Berkeley-based company Climax Foods is using data science to develop and discover plant-based food alternatives.
The company announced on Tuesday that it raised $7.5 million in an oversubscribed seed round led by At One Ventures and Manta Ray Ventures. The cash infusion will be used to further the company’s main mission of creating plant-based products that have the same, or better, taste as animal-based products, at an accessible price point.
“There are so many plants that you could source at scale. There are so many things you can isolate from them ... but producing plant-based products will always be cheaper than animals, because animals are so energy inefficient,” Oliver Zahn, CEO of Climax Foods, said in an interview with Built In.
As opposed to screening each of the 391,000 vascular plant species known to science, the new research facility will be used to train machine learning models to predict what plant-based elements would be the best to combine for any desired outcome.
“There’s literally an infinite number of ways to combine [plants] and fuse them into new products in natural ways. Into new flavor activities, new textures, new nutritional densities, and so on,” Zahn said. “We calculated it just for fun, it would literally take trillions of years to do.”
Zahn attributes his passion for food to his upbringing in southern Germany but he began experimenting with cheesemaking as a hobby while studying astrophysics at Harvard University.
Following graduation, Zahn worked as a lead data scientist at tech giants like Google, SpaceX and Impossible Foods. Late last year, Zahn began laying the foundation for Climax Foods, a company that would synergize his love for data science and his passion for plant-based food alternatives.
“We don’t want to make a second-class product, we want to make something that’s gonna make animal products redundant, so that when people eat it, they’re gonna realize ... what’s the point? Why should I stick with this?” Zahn said.
Plant-based foods are essential to Zahn’s vegetarian diet, but his interest in them extends beyond the concern for his own dietary restrictions. He called the food industry “complex and wasteful” and pointed out the heightened contributions of animal agriculture and carnivore diets in particular to climate change.
“This is a very unique opportunity for us to work on something that's pressing, environmentally, and something that’s good for human health,” Zahn said. “It’s an amazing responsibility as well, to make sure it’s done right.”
The company will use the additional capital to build a new research facility and hire additional talent. Climax Foods is now hiring for multiple positions, with a primary focus on bringing on food and data scientists.
In addition to research, the company will be focused on getting its products on the market as soon as possible. So far, the company has successfully experimented with several cheese alternatives.
Additional investors S2G Ventures, Valor Siren Ventures, Prelude Ventures and ARTIS Ventures participated in the round, among others.