We’re delighted to announce our newest investment in MicroTERRA’s Seed round. Notable co-investors include SOSV, Cavallo Ventures, Typha Partners, Climate Capital, Amplifica Capital, Lifely Tech and Marinya Capital along with many super Angels such as Fernando Cuevas and Francois Saugie.
MicroTERRA is a B2B foodtech startup that leverages existing aquaculture farms to create lemna (similar to soy in protein content), which is an effective and nutritious food source and can be used as a profitable binding agent in plant-based food products. Lemna has the amazing by-product of actually cleaning the water that it is grown in, meaning an increasingly large supply of clean water is a result of scaling up the consumption of this earth friendly plant based protein source.
Why We Love It: MicroTERRA
The business model is elegant and highly scalable. The team understands a key pain point of the plant-based food industry - the need for natural, less processed, and nutritious binder ingredients. They have developed the IP to refine lemna into that functional, natural, and nutritional binding ingredient that the plant-based food industry needs, with no color and no taste.
The company’s vision is to create ingredients (and food) that help protect our environment. Ingredients that instead of using water, are cleaning water.
The market for binder ingredients was valued at $4.5B in 2019 and the TAM by 2030 is projected to be $85B. Management estimates that their SAM by 2030 will be $25B and their SOM by 2030 will be $2B (8% SAM).
- Increasing importance and market growth of plant-based foods.
- Previous rounds raised from increasingly impressive funds such as Techstars Ventures, IndieBio, and SOSV.
- Customer validation with large multinational food companies such as Danone, Nestle, Mars, Givaudan and Unilever expressing interest. Conversation with over 40 firms and plant-based cuisine trials with 3 prominent Mexican plant-based restaurants, Berlioz, Waldo’s, and Vegamo.
- A capex lite model in orders of magnitude versus competition with incentives built in for all stakeholders across the value chain, e.g., aquafarms join for the extra revenue stream and a radical reduction of the farm’s wastewater footprint is a happy by-product.
- Significant traction and growth in the plant-based protein market on account of increasing awareness of health and wellness globally. The growing trend of plant-based protein can be attributed to new product creation, creativity, and technology.
- Growth in consumption of plant-based foods while plant based binding agents are still too expensive to create at scale, while synthetic binding agents lack nutritional benefit and are less appealing to consumers of plant-based foods.
- Mismatch in supply and demand for nutritional protein due to a lack of arable land and freshwater. This is expected to create a protein gap in the global food supply worth $57Bn by 2026.
- Challenges in alternative protein production methods such as aquaculture where traditional fish farming is extremely pollutive, discharging 3,700 L of water, heavily polluted with fish manure, per kg of fish produced.
- Achieved Product Market Fit in 6 months
- Validated the market 40+ customer interviews
- Received sample requests from ~50% of these firms and have sent 9 samples to customers (Berlioz, Barentz, NAT, and many others)
- Installed first lemna system in Jan 2021
- At the time of our investment, the business was operational on 3 farms, growing to 20 farms by 2022 and 205 farms by 2025
- 12 farmers already soft closed as of Aug 2021
- At 20 farms in 2022, management forecasts revenue of $2.5M. At 205 farms in 2025, revenue forecasted is $165M annual.
- Majority (95%) of the revenue from decolorized lemna
- Attractive unit economics with gross margins of ~55-60%
A Great Team
Marissa Cuevas (CEO & Founder; 2x entrepreneur, MIT Innovator, Environmentalist) - Marissa is an Echoing Green Fellow. She holds a master’s degree in sustainability management from Columbia University. Founded Kitcel in 2014, a circular economy company focused on recycling styrofoam waste and transforming it into varnishes.
Fanny Villiers (COO & Co-Founder): Fanny was COO of Fondeadora (crowdfunding platform that was sold to Kickstarter in 2016). Founded donadora.org, a leading platform for online donations to social and environmental projects.
Gabriel Wilmoth - COO of the ag software and data analytics firm Growers, which was acquired by ICL in Feb 2020. Experience with growing startups - raised $13M from top- tier VC investors, and expanded acres under management by 5x to 20+ states.
Eduardo Mercovich - Former CEO of Mama Grande, biggest Lemna project in the world.
Cristina Chuck-Hernández - Experienced Research Professor with a demonstrated history of working in higher education and the food industry. Experienced in biofuels, protein- based ingredients, biotechnology, and food processing. Strong education professional with a PhD focused in Biotechnology.
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