16 Mins Read
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 Ana Perez, Sally Ho, Aigul Safiullina, Nicola Spalding, Alessandra Franco and Tanuvi Joe. Thank you for all that you do to support all the women in this list and to make the world better.
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 organization 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.
The Vegan Women Summit (VWS), published a shocking (yet perhaps not surprising) statistic last week: less than 3% of all investment dollars go to women founders. Research from a VWS survey of female founders published last year showed 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. Last month, 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
Jenny Ng is Executive Director at Green Monday and Green Common, and along with founder David Yeung, is fighting to grow the plant-based movement across Asia. Green Monday closed a record-breaking $70M funding round in September, and is going from strength to strength. It’s the brand behind Omnipork, which is appearing across menus in McDonald’s and Crystal Jade, and in 7-Eleven stores. Its retail concept, Green Common, already has ten locations across Asia, including its first in mainland China, which opened in December and Singapore.
Dr. Sandhya Sriram and Dr. Ka Yi Ling are the co-founders of cultivated seafood tech Shiok Meats, which debuted the world’s first cell-based lobster meat prototype in November. Together, their mission is to “develop cell-based crustacean meats that are contributing towards a cleaner and healthier seafood industry and solving for the inefficiencies around global protein production. We are working very hard on making sure that our products are delicious, healthy and affordable in the long run.”
Fengru Lin is the co-founder and CEO of award-winning tech firm TurtleTree Labs. It’s the world’s first startup to develop lab-grown milk with the same composition as real dairy milk without any cows, and in November 2020 closed an oversubscribed $6.2M pre-A round to fund R&D of its cell-based breastmilk. Plus, it just launched a new venture, TurtleTree Scientific, dedicated to food-grade growth factors, and announced a strategic partnership with biotech leader Dyadic International to develop a range of recombinant proteins growth factors that can be produced at high-yields and for a low-cost, potentially significantly slashing prices to “make cellular agriculture a reality for all.”
Shama Sukul Lee is founder & CEO at Sunfed Meats, the New-Zealand based alt protein pioneer making chicken free chicken 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.
Vinita Choolani is founder and CEO of Singapore’s Float Foods, which recently unveiled Asia’s first plant-based whole egg substitute, OnlyEg, where 65% of global egg production is based. Choolani says: “Ultimately our goal is to apply food science and innovation to build plant-based products such as OnlyEg that enable cultural relevance and contribute to a sustainable food ecosystem that can be a part of Singapore’s future food plans.”
Kai Yi Carrie Chan is the founder of Hong Kong cell-based seafood startup Avant Meats, which has had a very busy year. It debuted Asia’s first cultivated fish fillet in November, closed $3.1M seed funding in December, formed a strategic partnership with Vietnamese seafood giant Vinh Hoan Corporation (VHC) to accelerate the commercialisation of its cultivated fish products in January and announced the launch of its cell-based functional protein for cosmeceutical products in February. Phew!
Shraddha Bhansali is co-founder of India’s first plant-based egg startup Evo Foods, which welcomed veteran vegan founder Ryan Bethencourt as its first angel investor and advisor alongside US-Asia impact venture firm Big Idea Ventures in May 2020. It then launched its first liquid egg alternative in India late last year through its direct-to-consumer website and restaurants across the country, priced to rival conventional organic eggs in India, and is eyeing up a US expansion. Founded in 2019, Evo Foods has previously told Green Queen that it uses biotechnology to harness plant proteins derived from lentils to create a 100% vegan liquid egg product that is more sustainable than conventional eggs, contains no cholesterol, no antibiotics and is animal cruelty-free. Bhansali confirms: “India has so much crop biodiversity and we want to explore these, and use these proteins readily available to produce affordable and high quality products for the rest of the world.”
Bollywood star Genelia Deshmukh is co-founder of Indian plant-based meat venture Imagine Meats, offering a range of vegan-friendly meat substitutes tailored to the Indian market, such as kebabs, biryanis and curries. Deshmukh says that the brand is targeting the “guilty non-vegetarian eaters” in India and providing them with convenient options that they can “take it home, eat it without any guilt.”
Astrid Prajogo is the founder and CEO of HaoFood, a Chinese startup making meat alternatives from peanut protein. Prajogo was a finalist at VWS PAthfinder this past December and is on a mission to change how Chinese consumers eat: “We started with the aspiration of helping foodies reduce their meat consumption without losing the pleasure of eating the familiar dishes that they love.”
Helga Angelina Tjahjadi is the co-founder of Indonesian startups Burgreens, the country’s leading healthy meat-free restaurant chain, and Green Butcher, a meat alternative food tech company, who recently were chosen by Starbucks Indonesia for their first first plant-based menu collab.
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.
Bree Gaudette is the founder of Hello Friend Foods, an Australian alt dairy company that is making waves with their vegan cheese, a selection which includes halloumi. Last year, Gaudette launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to expand across the country.
