Shiok Meats plans to commercialise the business in Singapore in the next two years

Dr Sandhya Sriram (right) and Dr Ka Yi Ling (left) are the co-founders of Shiok Meats. (PHOTO: Shiok Meats)
Dr Sandhya Sriram (right) and Dr Ka Yi Ling (left) are the co-founders of Shiok Meats. (PHOTO: Shiok Meats)

SINGAPORE — Shiok Meats, a homegrown start-up, plans to set up its first manufacturing plant in Singapore after its latest fundraising exercise in June brings it closer to the goal of commercialising the business in a couple of years.

The start-up, whose name means fantastic in local slang, in June raised US$3 million in a bridge funding round involving VegInvest, Impact Venture and Mindshift Capital Fund, bringing its total funding to date to US$7.6 million.

Founded in 2018, Shiok Meats is a cell-based clean meat company and claims to be the first of its kind in Singapore and Southeast Asia.

The co-founders Sandhya Sriram and Ka Yi Ling are stem cell scientists who worked at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research before they gave up their jobs to become entrepreneurs.

“In 2015, I first came across cell-based meats and ever since have been obsessed with it. I did a deep dive into the field and in 2018, decided to take the plunge,” said Sriram in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance.

“I have been a vegetarian all my life due to the unethical and unsustainable aspects of the meat and seafood industry and Ka has been constantly reducing her consumption of meats and seafood. We decided to contribute to the food industry using stem cell technology to provide sustainable options,” she elaborated.

“Cell-based meats are meats or seafood that are grown from stem cells instead of killing animals. It is sustainable, ethical and clean without overuse of antibiotics or hormones, no viral or bacterial diseases,” the 34-year-old entrepreneur said. These are not artificial, fake or synthetic meats as they are the same as real meat but are health-, animal- and environment-friendly, she added.

The cells are obtained from a small sample of shrimps or other crustaceans and grown in a nutrient-rich broth which includes a mixture of amino acids, carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, vitamins and trace elements. When the cells have grown to a large enough mass, they are ready to be harvested and used in a variety of delicious dishes.

It is different from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meats as these plant-based meat is made from plant products such as pea protein and soy protein, while cell-based meat is made from cells derived from the animal itself.

Demand for meat substitutes is growing and is expected to reach US$8.1 billion by 2026 from US$4.1 billion in 2017, according to a report by Allied Market Research.

Shiok Meats previously revealed that it’s aiming to sell its first product in Singapore by 2022. At the R&D stage which have proved successful, the company estimates that it made a kilogram of shrimp meat for somewhere around US$5,000.

With further investment in research and development to reduce cell culture media costs, the company aims to bring that cost down to US$50 a kilogram, Sriram said.

(Source: Shiok Meats)
(Source: Shiok Meats)

Sriram shares some of her thoughts on the entrepreneurship process:

What made you and your co-founder take the plunge?

My personal experience and education is in stem cells, and I wanted to produce clean, healthy and environment-friendly seafood using stem cells. I have been working with various types of stem cells from different animals right from my under graduation, through my Masters, PhD and postdoctoral research work.

In 2018, I decided to take a stance, quit my job and take the biggest risk of my career and life — but it paid off with starting Shiok Meats. And my co-founder, Ka Yi, came along this crazy journey with me.

Ka is also a stem cell and development scientist with over 10 years of experience in the field. We both knew each other for a couple of years working in the same organisation.

What difficulties and hurdles did you face in setting up the venture?

As with every startup, ours also has faced numerous challenges right from finding lab space, to hiring to fund raising. But we kept going at it and did not give up. We are currently in R&D and will commercialise in 2022.

How do you address concerns from consumers about cell-cultured meat?

We do a lot of consumer education by speaking at events, conferences, publishing articles and sharing on social media.

We have been working on cell-based shrimp for the past few years. Our Shiok shrimp tastes like conventional shrimp. Since the cells are isolated from shrimps, they taste exactly the same as traditionally farmed or fished shrimp.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs who want to leave their jobs to form their own venture?

Go for it! If you do not try, you will never know. If you fail, it is okay – try again or you can always go back to a job.

My advice to those looking to start something up in the cell-based meats sector is — do not start another cell-based meat or seafood company. Instead start a media, bioreactor, growth factor company that can support existing cell-based meat companies to come to market as soon as possible.

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