Shiru sets out to create sustainable, delicious proteins
by Jasmin Hume, PhD, founder & CEO of Shiru
Today we announce closing our seed round of funding to support Shiru’s mission of creating better protein ingredients. Shiru’s goal is to feed people more sustainably, leveraging technologies including machine learning and precision biology to discover and create enhanced proteins capable of replacing animal-based alternatives without sacrificing quality or nutrition. We apply computational intelligence to find the most functional natural food proteins in the world, harnessing the inherent ability of microflora to produce them.
As it stands today, we are overusing our global resources to produce enough food for the planet. The impact of food production on the environment is significant: the global food system accounts for about 37 % of greenhouse gas emissions. To make things worse, we waste a quarter of the food we produce. By 2050 the global population is expected to grow from 7.7 to over 9.7 billion people. There are certain undeniable trends that outline the clear need for more sustainable protein alternatives: growing global population, increasingly “westernized” diets in developing countries heavy in animal-based proteins promoted by rising incomes and urbanization and over-consumption of protein in the developed world today, as well as climate change.
Taking these considerations into account, Shiru recognizes there is both an opportunity and an obligation to create better foods that will nourish us long into the future. At Shiru our aim is to curb these effects by providing more sustainable protein options that enable us and our customers to make foods that are just as delicious and nutritious as the versions of them we have known and loved our whole lives.
Our opportunity lies in identifying and creating proteins with less of an environmental footprint than animal-based proteins inspired by nature that capture optimal texture, complete amino acid profiles, absence of allergenic peptides, without sacrificing the quality of the foods that we know and love. Protein ingredients meeting these criteria enable food manufacturers to formulate without dairy or egg. Meeting these criteria is a standard that even commercial plant protein isolates are frequently unable to meet due to difficult to remove off flavors or colors or even loss of protein functionality upon processing.
The truth is that nature didn’t optimize for plant protein extracts to behave identically to animal proteins as a whole. However, with 400,000 plant species on the planet (30,000 of them known to be edible), each expressing upwards of 45,000 unique proteins, there is a high likelihood that many of those proteins possess highly valuable functional and nutritional properties (even potentially exceeding those of animal proteins) we have yet to uncover. Shiru is identifying and producing them in high efficiency expression systems to create transformative protein ingredients and delicious food.
Fortunately, there are some incredible technologies that were initially developed to solve problems in other industries that we can now apply towards discovery and production of sustainable proteins. One of these is machine learning. Shiru uses machine learning to find protein structures in the natural world that have ideal physicochemical properties for specific food functionalities, like gelation, solubility, foaming, et al. The other one is precision biology. Advances in precision biology enable us to create almost any molecule that can be imagined. By combining these two approaches, Shiru is able to identify and create protein ingredients so we can continue to indulge on nutritious and wonderful foods like cheese, meat, eggs, and many others without sacrificing quality and reducing our impact on the environment. Not only are we able to make ingredients for the products we already know and love, but with this toolkit Shiru is positioned for constant and rapid product iteration as well.
At Shiru we have big ambitions that start with making amazing ingredients. We’re applying our unique approach to create protein that isn’t affected by climate change through controlled biofermentation as well as enhancing crops to express protein that’s extremely functional and suited for products that traditionally rely on animal-based ingredients.
It’s been reported that the cost of certain alternative proteins will be 5x cheaper by 2030 and 10x cheaper by 2035 than existing animal proteins. Not only will costs be competitive, but it’s been projected that new protein options will be superior in every aspect from nutrition to health benefits, taste, convenience, and with almost unimaginable variety. At Shiru, we are not only excited by this outlook but intend to be the leading company creating these new protein options.
To maximize our impact, we strive to enable others — both large food CPGs as well as early stage companies already developing alternatives to meat, dairy, and eggs. We seek partnerships that align on motivation and take advantage of Shiru’s ability to help to supply innovative ingredients supporting stronger product pipelines. With this approach, we see a huge potential to profoundly affect environmental benefits.
For me, launching Shiru feels like it has been a long time coming. As an engineer, I have always sought to apply my technical background towards solving the most pressing or important problems we’re facing. For the reasons I described above, I believe our most critical problem today is climate-related, with a considerable contribution of negative climate effects related to producing the food we need to sustain ourselves.
Oftentimes in our lives it’s hard to tell where the choices we make will lead us, but in retrospect things seem to have followed a designed path. Somehow my background, both academically and in industry, has well equipped me for the journey ahead. My academic training (BEng in chemical engineering and minor in biotechnology, MSc in materials engineering, and a PhD in protein engineering) has given me the foundation to be able to understand how new technologies can be applied towards making better foods. My time working in industry (product development at STMicroelectronics, Director of Food Chemistry at JUST, fka Hampton Creek, and as a freelance consultant for some of the most innovative alternative protein companies in food) has enabled me to work with and build interdisciplinary teams to create technologies and products that change people’s lives. My entrepreneurial journey started several years ago as a PhD student after founding a company that later lead me towards a position as a summer associate at Lux Capital in NYC.
Today Shiru announces that we have raised $3.5M towards building a more sustainable future of food. I am extremely proud that Lux Capital leads Shiru’s seed round of investment, with partner Deena Shakir joining Shiru’s board. We’re honored to have incredible investors join us on this journey — ones who support our vision of the future of food and the application of technology to bring it to life. Our first investment was from Y Combinator, with the seed round completed with the participation of several noteworthy institutional investors including Aera VC, S2G, CPT Capital, and XFactor Ventures, among others.
To execute on our mission, Shiru is now building partnerships that will accelerate our product and technology development and recruiting for our foundational team.
At Shiru we have the unique position of sitting at the intersection between food tech, biotech, and deep tech: we leverage technologies originally created to solve problems in adjacent industries, including computational biology, machine learning, and industrial fermentation and bioprocessing. Straddling these exciting but traditionally distinct areas encourages us to look to industry partners who think similarly to aid in accelerating Shiru’s product development. We then look forward to partnering with food and beverage companies to incorporate Shiru’s unique protein ingredients into everyday products, having a far-reaching impact on creating better food products that will carry us into the future.
We are expanding our team of dedicated professionals across multiple disciplines to make enhanced protein ingredients for a better world. Shiru is hiring for passionate, creative, problem-solvers that believe that food should be delicious and nourishing without negatively affecting our planet. If this resonates with you or someone awesome that you know, please check out our careers page and get in touch.