Concert Bio lands seed round to fix hydroponic farming’s ‘dirty secret’

If the world wants to feed 10 billion people in 2050, it’ll need to find a better way to grow food.

Today, about half the world’s habitable land is devoted to agriculture, yet even that amount can’t provide everyone with the sort of diet enjoyed by people in developed countries. If everyone wanted to eat like Americans, we’d need to farm about 140% of the world’s habitable land.

That’s obviously not possible. The other option is to radically boost the amount of food that each acre of land can produce. While agriculture has made impressive strides over the last several decades, tripling production seems like a stretch. One solution is to skip the soil and grow crops hydroponically in greenhouses.

Hydroponic agriculture has a lot of potential — yields for lettuce, for example, can be 10 times higher than traditional farming — but it’s not without its problems. For one, it requires a lot of energy. But that’s relatively easy to solve compared with the industry’s other challenges.

“It’s a bit of a dirty secret that the industry doesn’t really like to talk about, but they have very bad disease outbreaks,” said Paul Rutten, founder and CEO of Concert Bio, a microbiome company focusing on the space.

If the wrong bacteria or fungi get inside a hydroponic greenhouse, “it’s open season – it will just take over the whole thing,” Rutten said. “It’s one big interconnected water loop, so it doesn’t go badly wrong — it goes catastrophically wrong. Everything will just die, basically.”

Rutten and his colleagues at Concert Bio are developing a system to monitor and eventually tweak the microbial ecosystem that lives within hydroponic systems. The team has landed a $1.7 million oversubscribed seed round led by The Venture Collective with strategic investments from Nucleus Capital, Ponderosa Ventures, TET Ventures, Day One Ventures, and Possible Ventures. A handful of angels also contributed.

Perfeggt brings in first capital to shell out plant-based egg alternative

Sales of plant-based alternatives, like dairy and meat, are surging in the global market, and Perfeggt wants to do the same for the egg.

The Berlin-based foodtech company is poised to debut its chicken-less egg product in the first quarter of 2022 in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Today, the company announced it raised $2.8 million in its first funding round to aid the initial launch and then expand further in Europe later in 2022.

Backers in the round include EVIG Group, Stray Dog Capital, E2JDJ, Tet Ventures, Good Seed Ventures, Sustainable Food Ventures and Shio Capital.

Perfeggt CEO Tanja Bogumil co-founded the company, which is part of Lovely Day Foods GmbH, earlier this year with Gary Lin, EVIG’s founder and CEO, and Bernd Becker, who was a long-time head of R&D for Rügenwalder Mühle, a German vegetarian and vegan meat maker.

Bernd Becker, Gary Lin, Tanja Bogumil v.l.n.r. Perfeggt

Perfeggt co-founders, from left, Bernd Becker, Gary Lin and Tanja Bogumil. Image Credits: Patrycia Lukaszewicz

“I really believe we deserve better food,” Bogumil told TechCrunch. “My mother’s family is from an agriculture background in small-scale farming, so I have always been conscious of where the food we eat comes from. I turned vegetarian at 12 when my uncle brought me to a slaughterhouse to show me that the sausages I ate were not made the right way. I didn’t fully get what was happening there, but it didn’t feel right or humane.”

Unlike dairy, where there is already sustainability, she believes the egg is still largely untapped. Sure, there are companies making similar plant-based alternatives, like Simply Eggless and Just Eat, which raised $200 million earlier in the summer, but worldwide, more than 1.3 trillion eggs are produced annually, meaning there is room to grow, and applications are versatile, Bogumil said.

Perfeggt’s first plant-based egg product is a protein-rich liquid alternative made from fava beans. It can be prepared as a scrambled egg or omelet in the pan. The company will initially be launching its product with food service organizations.

As with all food, taste is king, and with this product, the co-founders worked to create similar mouth feel, sensory, flavors and textures — all elements that Bogumil says are needed to get people to switch to a plant-based equivalent.

“This is something we spent time on figuring out,” she added. “Our product is built around the fava bean, which is very suited to mimic functionality required for these applications.”

To do this, Perfeggt’s R&D site in Emsland, Germany works closely with Wageningen University & Research, known for its life sciences research, to test plant-based protein sources and their combinations that come closest to the nutritional and functional properties of animal products.

The new funding enables the company to build out its team at its headquarters and R&D facility. The company is currently hiring for food scientists, marketing and R&D.

Meanwhile, Bogumil believes that more companies coming into the egg alternative space will help Perfeggt’s mission to shift people to plant-based foods.

“This is not a one-winner-takes-all market,” she said. “We have never in history seen alternative proteins be so close to the mainstream market. Clearly that is reflected in the capital markets, and not just for developing niche markets, but for the future of food.”

“We are incredibly impressed by the team’s rapid technological progress in developing next-generation alternative proteins and finding solutions that improve human, planetary and animal health,” Stephanie Dorsey, founding partner at E2JDJ, added in a written statement. “The egg market is a massive opportunity and this is just the beginning.”