Shiok Meat’s Sandhya Sriram Gets Personal: ‘As A Pioneer, You Have To Break A Lot More Barriers And A Lot More Glass Ceilings’
Sandhya Sriram is co-founder and CEO at Shiok Meats, a Singapore-headquartered cultivated meat and seafood company founded in 2018 that has raised over $30 million in funding. Below, she talks to Green Queen‘s Sonalie Figueiras about where cell-based seafood is going, her views on the future of cultivated meat, how investors should be thinking about the space, and going public with the personal.
I’m thrilled to be here with you, one of the pioneers of cultivated meat and seafood. I really appreciate you doing this. You’re always so generous with your time and your expertise and your leadership. I want to start by asking you, one of the early people in the space, and definitely in Asia, one of the first faces that anyone saw, how are we doing in terms of cultivated meat and cultivated seafood in Asia and also globally? Are we where you thought that we would be when you started?
Sandhya Sriram: Sure, that’s a lot of complicated questions. [Laughs]. I think with any startup, any disruptive industry, any novel industry, you expect more downs than ups. And honestly, when I started in 2018, in this industry, I did not expect things to go as well as it went for specifically Shioak Meats and the way Singapore brought up the 30 by 2030 food story, and the amount of funding that went into this industry, and I’m not going to say it was easy capital raising, but definitely it was positive capital raising, with really good investors coming in, and you know, believing in this.
So, I did not expect it to go that positively or that well, as as, as we started the company, I was expecting more down days.
In fact, even with the pandemic, fundraising wasn’t that bad, even with investors, you know, looking at you only on Zoom and not being able to taste your product or visit your facility. But this was the time when capital was easily available, there was plenty of capital and everybody was into food tech, right?
GQ: What’s your outlook in terms of the timeline for the industry over the next few years?
Sandhya Sriram: I used to say this from day one: the world has a cycle of five years for a new technology or industry- it’s extremely sexy for five years. And then after that, it doesn’t go away, it’s still there, but something else is sexy. And when we started in 2018, around 2019, food tech became extremely sexy in Asia, be it the launch of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, then Omni Foods, and then a lot of cultivated meat companies coming up, Singapore announcing the 30 by 2030 campaign, and approving the first cultivated product, so everything was extremely “up” for this industry. And we are sort of in the tail end of that five years, as you can see. And that has come with market changes, funding issues, companies not being able to scale…Regulatory-wise, it’s going the right way, but still, not many companies have gotten approval. So I would just say I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised about where we are. I’m not surprised by the challenges we have faced. I’m not surprised that we have seen the bad days.
What I am very mindful of is over-promising by the industry- over-promising with the research that we’re doing or over-promising by the companies themselves. I think the market is correcting itself right now and in the industry, we are all keeping it truthful right now.
But that also comes with a caveat- when you’re fundraising, you can’t tell an investor that you will make money for them 20 years down the line. You have to have some sort of a projection in place for them to see their return on investment. It’s quite complex, how do you talk about timelines when you launch and as you progress.
I’m not surprised as to where we are. The future of alt protein is 100% there, I don’t think it’s ever going away. The next few years are all about who can make it and consolidation. Unfortunately, some companies are dying and some of that technology is dying. But all of that is part of any industry- it is what it is. You can’t expect all 100 [cultivated meat] companies to do well. It’s survival of the fittest.
GQ: It’s very interesting to hear you say that you didn’t think it would go as well as it did. I think it’s also fair to say that there was probably a little bit of hype, there was also probably a lot of capital and interest in a field that let’s face it, most of us didn’t really understand five years ago and didn’t really know much about. In terms of concrete predictions, and I know predictions are a fool’s business to some extent, but just to understand from someone like you who’s in the space- do you anticipate there being more companies being founded in the cultivated industry? And do think more of those companies will be in Asia?