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Big Idea Ventures announces follow-on investment in Aqua Cultured Foods

April 6, 2023

Big Idea Ventures has announced its follow-on investment in Aqua Cultured Foods. The Chicago-based food-tech startup today announced it has raised US$5.5 million in seed funding to bring its ultra-realistic seafood alternatives to market.

The round was led by Stray Dog Capital with follow-on investments from current investors Big Idea Ventures, Supply Change Capital, HPA, Aera VC, Kingfisher Family Investments, and Swiss Pampa along with participation from H Venture Partners, Aztec Capital Management and Amplifica Capital. The round also included a strategic investment from The round also included a strategic investment from CJ CheilJedang, South Korea based global food & BIO company owning renowned brands such as bibigo.

“Aqua Cultured Foods joined the Big Idea Ventures New York accelerator early in the life of their company and we’ve been impressed from that first day – a strong team with great attitude, drive and hustle," said Andrew D. Ive, Founder, Big Idea Ventures. "We’re happy to see the growth of Aqua Cultured Foods since our support, making products that are revolutionizing the alt-seafood industry. It’s been a pleasure working with a company that has such a huge potential to deliver more sustainable food for a grateful planet."

Aqua will use the investment to equip its new facility, scale up production, bring products to market, add key talent, and expand its roster of restaurant and foodservice outlets for product introductions this year.

“We appreciate having mission-aligned partners that offer strong strategic value for the next phase of our growth, which will involve building up the business and brand,” said Anne Palermo, CEO of Aqua, which features in the alternative seafoods article in the April/May 2023 edition of Protein Production Technology International. “Being good stewards of investor capital is important to us, so along with hitting milestones earlier than expected, we are benefiting from government programs, academic resources, and other advantages to get to market quickly.”

Aqua’s primary value is its low cost of scaling and its path to price parity, thanks to proprietary fermentation methods that use relatively affordable inputs and equipment. The company recently acquired a food-grade facility that was already built out nearly to its requirements – which it estimates will save more than a million dollars in construction costs.

The global plant-based seafood market was valued at US$42.1 million in 2021, and is projected to reach US$1.3 billion by 2031 with a CAGR of more than 42% as wild fish stocks are further depleted. In addition to depleted fish populations, commercial fishing practices result in damage to ecosystems, plastic waste, and “bycatch” of non-target species. As fish farming increases, so does habitat destruction, pollution and diseases spread to wild fish, and the industry’s reliance on antibiotics and wild-caught fish for feed. "I question why more companies aren’t pursuing seafood considering the seafood supply chain is causing some of the most devastating environmental problems of our time," Palermo told Protein Production Technology International. "Oceans and coastal regions are more important for maintaining a livable planet than even rainforests. Worldwide, more seafood is consumed per capita than any other protein, and there are many regions where the population gets their main, if not only, protein from the ocean. When we consider that we have nearly depleted wild fish, we’re not only looking at an environmental catastrophe, we’re facing a global food crisis that could spell mass starvation."

Despite its health halo, fish contains microplastics, mercury, pesticides, antibiotics, dioxin and PCBs. High in cholesterol and saturated fats, seafood, in particular finfish, is a good source of foodborne illness caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Aqua is developing calamari, shrimp, scallops, and filets of tuna and whitefish with proprietary mycoprotein fermentation processes that do not use any animal inputs, genetic altering or modification. Unlike plant-based processed foods formulated with starches and protein isolates, Aqua’s alt-seafood retains its naturally occurring fiber, protein, and other micronutrients. The company also produces minced 'seafood' fillings for applications such as dumplings, ravioli, and sushi rolls.

"Our current priorities are tuna, shrimp and scallops," Palermo said in the interview with Protein Production Technology International editor, Nick Bradley. "There are several species of tuna. Bluefin is prized for sushi, and the species is critically endangered. Tuna is usually wild-caught, and methods for catching cause significant 'bycatch' of other species including sharks, dolphins, other marine mammals, and even sea birds. Shrimp is extremely problematic from both an environmental and ethical perspective, and it’s the most consumed seafood in the world. Shrimping destroys critical mangrove ecosystems that act as carbon sinks, and its labor practices include rampant slavery. While I’m not aware of scallop species being threatened or endangered, they are vulnerable to climate change and ocean acidification, and they’re important to local ecosystems. There are also concerns about the impact on sea turtles and other marine animals from commercial scallop fishing."

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