FoodTech Weekly #162 by Daniel S. Ruben

News on FoodTech, food, and society

FoodTech Weekly #162

Hi there,

Last week I asked for your opinion on having 10K unread emails; some 78% of the 93 respondents said that it stressed them out:

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 This stresses me out (73)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ This is fine (20)

Some comments from the ‘This is fine’ category:

“Makes me feel important!” | “How else to deal with it?” | “I would like to hear which CEO doesn't have 10k unreads.” | “Prioritization is everything, what's the alternative cost of inbox zero?”

And some comments from the stressed out folks:

“That is mental! Why not just setup auto delete if you aren’t going to bother?” | “Inbox zero at least one a day, minimum one a week. Anything else is inefficient.” | ”If your email looks like this, you lose essential emails among the unimportant. The reason for losing control of your inbox could be that you are unorganized, your stakeholders are not using effective communication tools, or you are involved in too many topics at the same. Either way, such a situation leads to major downsides in efficiency, but somehow, people just accept that this is just how it is.”

A new study from Stanford University (reported on by e.g. Green Queen) has found that powerful vested interests in the animal agriculture industry are blocking the development of sustainable proteins. Some observations:

  • Livestock farmers get 1,200x more public funding in the EU, and 800x more public funding in the U.S., than alternative meat companies

  • Some 97% of research and innovation spending goes to animal farmers

  • In the EU, cattle farmers get over 50% of their income through direct subsidies

  • Public money spent on plant-based meat was $42M between 2014-2020, just 0.1% of the $35B spent on meat and dairy

  • Meat producers spend 190x more in the U.S., and 3x more in the EU, than alt meat producers on lobbying

The study authors say that public policies still ‘massively fund the incumbent system, when we know it’s really part of the problem in terms of climate change, biodiversity loss, and some health issues’ . The authors call for government policies that ensure that the prices of animal-sourced foods reflect their true environmental cost.

This week's rundown:

  • CH4 Global drums up $29M investment for seaweed additive that block 90% of cow enteric methane emissions

  • Global FoodTech investments in Q2 2023 stabilized at $2.7B, new data shows

  • How a fish knocked out the power for a New Jersey town

Let's go!


Got to know Mary Ellis, MBA/Ph.D. who is CEO of PheroSyn, a bit better during a recent conversation. She comes from a farming background in Wiltshire, U.K., went to Canada for a Masters degree and ended up living there for many years. Mary got involved in the early-stage tech ecosystem in Alberta, and eventually became e.g. CEO of a vaccine company, and CSO of a medical cannabis company — ‘I’ve always been an entrepreneur’, she reflects.

Mary’s family farm hasn’t used pesticides since 1968. ‘About 98% of pesticides applied to crops don’t reach their target, sometimes instead harming critical pollinators. Pesticides also contaminate land and waterways, and they’ve been linked to human health problems like Parkinson’s and cancer. And the processes to create and deploy pesticides have a big GHG impact. I’m intrigued by how we can use pheromones instead of pesticides; these pheromones can be used to communicate with specific insects.’

The EU’s Farm to Fork strategy calls for a 50% reduction of pesticides by 2030, so there is a surging interest in alternatives to traditional pesticides, and farmers are increasingly being incentivized to switch. The global market for pheromones is $3B, and regulations will slowly but steady push out pesticides,’ Mary notes.

PheroSyn was spun out of Rothamsted Research in 2020, and Mary joined as CEO and co-founder last year. PheroSyn uses both aggregation pheromones which attract insects of the same species to a common location, and sex pheromones which can be used to monitor pests and also disrupt their mating.

It sounds easy, but it isn’t. ‘You have to use the right pheromone with the right trap’, Mary explains, and continues: ‘Farmers accept that there’s some beneficial insects like pollinators, and even damaging insects present — our solution can help alert them when a threshold level is reached and the pest presence becomes damaging, so that the farmer can intervene.’

PheroSyn typically helps farmers reduce their pesticide use by 75-100%, and this also translates into cost savings (e.g. £75K saved for a 5,000 hectare farm).

Mary states that ‘we have to allow the farmer to achieve equivalent yields with pheromones as with pesticides; if that happens, pesticides can be phased out in the next 20 years. The impact will be huge, not least will we see a rebound in the pollinator population.’

PheroSyn has completed field trials for e.g. pea midge and pea and bean weevil, and is able to start selling their products for these pests next year. Future PheroSyn products that kill pests will need regulatory approval, which could take a few years.

The company is in the middle of a £650K fundraise, aiming to close before the end of the year. Mary is interested in connecting with people sharing PheroSyn’s vision of the future - such as investors, and distributors looking for an alternative to pesticides. She can be reached via LinkedIn and PheroSyn’s website.

Mary Ellis with fellow co-founder Daniel Bahia. Images: PheroSyn


  • U.S. startup CH4 Global has made a first close, $29M, of what will be a $45M Series B round. The company produces a red seaweed-based feed supplement which can reduce ruminant methane emissions by up to 90%. The round was led by DCVC, DCVC Bio, and Cleveland Capital, and the capital infusion will be used to build a production facility in Australia which can supplement the diets of 30K cows.

