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The two biggest plant-based protein startups in the world are run by men. The majority of the rising cell-based protein startups are also run by men, alongside most of the vegan investment groups that fund them. The leader of the NGO think tank, which represents the interests of both, The Good Food Institute, is also a man, though admittedly he has a lot of women on his Board of Directors.
Did you know that less than 3% of all investment dollars go to women founders? Research from a VWS survey of female founders published last year showed as much. The same report underlined that 48% of female founders face bias in fundraising, while 30% – nearly a third – have experienced harassment or discrimination. Beyond the food tech world, the numbers aren’t any better. For example, only 37 of the Fortune 500 list of companies are run by women. In early 2021, Whitney Wolfe Herd, the founder of the women-make-the-first-move dating app Bumble, became only the 22nd woman ever to take a company she founded public. For minority and LGBTQI women, the stats are even more stark. This must change. We do a disservice to humanity when we hold women back.
March 8th is set aside every year as a date to celebrate the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women, so, with that in mind, we’re here to celebrate some of the women across the globe who are killing it in the alt protein space so we’ve put together a list of innovative, influential and inspiring female leaders (founders, activists, investors), who are changing the future of food. Could you, or someone you know, be next?
APAC’s Super Pack
Fengru Lin is the co-founder and CEO of award-winning tech firm TurtleTree Labs, a cultivated animal dairy and human breastmilk company.
Also in the Lion City, Reena Sharma, Ph.D. is the founder of Shandi Global, a startup working on whole cut plant-based chicken and Yashaswini Balaraju, PhD is co-founder at Mycovation, Asia’s first mycoprotein food tech company.
Over the past year there has been an explosion of Indian alt protein companies and reassuringly, many are helmed by women.
In the plant-based meat arena, we have Bollywood star Genelia Deshmukh, co-founder of Imagine Meats; Roma Roy Choudhury, founder at Evolved Foods; Pranjuli Garg, co-founder at ProMeat; Akanksha Ghai, co-founder of BVeg Foods; Nikki Arora Singh, founder of Blue Tribe Foods; Shruti Sonali, co-founder and COO at GoodDO; and Sadhika Agarwal, co-founder at Sudo Foods.
On the plant-based milk side, there’s Parini Kapadia, founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Zero Cow Factory, which is India’s first precision fermentation dairy company; Sweta Khandelwal, co-founder at alt foods; Ashna Goel, founder and MD at MilkinOats; and Radhika Datt, co-founder at Goodmylk.
Shraddha Bhansali is co-founder of India’s first plant-based egg startup Evo Foods, which launched its first liquid egg alternative in 2020. Also in the liquid vegan egg arena is Smitha Devigere, founder & CEO at Pulse Pro.
Ravali Amba is CEO at Demolish Foods (previously Brew51), which is pioneering whole cut plant-based meats in South Asia, while Anushi Patel is working on vegan cheese as the founder of Soft Spot Foods.
Chichi Hong is the founder and CEO of Hey Maet, a Chinese startup that makes pork and beef meat alternatives, and recently raised a multi-million US$ pre-Series A to double down on their high-moisture extrusion technology.
Shama Sukul Lee is founder & CEO at Sunfed Meats, the New-Zealand based alt protein pioneer making chicken free chicken, beef-free beef and boar free bacon from pea protein. The company was one of the world’s first plant-based chicken startups and one of the first APAC alt protein makers ever, making Sukul Lee, an engineer by training, one of the region’s first ever women founders in the industry.
European & Middle Eastern Evangelists
Philippine Soulères and Sheryline Thavisouk are co-founders of Le Papondu, a French plant-based egg startup.
Magdalena Kozłowska is the co-founder of NapiFeryn Biotech, which makes a sustainable alternative to animal-based protein that has the same nutritional value as soy by extracting protein from the waste created by rapeseed oil production.
Eva Sommer was co-founder and CPO at Peace of Meat, a B2B supplier of cultured fat, which was recently acquired by Israeli cultivated meat startup Meat-Tech 3D. She is now the co-founder and CEO at Austrian startup Fermify, which domesticates microorganisms and helps build automated production platforms for scaling milk protein production.
Liron Nimrodi is the co-founder and CEO of Zero Egg, the Israel-based shelf-stable plant-based egg startup that has already launched in food service in their native country, Europe and across the U.S.
Oyebola Adeyanju is the co-founder of Nigeria’s first plant-based food tech, Veggie Victory, and is “proud of its growing gender-balanced and black-owned shareholder base with a common vision for environmental sustainability, social fairness and free from animal cruelty”.
