This was the conclusion of a panel of experts that convened at the recent Future Food Asia (FFA) 2023 event in Singapore, comprising of Zymtronix Founder and CEO Stephan Corgie, BGF Plantrix Chairperson Suthira Taychakhoonavudh, Miruku Co-Founder and CEO Amos Palfreyman and Cauldron Co-Founder and CEO Michele Stanfield.
With a laser focus on next-generation biomanufacturing and precision fermentation technology in particular, the panellists concurred that although the potential here is immense, there is still much work to be done in order to ensure the success of the sector.
“The main issue to be addressed right now is how to make sure that products made using this technology are scalable and also credible – and there is a need to engage with bigger companies in order to secure this validation amongst consumers,” Corgie said.
“We have already seen that there have been bubbles surrounding various types of technologies and we need to learn from these experiences in order to secure success.”
Stanfield concurred and highlighted the pressing need to get more big companies on board in order to help the sector maximise its potential and avoid being closed out eventually.
“The key to really getting precision fermentation out there is to create that diversification of products and consumers – which means that it cannot just stay as a commodity with start-ups, but needs to work with bigger firms as well,” she said in response to a query on the technology being the ‘next cryptocurrency’.
“We have already seen that with the biofuel bubble some time back, it was only those that diversified that survived, and we need to learn from that.
“It is also very important to note that the sector cannot depend on the current hype surrounding it and playing it up if it hopes to be around long-term – and again this comes back to diversity and scalability [in order to] have it stick around.”
Responding to the same query, Taychakhoonavudh added that although the technology itself is important, the credibility portion is equally so, which requires more than just demonstrations from the relevant creators.
“In addition to creating transformative tech, it is also key to get validation for this tech from industry experts in order to ensure that credibility is in place,” she said.
“There are many in this sector who start out as scientists but don’t want to blow the bubble surrounding these technologies as there is a realisation that it is not a good thing for the industry in the long term.
“So although this is after all next-generation tech, which means there are always going to be risks associated – the important thing is that it needs to be based on science and expert validation [to avoid the bubble being blown further].”
Moving beyond ‘underwhelming’ past
Palfreyman added that being grounded in reality is even more important for the precision fermentation sector because of the precedent that plant-based left in the alternative proteins space - which was essentially below the expectations of many in the sector.
“Plant-based really underwhelmed both investors and consumers as there were a number of claims that did not match reality,” he said.
“So to make sure that precision fermentation does not become the next crypto, not only must the investors be able to understand the technology properly but the creators also need to have a system mindset.
“This means the realisation that progress is not going to be quick or simple – a lot of time, money, and effort will be key, and they will never get investments unless they put this in to increase their credibility in the industry, including being tight on both commitments and deadlines.