This bioentrepreneur is making waves in the seafood industry

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This bioentrepreneur is making waves in the seafood industry

Scispot CEO Guru Singh sat down with Shiok Meats CEO Sandhya Sriram to learn all things about the alt-protein business, the current state and the future of the cultivated meat industry, and much more.

Story of a bioentrepreneur

Sandhya Sriram is a stem cell scientist by training and education as well as the CEO and co-founder of Shiok Meats — a cultivated meat and seafood company located in Singapore. Before starting Shiok Meats, Sandhya founded and ran a website called Biotechin.Asia that provides daily news about the advances of biotechnology and life sciences. It was during this time that she learned about cultivated meats that could be grown in a lab using stem cells. Captivated by this breakthrough, Sandhya decided to combine her knowledge of stem cell research and passion for sustainable food to form Shiok Meats

“Our mission is to provide healthy and sustainable meat and seafood worldwide using innovative technology.” – Sandhya Sriram, Group CEO & Co-founder

Reasons for creating cultivated seafood

Asia is a major producer and exporter of seafood, so it made sense for Sandhya and her co-founder Ka Yi to start a seafood company. It also helps them stand out from similar companies in the western world that specialize in beef, chicken, and other meats.. While there are many nutritional benefits to a seafood-rich diet, the industry itself is plagued with problems such as overuse of antibiotics, bycatch, ecological damage, and human rights issues. Shiok Meats is determined to address issues like these and change the industry for the better.

Determination and persistence are two essential qualities for entrepreneurs
Have you ever taken a boat to a different island every day just so you could keep your startup dream alive? Probably not, but this is a part of Sandhya’s unique entrepreneurial experience.

The startup ecosystem in Singapore is not very biotech-friendly so that made starting a biotech company incredibly difficult. Biotech companies require lab space with expensive equipment that biotech entrepreneurs can’t afford, so they resort to shared labs when available. 

For Sandhya, this meant taking a boat to an island every day where she could work in a lab and run her experiments. Logistical issues aside, Sandhya faced challenges raising money and criticisms from others who doubted her. This only strengthened her determination to press forward

Using stem cells to create the food of the future

Simply put, meat is made up of muscle fat, connective tissue, and blood cells — substances that Sandhya and her team can cultivate without the need of an entire animal. They take stem cells from animals and grow them in bioreactors while providing all the essential nutrients required. After these cells have grown in large numbers, they are differentiated, which is a process in which stem cells can be programmed to grow into any required tissue. In this case, these stem cells are differentiated into muscle cells. After four to six weeks they have muscle tissue that tastes exactly like the real thing. 

Cultivated meat has to go through a regulatory process like any other product, but this process is different compared to regular meat products.

Singapore is currently the only country with a regulatory process in place for cultured meat. To ensure safety and nutrition, this process involves verifying the cell lines, their origin, the species it was derived from if any genetic modification was done, and the nutrient media being used to culture the cell lines. Other requirements include disclosing the ingredients of the scaffolds being used and checking the toxicity and nutrition compared to regular seafood. 

Future of the cultured meat industry

The world is slowly moving towards cultured meat, and that includes traditional meat producers. Sandhya tells us that USA's largest meat producer, Tyson, has invested in companies like hers and has allocated 20% of their existing land to grow plants for plant-based meat substitutes. Another example of this is JBS, Spain’s largest meat company, recently acquiring another cell-based meat company. Sandhya feels that this could be because it might be hard for large companies such as Tyson and JBS to innovate internally. By aligning themselves with cell-cultured meat companies, they can enter this market and create a new legacy with these cell-cultured meat companies.

Sandhya feels that the number of companies we have today in this market will reduce in the next five to ten years. This could be due to funding issues, being acquired or merged, or having trouble scaling up the technology. The remaining companies that come out on top will be able to scale-up their product and bring it to consumers.. In another five to ten years, the companies that remain could potentially take at least 10% market share of the meat and seafood industry.

Scispot is on a mission to empower bioentrepreneurs, particularly in the cultivated meat space and make workflow automation possible for every life science lab on this planet. To learn more about Scispot and its no-code digital toolkit for lab digitalization and automation, book a demo here.

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