Michelle Adelman is the co-founder and CEO of Africa’s first plant-based food platform Infinite Foods. She’s one of the key driving forces behind the plant-based movement in Africa, on a quest to help the continent “leapfrog to plant-based foods”.
Marica Quarsingh is the founder of Sea-Stematic, a cultivated fish startup based in South Africa.
North American Winners
Miyoko Schinner is probably the most recognisable woman in the alternative protein space and certainly the leading lady of plant-based dairy worldwide. As the founder and CEO of Miyoko’s Creamery, she is credited with leading the plant-based cheese revolution.
Isha Datar became Executive Director of diverse non-profit organisation New Harvest in 2013, to support the cell-based industry through research and funding. Recently, it welcomed a new research fellow, Lisa Musgrove, who is investigating crayfish growth factors and cell-culture. Datar then helped co-found precision fermentation alt dairy tech Perfect Day to make milk without cows and Clara Foods, which is pioneering real molecularly identical eggs without the need for chickens. She is a force to be reckoned with, taking on every element of animal agriculture and finding a tech solution.
Christie Lagally, formerly a mechanical engineer at Boeing, started Rebellyous Foods in 2017. The brand recently expanded its product portfolio of “game changer” plant-based meat alternatives, having been “hard at work creating the next generation of products that taste exactly like one expects when they bite into a chicken sandwich, nugget, or tender”.
Dr Jess Krieger co-founded Artemys Foods in 2019 and developed the cell-based Artemys Burger, then in 2020 founded Ohayo Valley to make cultivated steak a reality and empower humanity to eat sustainably.
Stanford graduate Grace O’Brien experimented with ingredients during pandemic quarantine to come up with her own plant-based egg alternative, a shelf-stable powder named Peggs, made from a base of chickpeas.
Patricia Bubner is CEO and co-founder at Orbillion Bio, a startup on a mission to accelerate the broad availability of a variety of nutritious cultivated meat products, including a bison jerky that is low-fat, low-cholesterol and high-protein.
Courtney Boyd Myers is co-founder, CEO and CMO at AKUA, a company that makes seaweed burgers from sustainable ocean-farmed kelp and was recently named one of Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas for Food in 2020.
Nieves Martínez-Marshall, PhD (she/her) is the co-founder and CEO of Novel Farms, a cellular agriculture that produces 3D scaffolds that can be tailored to improve the texture and taste of any type of meat.
Stephanie Michelsen is the co-founder and CEO of cell-based collagen and gelatin-maker Jellatech. Her sister Nikita Michelsen, is the co-founder and CEO at Pearlita Foods, the world’s first cell-cultured oyster and mollusk company.
Natasha Dhayagude, founder and CEO at Chinova Bioworks, a Canadian clean-label preservation technology extracted from white button mushrooms for use in food and beverage applications including plant-based dairy.
Janay Jones is the founder of Rooted Delights, a small-batch vegan cheese wheel company made from oat milk.
Carolyn Simon is the founder of Choose Life Foods, a vegan Jamaican patty company.
Priyanka Srinivas is the co-founder of Chilean startup The Live Green Co. The firm recently added vegan-friendly clean-label ice creams to its line-up, developed using its AI-powered technology, which uses machine learning and data on plant nutrition, biochemistry and biotechnology to suggest natural plant alternatives to meat, dairy and synthetic ingredients like emulsifiers, food stabilisers and anti-freezing agents, and which shortened the R&D process to just 90 days.
Joanita Karoleski is CEO at Seara Foods, owned by the world’s biggest meat processing company JBS. The brand recently entered the plant-based market with a new “Incredible Range” that offers a number of plant-based protein alternatives primarily made from soy. Note; Seara Foods also manufactures meat products.
Mariana Nakaie is co-founder at The New Butchers, a Brazilian food tech creating plant-based meats from ingredients such as pea protein, coconut oil and beetroot. It currently has a presence across 16 states in Brazil, sold in supermarkets and specialty stores, and is working on developing new products for its portfolio.
Sofia Giampaoli is founder and CEO at Cell Farm/Granja Celular, the first cultured meat company inLatin America.
Ecosystem Makers, Influencers & Funders
There are many non-startup organisations driving change for women in food tech and alt protein and they are a crucial part of the ecosystem, advancing the movement by connecting everyone, hosting events, matching funders to companies and more.
There’s the Vegan Women Summit led by founder and CEO Jennifer Stojkovic (as mentioned above), an events company working towards empowering women to build a sustainable world. It recently began hosting the VWS Connect event series, the world’s first job networking series aimed at connecting mission-driven employers to underrepresented individuals, building a diverse workforce in the plant-based field.
