Q&A with New Age Meats’ Brian Spears

Brian is the Co-founder & CEO of New Age Meats, a cultured meat company that makes meat from animal cells instead of animal slaughter.

Briefly introduce us to New Age Meats and your journey to founding the company. 

New Age Meats is a cultivated meat company that makes meat without slaughter.  My background is in chemical engineering and I have twelve years of industry experience in research and automated industrialization.  During that period, I had the opportunity to work with some great customers such as NASA and the US and Canadian National Labs.  But, I also found that I was increasingly looking at where the future of the planet was heading, and saw that in some respects I was helping the health of the planet, and in some respects I was actually doing the opposite. 

From there, I began soul-searching as to what I want my role to be in this ecological future.  I knew that I needed to do something to help solve this massive problem of climate change, and felt that it would be more impactful to create a company that had a pure vision of what the world could be: a kinder planet for both animals and humans. 

New Age Meats, like all cell cultured meat start-ups, is pre-revenue — and has been for some time. As the CEO, what KPIs do you prioritize and how do you establish a business model that can serve both your R&D needs and your future commercialization?

I focus on three main challenges. 

1) Making the product we deliver an amazing sensory experience.  We want our customers to enjoy it so much that they prefer it to conventional meat just from a taste profile. 

2) Do so in a price competitive fashion. 

3) Make enough of it that has an actual impact towards the problem we are trying to solve.  

We are a Biotech company, and classically if you look at these types of pre-revenue companies, they don’t have revenue before they raise a Series A.  That’s where we stand as well. 

As a result, we have to look at other KPIs that focus broadly on reducing costs and scaling our ability to produce at scale — without yet doing it [producing at scale]. 

We are also a platform company — a platform to make meat.  We are starting with pork because of the great extent of biological and physiological research that has already been conducted on pork for xenotransplantation, therapeutics and other reasons.  Its genome is fully annotated.  So, we don’t have to spend investors’ money doing fundamental science.  Not to mention, pork is the most consumed animal in the world. 

How are you strategizing educating consumers on your product and demystifying cultured meat?

The conventional wisdom in startups is not to have a type of business that you need to educate consumers on and create a new segment in which is important to them.  Another reason we chose pork is because of the demonstrated desire for pork, which allows us to make a product that people want.  

To an extent, our education is through the product. The first time I ate the product it didn’t taste “like” bacon, it was bacon.  

Additionally, our plan is to demonstrate what differentiates our product from conventional meat.  It is tastier, safer, and more ecologically friendly.  That is really important messaging to get across.

Where do you see white space in the cultured meat industry across the value chain?

There are quite a bit.  We are tackling several of them.  Most of the companies that start in the cultivated meat space start on the first steps: cell lines and cultured media.  They start with a biopsy from an animal, cultivate those cells and reproduce them with a certain type of media and differentiation process.  

The next thing of course is to make these products via a cost competitive method at scale.  To do so, you have to have a system designed for a specific output.  The current system was really built for the closest analogues — biopharma, therapeutics and large scale fermentation.  These systems look very different because they are built to produce products from a cell rather than the cells themselves.  So, we need a system in which cell density and biomass can grow and increase yield, and can produce functional characteristics we care about.  That requires an entire rethinking of the bioprocess.  

As a result, there is a lot of white space around the bioprocess and bioengineering.  There is tremendous opportunity for companies to build alternatives to the current cultivation process that is tailored to optimize our specific output.    

Further downstream, there is opportunity in terms of food science and food engineering.  You have these different types of products being created and have to integrate that into a finalized meat product.  So that may mean that a cell cultured sausage product needs a different process and types of equipment than conventional sausage.  It also may mean reevaluating best practices in terms of food science to create the best tasting product.  

What is the most important problem that cell cultured meat has the potential to solve?

From my perspective, I believe climate change is the greatest existential threat facing the planet — for all beings.  Industrial animal agriculture contributes extreme amounts to that.  And it is only growing. 

