Climax Foods, founded in 2019 by Dr. Oliver Zahn, who previously led data science efforts at Google, SpaceX, and Impossible Foods, has succeeded in raising US$7.5 million in seed funding. The Berkeley, California-based data science company plans to create a smarter and simpler way to make food by converting plants, with less processing, into products with the same or better taste as animal-based products, at a price point accessible to everyone.
Investors include At One Ventures, founded by visionary GoogleX co-founder Tom Chi, as well as Manta Ray Ventures, S2G Ventures, Valor Siren Ventures, Prelude Ventures, ARTIS Ventures, Index Ventures, Luminous Ventures, Canaccord Genuity Group, Carrot Capital and Global Founders Capital. The oversubscribed seed round also includes several mission-aligned angel investors.
Prompted by the urgency to create a more sustainable food system, and the risk of future pandemics caused by pathogens making the leap to humans from animals used for food, Climax Foods is applying data science and food science to solve the complex problem of removing animals from the food system by creating a more direct path from plants to products. By examining at the molecular level what makes animal products desirable, the company hopes to discover how plants can be optimally used to replace unsustainable diets currently focused around animals.
“We are at a pivotal time where industrialization enabled explosive population growth and consumption of animal products,” explained Climax Foods’ CEO, Oliver Zahn. “Today, more than 90% of all mammalian animals and more than 70% of all birds on the planet exist for the sole purpose of metabolizing plants and being turned into food. This industry is complex and wasteful, creating as much climate change as all modes of transportation combined, and using more than a third of the earth’s water and usable land. By speeding up food science innovation, Climax Foods is able to convert plants into equally ‘craveable’ foods without the environmental impact.”
To unlock the full potential of plants, an infinite number of ways to combine the hundreds of thousands of plant sources now needs to be investigated. To simplify this immense task, Climax Foods has created sophisticated machine learning frameworks to unlock all that plants naturally have to offer. The substantial seed round will provide capital to fuel deep research in taste, flavour, texture, and nutrition of the most desired animal-based food categories, starting with cheese.
Impressive staff roster
The new company can call upon some of the best talent from across the food and technology industries. CEO Zahn, PhD, studied astrophysics at Harvard, and together with two Nobel laureates directed the Center for Cosmological Physics at UC Berkeley. Most recently, Zahn headed data science efforts at Google and Impossible Foods.
Founding members of the company include industry veteran Caroline Love, chief operating officer, who previously led sales and operations at JUST. She is also an associate producer on the James Cameron documentary streaming on Netflix, The Game Changers, about the world’s top athletes fuelling their victories through plant-based eating.
Pavel Aronov has also joined the company from Impossible Foods, and will lead chemistry and analytics to define what supercharges taste and flavour in new products on a molecular level. Aronov earned his PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and worked at UC Davis, Stanford University, and Thermo Fisher, focused on advanced scientific instrumentation and its applications to food, health and nutrition.
“Climax Foods is unlocking a frontier of how expressive we can be with plant-based foods,” said Tom Chi, At One Ventures. “They are laying the foundation for a future where healthy, affordable, plant-based foods rival or even surpass the flavour of the animal-based foods they are replacing. Beyond being delicious, the work is crucial for the transition away from unsustainable animal agriculture which drives massive habitat destruction and generates more than 25% of total greenhouse gas emissions.”
Meanwhile, Sanjeev Krishnan, one of the largest investors in the plant protein space and chief investment officer of S2G Ventures, which invested in Beyond Meat, one of the most successful IPOs of 2019 noted: “Climax Foods is tackling the same opportunity to change the market and the food system, but they are doing it with an entirely novel technological approach. They are using data science to produce a new category of foods that will not merely compete with, but has the potential to out-compete, traditional proteins in terms of taste, nutritional density, and price. The machine intelligence approach Climax Foods is pioneering is critical for harnessing the vast number of ways raw ingredients and natural processes can be used to create the ultimate digital recipes.”
“Aged cheese has been a challenging category but the data-driven approach of Climax Foods has created prototypes like nothing I’ve ever tasted on or off the market,” concluded Leah Volger, Manta Ray Ventures.