A cellular ag startup with a real moat

Would you eat lab-grown meat? Would you give the same answer if someone asked you to use a beauty product that had lab-grown collagen as an ingredient?

Cellular agriculture — the process of growing an agriculture product from cell cultures — has been gaining momentum over the past few years. Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Upside Foods’ and Good Meat’s plan to sell their lab-grown chicken through restaurants. Both companies, in addition to numerous other cellular agriculture startups, have raised oodles of venture dollars.

The rise of cellular agriculture hasn’t been linear and easygoing, of course, and not everyone is into the craze. Italy, for one, is working to ban the stuff outright, and various polls have produced mixed results regarding whether folks would actually eat lab-grown meat.

But not everyone is using the tech to create yet another meat alternative.

Stephanie Michelsen first realized the potential of cellular agriculture when she was working in the alternative protein sector. When she started thinking about it further, she realized there may be an overlooked opportunity: Animal proteins like gelatin and collagen have use cases well beyond the realm of food.

“I started thinking about the hurdles for moving into an animal-free future. If all animal culture disappeared tomorrow, what would be missing? What do we not have a solution for?” Michelsen said. “For me, it was the byproducts that are only found in these animals. That is how I landed on collagen.”

Cultivated collagen is the basis for her startup Jellatech, which was founded in 2020 and recently landed a $3.5 million seed round led by byFounders VC, with participation from Milano Investment Partners and Joyful VC, among others.

Jellatech stands out in the increasingly crowded cellular agriculture space because it is tapping into a larger opportunity than some of its seafood and meat-focused counterparts.

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