European & Middle Eastern Evangelists
Philippine Soulères and Sheryline Thavisouk are co-founders of Les Merveilloeufs, and have developed a plant-based egg which maintains the distinctive white and yolk separation and even comes in a shell, like the real deal. On the development, Thavisouk says: “We’re very conscious about the negative environmental impact caused by the rearing of laying hens, which is even worse if done in battery farming. In every step of our product development, from the selection of raw ingredients to the manufacturing and packaging processes, we make it a priority to choose solutions that are as green as possible.”
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.
Dr Martina Miotto, co-founder at British biotech CellulaREvolution which recently raised £1M for its novel cell culturing technology. Its cell culture system is continuous, enabling higher yields with lower input requirements, while also lowering the environmental footprint of manufacturing compared to traditional batch technologies. The firm is the first in the UK working on bioreactors and, like a lot of newer cell based players, they are specifically focused on making the tech more affordable, more efficient and more sustainable.
Anja Leissner is co-founder of Swedish food tech Noquo Foods, which raised €3.25M a year ago to further develop its plant-based cheese, made from legumes, with the goal of creating an alternative which tastes and behaves like the real deal.
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.
Mercedes Vila Juárez is the co-founder and CTO of BioTech Foods, a Spanish cellular agriculture technology company that is also behing cell-cultured meat startup Ethicameat. The company was chosen to lead a US$6.3M cultured meat project backed by the Spanish government.
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”. The firm secured pre-seed funding in February, and described the investment round as a show of the potential for the African continent to be the “next frontier” for the global plant-based movement.
Michelle Adelman is the co-founder and CEO of Africa’s premier plant-based food platform Infinite Foods, which won Best Plant-Based Business at the World Plant-Based Food Awards in 2020. She’s the driving force behind the plant-based movement in Africa, on a quest to help the continent “leapfrog to plant-based foods”. Infinite Foods enables its brand partners, such as Beyond Meat and Oatly, to reach a wide audience of consumers, driving change alongside revenue.
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 when she developed her own proprietary technology for turnings fermented nuts and seeds into delicious, clean-label animal-free fromage. When she is not overseeing her food tech empire (her products are sold internationally), Schinner is busy being an activist, fighting lawsuits against Big Dairy (and winning!) and helping up-skill dairy farmers so they can produce oat milk instead.
Michelle Egger and Leila Strickland are the co-founders of Biomilq, a company working on bringing cultured breastmilk to the masses and disrupting the infant formula industry. The startup has already earned the attention of figures like Bill Gates and, in an interview with Green Queen, Egger told us that she’s not stopping until everyone in need of Biomilq’s cultured breast milk can get it. Props for women solving the issues that affect women.
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 co-founded precision fermentation alt dairy tech Perfect Day in April 2014 to make milk without cows, which is currently working on opening its Singapore-based R&D center. Then, in November 2014, she co-founded Clara Foods, which secured $8M venture capital in January to further development of its 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, and other plant-based ingredients like potato starch, flaxseed, nutritional yeast, black salt and spices. She is now working on raising funding to move her product out of her kitchen and into a professional packing plant.
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. Orbillion Bio was part of Hong Kong-based accelerator Brinc’s Spring 2020 cohort and Big Idea Ventures’ most recent New York cohort, as well as the Future Food-Tech Summit in December.
Veronica Fil is the co-founder and CEO of alt dairy firm Grounded Foods, which secured $1.74M last summer for its fermented vegan cheese made from hemp seeds and ‘ugly’ cauliflower. Fil told us in our Q&A that the brand’s mission is “to genuinely shift consumer behaviour in a meaningful way – by creating products that are so novel and delicious and accessible, that people don’t even think about the fact that they’re not eating dairy. But also, we want to be part of the solution – not contributing to the problem that’s occurring in our existing food system. So we’re hell bent on using environmentally resilient and local ingredients as well, not just importing whatever is cheapest or easiest.”
Stephanie Michelsen is co-founder and CEO at Jellatech, a new biotech startup specialising in creating animal-free and slaughter-free collagen and gelatin by growing cells in a bioreactor: “Instead of isolating and purifying collagen and gelatin from animals we grow it – using cells in a bioreactor. We don’t require acres of land, live animals, shipping, slaughtering and various complicated processes to produce collagen.”
Courtney Boyd Myers is co-founder, CEO and CMO at Akua, a company that makes jerky from sustainable ocean-farmed kelp and was recently named one of Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas for Food in 2020.
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.
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. It also recently held VWS Pathfinder, the world’s first global competition dedicated to female vegan founders, and top prize went to plant-based algae textile company Algaeing in December 2020. We can’t wait for this year’s edition.
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, a not yet launched, celebrity-backed plant-based startup looking to disrupt dog food.
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-founder and COO and Community Builder respectively of food tech community media FoodHack; Bianca Lê, director of Cellular Agriculture Australia; Michelle Simon, founder of Plant Based Foods Assocation; 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.
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.
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!
Lead image created by Green Queen Media with illustration from heartman, all other images as credited.