The global plant-based protein market is expected to continue growing and expanding through 2023, propelled by a variety of causes including rising health consciousness, environmental concerns, and ethical considerations. Plant-based proteins are in high demand as consumers look for wholesome, ethically produced, and sustainable dietary options.
Cashing on that, PoLoPo, an Israeli molecular farming startup, has raised $1.75M funding to expand its proprietary method for growing proteins from potatoes, the world’s most extensively farmed non-cereal food crop. FoodLabs led the pre-seed round, with other investors including CPT Capital, Siddhi Capital, Plug and Play Ventures, Milk & Honey Ventures, and HackCapital.
PoLoPo will use the new funds to extend its core team of world-class scientists and expedite R&D work in order to offer prototypes within the next year and a half. With the help of this investment, the company plans to establish a lab and R&D team, undertake research, and carry out a 2-year R&D plan that includes a number of significant milestones, such as functioning egg protein samples. It will also enable the company to construct the regulatory strategy in compliance with FDA and USDA rules.
To address the protein needs of the food industry and feed the expanding global population, PoLoPo has created a patented technology that allows proteins to be expressed in potatoes in a scalable, economical manner. The company is constructing a technology platform for protein manufacturing, beginning with Ovalbumin (the egg white protein), with a focus on the $26.6B egg protein market as well as the industry’s rising demand for alternatives to egg white protein.
“We’re glad to have won a group of such renowned and like-minded investors”, said Dr. Maya Sapir-Mir. “With this substantial funding we are aiming to reach several significant milestones including protein rich potato tubers and Ovalbumin functional samples.”
“We want to produce better food for the world. Molecular farming technology, being harnessed for the production of high-quality proteins, presents a huge opportunity to do so, alongside with taking the animals out of the equation and reducing the carbon footprint of the production process” said Dr. Raya Liberman-Aloni.
PoLoPo was officially founded in January 2022, after almost 2 years of dreaming (and planning) by Dr. Raya Liberman-Aloni and Dr. Maya Sapir-Mir. Raya. Currently, the company has four full-time employees, including the two founders. In the last few months, two R&D scientists joined the team.
In 1995, the founders met while studying for their PhDs at the Hebrew University. They were doing research at Dr. Yoram Eyal’s lab at the Volcani Center. Their friendship grew quickly, and they worked together for six years.
Dr. Maya Sapir-Mir said diversity is a key value for the company because there are two female founders. She believes diversity is an enormous motivator for any business and it is our duty as leaders to promote diversity. As the company expands, it will maintain a diverse workforce in terms of gender, race, and religion.
As they have delved deeper into plants’ nearly limitless capabilities and developed techniques to harness them for our needs, Mir explained to TFN how this idea for the startup was born. In addition to understanding plant protein structure, function, and production, both the founders were also interested in plant metabolic engineering. “After finishing our academic careers, we both worked for a few years at modest cannabis-related enterprises. While this industry is smart and exciting, we felt compelled to return to our roots in plant metabolic engineering,” she added.
On being different from the competitors, Mir revealed that there are different ways to do molecular farming. “We see companies who use plants with natural high protein production or accumulation capabilities, others concentrate in cost-effective extraction methods. Each of these methods has its advantages and disadvantages. Expression levels, extraction costs and accumulation abilities vary between green tissues, seeds, or other sink organs,” Mir added.
In July 2022, the company participated in the 2022 Coller Startup competition held at Tel Aviv University and won the FoodTech track thus securing the first investment from CPT Capital. “We were very fortunate to be introduced to FoodLabs, and are very thankful for their decision to be our lead investor. By the end of 2022 we closed this pre-seed funding round led by FoodLabs,” Mir said.