If you look at worldwide consumption of meat, it is going up and to the right.  Globally, people are not actually switching to meat alternatives, it is just in select markets. Consequently, finding ways to change our relationship with our environment and mitigate climate change is paramount, and cultured meat has the potential to solve. 

If you could join the crew from Inception and implant one fact about cultured meat into the minds of consumers, what would it be?

I’d implant a question rather than a fact:  

Why do we eat the meat that we eat?  

We are limited to a certain amount of meat: mainly beef, pork, and chicken. There seems to be this acceptance, but why do we just eat those?  We developed a relationship with them through husbandry and the lack of threat that they posed, but these animals are by no means the tastiest or best for us.  So why do we settle for that?  

Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?

At that time, we will be in the midst of raising our Series A round — so fundraising will be a distraction from an operational and company-building standpoint.  A constant challenge that we tackle is, as you previously asked about, how we allocate resources between the product we are going to market with and the continued R&D of the company.  That narrative will be set at that point but we will continuously iterate to optimize our platform. 

Five years from now, what will New Age Meats’ business look like?

The definition of meat is changing, and is not limited to meat coming from the carcass of a slaughtered animal.  I firmly believe that we are going to have multiple types of products in different geographies and different distribution channels.  Our goal is to flood the market with superior products. 

What is New Age Meats’ Superpower?

New Age Meats was co-founded by an engineer [myself] and a biologist [Andra Necula].  We are researchers and product makers.  Instead of taking the perspective that we should work on the first steps and then work on the later steps down the road (bioengineering, food process, distribution), we have focused on the entire process from Day 1.  

And, perhaps more importantly, at the end of the day, we are a meat company.  We want to make the best tasting, most consistent quality meat product on the market.  That means that we have incredibly high standards.  Once we go to market we want our millionth product to behave like the first product we made.  This is why we’ve invested in a food research department early on.  We don’t just make cells, we make a full product, ready to cook and eat.

What is a memento from your childhood that you still keep and how does it serve you?

When I was growing up, my parents were very big on journaling.  I still have most of the journals from my childhood, back to when I was eight years old.  It’s fun to go through these journals and reflect on how I thought about things during different stages in my life.  What I found is how I remember and conceptualize past events is not necessarily how I perceived them in the moment.  So, it helps me realize how we often create stories and try to rewrite history later in life because of some subconscious bias we may have. 

If you could eat a New Age Meat product with one person, who would it be?

Warren Buffett.  He is the ultimate market mover — especially in traditional finance — and there are a lot of people across a spectrum of funds that listen to him.  So his interest would be a powerful endorsement of the maturity and potential of the industry. 

What is the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?

After departing from my previous career, I was really looking for something that was trying to solve this problem of climate change that I have spoken about.  Randomly, I was called by my Co-founder, who was at Oxford at the time, and we just started talking.  A week later I was on a flight to London and shortly after we got to work and started the company at IndieBio.  

What is your creative outlet?

I do a lot of solo hiking and I will write observations and thoughts about my life and what I am doing, why I am doing it, and the problems and issues that I see.  Then I’ll come back and encapsulate these reflections somehow into my week both professionally and personally. 

What is one daily ritual you cannot live without?

I have a meditation practice that is the first thing I do every morning.  I also will journal a little bit after that to reflect on what I am grateful for and how I can love and accept myself the way I am.  This practice continuously allows the shadow self to reveal itself and to let me exist comfortably in tremendous uncertainty.  

What is the last: 

TV show you binged?

Rick and Morty

Movie you watched?

Sorry for Bothering You

Song you listened to?

Dusting for Smoke by Daniel Avery. 

Podcast you listened to?

The a16z Podcast. 

Book you read?

The Three-Body Problem written by Liu Cixin. 

Last question.  I am currently 24.  How old will I be when I order my first New Age Meat product?

26 or 27!

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