fall of 2017. The pair is currently building a vertically integrated agricultural system that will allow them to create the “best and most sustainable plant-based protein in the world.”
Below, van de Ven describes how Plantible Foods is creating innovative solutions to produce high quality proteins more sustainably.
Year Founded: 2016
Technology platform: In low impact, environmentally sensitive aqua farms, Plantible Foods grows organic lemna, an aquatic crop that floats on the surface of the water. The company starts the process by growing the lemna in an indoor, quality controlled environment, and then uses the company’s developed technologies to optimize growth rates, nutritional content, and ideal harvest times. Plantible Foods has also developed an efficient and proprietary extraction process that extracts the organic and white protein ingredient from the green lemna biomass.
Protein from Lemna: Lemna is a very fast growing green leaf that is packed with protein and doubles in biomass in just over 48 hours. Plantible Foods has developed technologies to sustainably grow lemna on non-arable land and to process the plant into a valuable protein ingredient that behaves similar to egg white: it foams, gels, and emulsifies like no other plant-based protein does. Applications for the neutral tasting protein ingredient include dairy alternatives, meat alternatives, snacks, smoothies, and ready-to-drink beverages.
Purpose & Profits: The reason behind Plantible Foods’ existence: Global population growth and increasing natural resource scarcity will result in a worldwide shortage of protein, according to van de Ven.
“Traditional agriculture requires arable land and lot of fresh water to produce enough protein to meet future demand,” he said. “Therefore, innovative solutions are necessary to produce high quality proteins more sustainably. Our mission is to produce the best plant-based protein in the world that can be used in many different consumer categories. In order to achieve that, we tried to find a protein that tastes great and is affordable.”
Growth Spurt: In 2018, Plantible Foods completed an undisclosed pre-seed funding round led by Unshackled Ventures, followed by an investment from Bay Area based FTW Ventures in 2019. The startup is currently testing its ingredient with CPG manufacturers. Plantible Foods is also preparing for its next capital raise which will allow the scale up of its production capacity and expansion of the team. Meanwhile, Plantible Foods continues to strengthen its IP portfolio through patent applications in fields related to cultivation, processing, and food science.
Plantible Foods’ investors are also excited about the AgTech’s potential. “Plantible Foods is not only a high-protein alternative to traditional sources, but it’s also good for the environment,” Manan Mehta, General Partner of Unshackled Ventures, said in a press release. “It’s incredible what the founding team has been able to do on non-arable land with a fraction of the water requirement as compared to alternative plant-based proteins.”
Location, Location, Location: For van de Ven, location is everything for his startup to grow. San Marcos, he said, is well connected to the I-15 and I-5, with both domestic and international airports nearby, and is relatively close to large cities such as San Diego and Los Angeles, which, he said, make it accessible for potential investors and partners to visit San Marcos as well as a comfortable commute for current and future employees.
“In addition, the existing biotech industry in San Diego has established a robust ecosystem of many different suppliers and service companies that can also cater to the growing food and beverage industry, including producers of specialty foods and craft breweries,” he said. “The 78 Corridor’s natural attractiveness, combined with a growing number of startups in innovative technologies, retains local talent and attracts talent from other areas. This is a great opportunity for startups because being located here adds all these benefits for employees, which supports the ability to build powerful teams. Eventually, it is the people that make startups successful.”
Plantible Foods is one of a plethora of unique companies along the 78 Corridor – which includes Escondido, San Marcos, Vista, Carlsbad, and Oceanside. And, that’s no surprise considering the ample amount of resources available to help fuel and sustain startups.
“The cities along the 78 Corridor have been working hard to build a solid startup ecosystem that supports companies from various industries and sizes,” said Kevin Ham, Economic Development Director for the City of Vista. “These companies and their innovation plays a significant role in economic growth, job creation, and quality of life in the region. Through invention, entrepreneurship, science, and technology, these startups have the capability to not only enhance our daily lives but to even solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges. We are proud to have these startups call the North County region their home.”
Editor’s Note: Innovation Hub is an original FBT series celebrating the extraordinary companies that span across the entire San Diego region. From software to healthcare tech, retail tech, Agtech, AI, fintech, cybersecurity, manufacturing and more, this series takes a deeper dive into the innovative industries that make up the collaborative culture of this diverse ecosystem.