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Speaker Spotlight: Yash Mishra

Yash Mishra is doing a PhD on Tissue Engineering at the University of Cambridge and is co-founder of Animal Alternative Technologies. He will be talking about his work in Cambridge Imagines on 10th April 2-3pm online. Cambridge Imagines is a series of short films with researchers at Cambridge who are imagining the future.

Cambridge Festival: How did Animal Alternative Technologies come about?

YM: My co-founder, Clarisse, and I were both studying at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge. She was doing a Masters on software-driven cultivated meat development [animal meat that is produced by cultivating animal cells directly], whilst my PhD entails developing Human Brain-on-a-Chip (in vitro) models to study diseases like Alzheimer's and to replace animal testing. We both believe in effective altruism - making the most of our resources to help make the world better and more sustainable in the most impactful ways possible. Clarisse helped me realise that the very same techniques and technologies that I'd been developing and using to grow and study human brain cells in the lab could be used to grow meat sustainably. We started thinking of ways to collaborate and help advance the field of cultivated meat. When the pandemic started and laboratories shut down, we finally had some time to act upon it and start Animal Alternative Technologies. 

Cambridge Festival: What is its aim?

YM: Animal Alternative Technologies is creating the Renaissance Farm™: a scalable, end-to-end cultivated meat manufacturing system that empowers food producers to make their own cultivated meats, tailored to local tastes and desired specifications. We are harnessing cutting-edge technologies from the fields of tissue engineering, AI, bioelectronics, etc. to tackle global food security and sustainability challenges.

Cambridge Festival: How could it help address some of the main global challenges we face now?

YM: Animal farming is responsible for three quarters of all infectious diseases, more greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation combined and the world’s largest use of land resources, taking up 30% of the land on Earth. It is also the biggest cause of deforestation, water pollution and antibiotic resistance. Additionally, the demand for meat is expected to be around double by 2050 and animal farming cannot meet this growing need to feed the world due to its resource requirements. We are developing cultivated meat because it can be a safe and sustainable alternative to animal farming. By empowering food producers to make their own cultivated meats locally anywhere in the world, we are also addressing pressing food security challenges.

Cambridge Festival: What kind of support have you had in setting up the business?

YM: Both the University of Cambridge Judge Business School and Cambridge Entreprise have done an incredible job of regularly organising seminars, etc to promote entrepreneurship and introduce students like me to the process of setting up a business. Cambridge Enterprise has been holding weekly, open 'Commercialisation sessions' which have been very useful for getting quick guidance. By simply being a part of this university and receiving my department's weekly bulletins, I've gotten to learn about various opportunities like Panacea Stars and the Innovation Forum's Imagine IF! programme, both of which our company got into - something that helped shape the company in its infancy. Crucially, we have been part of the Big Idea Ventures and Judge Business School's vigorous accelerators and these have been almost like doing a mini-MBA as they included talks, workshops, connections with expert business mentors and investors, etc, and have been vital in helping us transform from STEM students into entrepreneurs. Whilst the Judge Business School's Accelerate programme enabled us to receive multiple grants and employ our first paid employee, Big Idea Ventures gave us our first investment, which led to us really taking off. We are really grateful to have such great support!

Cambridge Festival: What have been the main challenges?

YM: Initially, transitioning from a bio-engineer to an entrepreneur was the biggest challenge as I had to dive deep into topics like intellectual property law and capitalisation tables without much prior knowledge, knowing that decisions made now could have implications for years. Our recent fundraising round was so oversubscribed that we had to go through tough negotiations with our investors to reduce the amount they were investing and that is something no course or seminar prepared me for. 

As we are a deep-tech company with a unique B2B business model, it can be very challenging to convince investors to invest because the highly specialised research and engineering we are doing is very ambitious and pretty much unprecedented, and it could take months or even years before our products are fully developed and launched. 

Furthermore, as this is a relatively young industry with lots of opportunities, we have had to carefully find a focus and carve out our own place in this space to ensure maximum impact. Moreover, since Cambridge has tons of innovation, it has taken us months to find good lab space. As we enter an exciting new phase of growth, there are new obstacles around building our team, brand and technology every day.

Cambridge Festival: How has it been managing your PhD studies alongside setting up a business?

YM: To be honest, it has been very challenging. There are only so many hours each day, and every day I wish I could do more for both the company and my PhD. It has been tricky finding a balance, but we have an amazing team at my business and my PhD supervisor has been incredibly supportive, so I have been managing and am almost done with my PhD. 

I am very fortunate to have both my dream job as well as my dream PhD project so my passion for both has really helped me hang on and get through adversity, like failure and rejection. When it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship, the resources and ecosystem at the University of Cambridge have also been instrumental in encouraging and supporting my endeavours within and beyond the scope of my studies.

Cambridge Festival: Do you plan to maintain a foot in business and a foot in academia after you finish your PhD?

YM: After my PhD, I plan to channel almost all of my focus into developing and launching Renaissance Farms™ for my business. However, that involves collaborating with academia, where some of the most advanced technologies are being developed because we cannot do this all by ourselves. Moreover, we are already discussing sponsoring PhD students and I have been offered positions to give occasional guest lectures at universities to help advance the fields of tissue engineering and cellular agriculture in general. Hence, I will never be very far from academia.

Cambridge Festival: What are the next steps for your business?

YM: We have recently raised some more funding and have moved into laboratories within the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge. We are now in the process of growing our team by recruiting a variety of amazing people here in Cambridge and are gradually scaling up our small-scale production system towards a pilot plant. Furthermore, we are expanding our product offering by also developing other types of meat, such as pork, in addition to cultivated lamb. We cannot wait till everyone can try out our cultivated meats!