Memphis Meats lab-grown meatball.

Memphis Meats' lab-grown meatball.

A US$17m fundraising round has brought backing for US 'clean' meat company Memphis Meats from investors including Bill Gates, Richard Branson and meat giant Cargill.

The San Francisco Bay area start-up is producing beef, chicken and duck in a lab directly from animal cells, without the need to raise and slaughter animals.

Today (23 August), Memphis Meats said its Series A fundraising round attracted a wide group of investors, including the Microsoft and Virgin founders.

Venture capital firm DFJ led the round, which also included US agri-food group Cargill, European venture-capital firm Atomico, two US venture-capital funds - SOSV and Fifty Years - plus US businessman Kimbal Musk also invested.

Memphis Meats also referred to "other food industry giants" that had invested but did not name them. Asked by just-food to disclose their identity, a spokesperson for Memphis Meats said: "We had some investors join our round who we do not have permission to disclose publicly, but they include very large businesses in multiple parts of the food and meat value chains."

The company has now raised US$22M to date. Memphis Meats said it plans to use the funds to continue developing products, to accelerate its work in "scaling up clean meat production" and to reduce production costs to levels comparable to - and ultimately below - conventional meat costs. 

The company also expects to quadruple its headcount and has begun growing its team of chefs, scientists creative people and business people. 

Uma Valeti, managing director, co-founder and CEO of Memphis Meats, said: "We're going to bring meat to the plate in a more sustainable, affordable and delicious way. The world loves to eat meat, and it is core to many of our cultures and traditions. Meat demand is growing rapidly around the world. We want the world to keep eating what it loves. However, the way conventional meat is produced today creates challenges for the environment, animal welfare and human health. 

"These are problems that everyone wants to solve, and we can solve them by bringing this incredible group of partners under one tent. This group will help us accelerate our progress significantly."

Sonya McCullum Roberts, president of growth ventures at Cargill's protein arm, said the US agribusiness behemoth - which is among the largest meat suppliers in the country - said it was "committed to growing" its meat business.

However, she said Cargill wanted to invest in "innovative new proteins to ultimately provide a complete basket of goods to our customers". McCullum Roberts added: "Our investment in Memphis Meats is an exciting way for Cargill to explore the potential in this growing segment of the protein market. Memphis Meats has the potential to provide our customers and consumers with expanded protein choices and is aligned with our mission to nourish the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way."

Steve Jurvetson, a partner at investor DFJ, said: "Clean meat is an enormous technological shift for humanity, and an opportunity to invest in something so important does not come along often. This is a moment where the investment potential and the potential to do good for the world are both off the charts. Investors have been watching this space for years, and Memphis Meats has emerged as the clear leader. It is thrilling to watch the team work and to try the products, which the entire DFJ team agreed are the real thing. I am so excited for the future that Memphis Meats will create." 

Jurvetson will join Memphis Meats' board of directors. 

Memphis Meats released the world's first 'clean meatball' in February 2016 and the world's first clean poultry in March 2017. The company said in March it was targeting the launch of its poultry products to consumers in 2021.

Today, the Memphis Meats spokesperson said: "This investment round will accelerate our path to market. We're not pinpointing the exact date at this time, but announcements to come."