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Singapore-based biotechnology startup TurtleTree Labs has just announced fresh funding from global investors, including Hong Kong’s Green Monday Ventures, the investment arm of plant-based disruptor Green Monday. The company is the one of the first in the world to develop cultivated milk without the need of animals and is focusing on high-value, nutritionally-matched human breast milk and cow’s dairy milk.
TurtleTree Labs, the makers of slaughter-free lab-grown milk, has just secured fresh capital in a seed funding round totalling US$ 3.2 million. Along with Green Monday Ventures, participating investors include San Francisco’s KBW Ventures, CPT Capital, Sydney-based alternative investment management firm Artesian and impact investor New Luna Ventures.
Co-founded in 2019 by Fengru Lin and Max Rye, Singaporean startup TurtleTree Labs is the world’s first cell-based milk company that utilises biotechnology to manufacture dairy milk with the exact composition, functionality and taste without any cows needed at a 98% carbon footprint reduction, as well as human breast milk that takes aim at the lucrative US$45 billion infant milk formula industry.
Speaking to Green Queen, TurtleTree Labs said that “while our technology can be applied to all mammals and we are accelerating on multiple pathways, we have received a huge amount of interest particularly in the infant nutrition industry.”
“This fresh funding will enhance our scale-up development, bringing us one step closer to commercialisation,” explained chief strategist Max Rye.
More specifically, the company told Green Queen via email that the new funds would go towards three main areas: accessing technological resources to accelerate the company’s development; bioreactor design and development; and pilot plant activities.
When asked about ongoing challenges, the company shared that “as with many other novel food companies, the focus is always on scaling up production and producing at a reasonable costs.”
TurtleTree Labs is also exploring licensing their technology as early as next year, mainly through co-developing different products with dairy conglomerates, but the company is cautious about timelines. The company told Green Queen that “it could be some time before consumers can ultimately see products produced using TurtleTree’s technology on the shelves, but we are working alongside global companies who have extensive experience bringing novel products to market.”
Green Monday Ventures’ investment into TurtleTree Labs follows its previous successful investment in Silicon Valley food tech giant Beyond Meat, whose plant-based meat has recently entered mainland China in a nationwide partnership with Starbucks.
David Yeung, founder of Green Monday Group, says that alternative protein companies are poised for tremendous growth as the dual crises of climate and coronavirus demonstrate the urgent need for a system restart.
“If the rapidly deteriorating climate change situation isn’t enough to convince the world, the pandemic surely hammers home the urgency that we need to overhaul the food system for the sake of public health, food safety and food security,” said Yeung.
Speaking to Green Queen exclusively, Yeung shared: “I am genuinely excited by the mission, technology and core team of TurtleTree Labs, an Asian food & biotech startup that is pushing a new frontier of scientific breakthrough.”
The latest funding announcement comes after the startup’s pre-seed funding round in January, which was led by Hong Kong and New York-based Lever VC and included the Saudi royal and alt-protein investor Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal.
At the time, the founders spoke about onboarding more scientists to develop additional prototypes to debut the world’s first cultivated dairy and human breast milk. Today, TurtleTree Labs has over 20 full-time scientists and engineers.
“Our team is hungry, passionate and knows what it takes to accelerate to market,” said Fengru Lin, co-founder and CEO, in a press release. “It’s inspiring when I see junior scientists messaging me in the middle of the night with ideas of cutting costs or choosing better suppliers.”
The company has also benefited from support from the Singapore government, which has turned its attention to boost local food production in recent months to shield the city-state from external supply shocks. With government backing, the startup has been able to continue work during the pandemic.
“Our teams are firing on all cylinders thanks to Enterprise Singapore and the support from our investors,” said Rye. “We just need to remain focused and continue hitting the milestones we’ve set.”
TurtleTree Labs’ lab-grown breast milk represents a huge scientific breakthrough that is especially valuable to mothers who are not able to breastfeed for various medical reasons and those facing exceptionally difficult circumstances such as orphaned babies, providing them with a near-equal alternative in terms of matching the health needs of infants.
It is also particularly relevant in Asia, where breastfeeding rates have lagged behind the global average for a host of cultural, medical and socioeconomic reasons. In China, for instance, the rates for exclusive breastfeeding for infants below 6 months stands at 29.2%, well below the international average of 43%.
Lead image courtesy of Getty Images.