Ira van Eelen and Olivia Fox Cabane are the co-founders of KindEarth.Tech (KET) and anyone on LinkedIn in the alt-protein space will be familiar with their logo-filled maps that have served to document the astronomical speed at which this industry and its many verticals are growing at. They also organize global KET events that serve to unite the community and behind the scenes, actively connect founders, NGOs, media organisations and regulators in the space. Most alt proteins roads lead to this dynamic duo. In addition, van Eelen is a cellular agriculture activist, working with governments all over the world to help regulate the nascent industry. As the daughter of William van Eelen, the Dutch research who pioneered the development of cell-based meat, she occupies a very special position in the alt protein pantheon.
There’s also Katrina Fox, founder of the wonderful Vegan Women’s Leadership Network, a new global ethical community for plant-based female leaders featuring great content and events, and Judy Nadel, the co-founder of Vevolution, the first plant-based and cell-based fintech investment matching platform, which support alt-protein-based innovators and connects them to like-minded investors. Nadel is also the co-founder of The Pack, as mentioned above.
There are too many incredible women working 24/7 to make the future of food slaughter-free, cruelty-free and as low emissions as possible to mention them all here but here are some inspiring and hard-working ladies that deserve a special mention: Natalie Lung, the Food Tech program manager at VC & accelerator Brinc; Louisa Burwood-Taylor, head of Media & Research at AgFunder; Mirte Gosker, acting Managing Director at non-profit The Good Food Institute APAC; Doris Lee and Viola Chen at GFI Consultancy (GFIC) in China, GFI’s China counterpart; Pinky Cole, founder and CEO of The Slutty Vegan, who recently made it to Forbes ‘Women Of The Next 1,000’ List and who is helping to galvanise the African American vegan and flexitarian community in the U.S.; Emma Osborne founder and CEO of ethical recruitment agency Citizen Kind; Louise Cullen, Marketing & Communications Manager at NGO ProVeg Incubator; Dr. Dalal AlGhawas, program director at VC & accelerator Big Idea Ventures; Camille Bossell and Emilie Dellecker, co-founders at food tech community media FoodHack – shoutout to their Venture builder Erika Hombert; Bianca Lê, director of Cellular Agriculture Australia; Elysabeth Alfano, founder of Plant Powered Consulting and creator of the VegTech index; Danielle Gould, co-founder and co-CEO of Alpha Food Labs and Food+Tech Connect; and Aurianne Borremans, the butcher’s daughter who advocates for alternative meat– she is also the founder of EATENTION and Alex Spices. Tammy Meiron supports Israeli alt protein innovation as the CTO of the Fresh Start Food Tech Incubator. Rachel Dreskin is a key figure in the US vegan sector as the CEO of trade group Plant Based Foods Association.
Finally, money talks, and we need more ladies backing ladies, so we rounded up six women VCs changing the future of food by investing in the new food revolution and, in most cases, championing racial, socio-economic and gender diversity among founding teams. Hats off to: Alicia Robb, CEO of Next Wave Impact, Advisory Board of GFI; Rosie Wardle, previously an investor at CPT Capital and Senior Advisor at the FAIRR Initiative, as of this January, the co-founder & Partner at Synthesis Capital; Samantha Wong, Partner at Blackbird Ventures, Mentor at Startmate; Ela Madej, co-founder and Partner at Fifty Years, Y Combinator Alum; Lisa Feria, CEO of Stray Dog Capital and Matilda Ho, founder & Managing Director of Bits x Bites and founder of China’s first organic and healthy foods online grocer Yimishiji. Also worth calling out: Stephanie Dorsey, co-founder and Managing Partner at E²JDJ and Mariliis Holm, co-founder and Partner at Sustainable Food Ventures, the first alt protein rolling fund on AngelList, Anna Ottosson, co-founder and Partner at Trellis Road, Kristen Rocca, principal at Unovis & New Crop Capital, Beatriz Franco, partner at Portfolia, Kim Flores at Clear Currrent Capital and Julianne Hummelberg, Investment VP at Plant Power Partners.
This is possibly the longest article we have ever published at Green Queen, and yet, it’s not long enough. Here’s to a future where women thrive they way they deserve to. Happy International Women’s Day!
Editor’s Note: This list is the result of hours of work, and no doubt we have missed some amazing queens. We will do our best to keep adding. On the startup side, we focused on founders, but many of these startups have incredible ladies on their teams that deserve to be celebrated too. In honor of them, I am listing the talented humans that make up the Green Queen Media team, including Amy Buxton, Nicola Spalding, Alessandra Franco, Jennifer Marston and Jill Ettinger, (Ana Perez and Sally Ho you are not forgotten!). Thank you for all that you do to support all the women in this list and to make the world better.
Lead image created by Green Queen Media with illustration from heartman, all other images as credited.