  • Chilean biotech startup Botanical Solutions has secured a $13M Series A round, led by Otter Capital and backed by e.g. Boldo SpA, Quebec LP, Casanueva and Saval. The company develops e.g. a botanical biopesticide.

  • KetoSwiss of Basel, Switzerland has grabbed €4.4M in fresh funding. The company has developed MigraKet, a migraine treatment through a ‘dietary-preventive therapeutic approach’.

  • Japanese researchers have developed deep-learning algorithms that can estimate rice yield from pre-harvest photographs. The researchers hope that their innovation can lead to better, more sustainable management of rice fields.

  • Global FoodTech investments have stabilized at low levels, new data from DigitalFoodLab/Crunchbase shows:

Image: DigitalFoodLab

  • New York-based biotech company Pureture says it’s able to produce plant-based casein made via yeast-based traditional fermentation.

  • Indigo Ag of Boston raised a new funding round last month at a $200M valuation, which was a 94% (!) drop from the $3.5B valuation the company had just two years ago.

  • Japanese plant-based egg startup Umami United has closed a pre-Series A round, led by Beyond Next Ventures and joined by Genesia Ventures. Umami United has now raised a total of ¥240M (appr. $1.6M).

  • Kentegra Biotechnology of Kenya has raked in $15M (in debt and equity) from Finnfund and the U.S. Development Finance Corp. to provide affordable biopesticides (pyrethrins, from pyrethrum flowers) to smallholder farmers, helping them substitute expensive, toxic chemicals. Kentegra will now expand it’s production capacity, contracting 90,000 flower farmers to grow pyrethrum flowers.

  • German culinary robotics startup Aitme has been acquired by fellow German FoodTech company Circus (which cooks and delivers food to customers from its micro-kitchens). Here’s a 1 min video on how the robot kitchen works.

Image: Aitme/YouTube

News from the FoodTech Weekly community

  • NOVAMEAT (Netherlands) are looking for a National Account Manager… Revo Foods (Austria) are hiring a Senior Food Scientist… Michroma (Argentina) are recruiting a Lab Technician… Chromologics (Denmark) has an open role for a Process Operator… FoodLabs (Germany) are scouting for a co-founder/MD for a new startup within precision fermentation.

  • FLORA Ventures is leading a Nature Positive Farming startup competition, with an investment commitment of $1.2M to the chosen startup, access to design partners and more. They are seeking startup applications by Sep 7, with technologies in: bioalternatives to agri-chemicals, more sustainable fertilizers, soil health, nutrient management, precision & regenerative agriculture platforms.

  • GreenBiz seeks sustainable food and beverage companies to participate in their Climate Cuisine food showcase at VERGE 23 in San Jose, CA this October. The showcase is a chance to promote your products to a community of 5,000 climate tech investors, corporate partners, government leaders and entrepreneurs — all of whom could be future customers. Register your interest by September 8th using this form.

  • Passionately obsessed with amplifying concrete ways of mitigating the climate crisis, producer Andrea Walji calls on her 20 years' experience of content production, advertising and storytelling as her ammo to bring about change. She is the founder of Triangle Monday, an award-winning impact driven production company dedicated to the Future of Food, working with brands, startups, entrepreneurs, and celebrities who have a strong purpose. A self-described nerd for everything around precision fermentation, biotech and our global food systems, Andrea’s goal is to partner with likeminded brands and organisations to create content that educates, inspires action and accelerates impact for a B2B and B2C audience. She can be reached at: [email protected] 

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Random Stuff

  • If you’re a startup looking to practice your pitching skills, you can use this fun AI chatbot. Try it out!

  • A close up of strawberry seed picking + distressing audio makes this feel like a CSI episode (12 sec video):

  • Vegan icecream (h/t Marie Dollé):

  • How Modernity Made Us Allergic - from NOĒMA.

  • Satellite-based data is providing insights on crop disease, pest infection, nutrient needs, water stress and ideal harvest time, helping e.g. French wine farmers to harvest grapes at the right time.

  • A fish dropped out of the sky by its bird captor hit a power line and caused an outage for almost ten thousand people in New Jersey. The local police department posted on social media that ‘The suspect was last seen flying South.’

​I love you.


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This issue was produced while listening to Praise You by Fatboy Slim. Follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter. Did your brilliant friend forward this to you? Subscribe here.

Disclosures: I'm an operating advisor to VC/investment firms Nordic FoodTech VC, Mudcake, and Blume Equity. I'm a mentor at accelerators Katapult Ocean, Big Idea Ventures, and Norrsken Accelerator. I'm an advisor to BIOMILQ, FoodHack, Hooked, Ignitia, Improvin, IRRIOT, Juicy Marbles, Lupinta, NitroCapt, Oceanium, petgood, Rootically, Stockeld Dreamery, Transship, VEAT, and Volta Greentech; in some of these startups, I have equity.
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