Roslin Technologies, which is advancing research to build better sustainability into the global food chain, is gearing up for a multi-million-pound fundraising following the June appointment of new chief executive Ernst van Orsouw.
The Series A investment round is due to launch in late September or early October, and follows an initial £10 million cash injection in 2017. The business was founded in that year as a joint venture between investment manager Milltrust International, JB Equity and the University of Edinburgh, all of whom are current shareholders.
The money will fuel the firm’s transition from research to commercialisation of its leading technology in the field of cultivated meat – genuine animal flesh that is produced in a laboratory, eliminating the need to raise and slaughter animals. Roslin Tech’s role in this is to provide the iPS cells (induced pluripotent animal stem cells) that can replicate forever into any type of tissue desired.
“Our cells are market-ready,” Mr van Orsouw said. We have developed them to a stage where cultivated meat producers can put them into their processes.”
A tri-lingual speaker, Mr van Orsouw earned a degree in electrical engineering from Delft University before joining the Royal Netherlands Navy working as a technical coordinator in shipbuilding. After a year he joined Shell as a petrophysicist, where he worked on the exploration and production of oil and gas reserves in the North Sea.
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However, he soon realised that he was not suited to the industry, which did not align with his sustainable values. He also wanted to pursue work where his efforts would come to quicker fruition.
“In the oil industry in general, you work to very long timelines,” he said. “I personally had a desire to make more of an impact earlier on.”
In 2005 he joined the Amsterdam office of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the US management consulting firm that is the world’s second-largest in terms of revenue. There he focused on the agribusiness sector, a job which took him to both New York and San Francisco.
During his time at BCG he worked with UK-headquartered Genus, whose genetic products are used by cattle and pig farmers to reduce disease and boost production. In 2015 he joined the Pig Improvement Company (PIC), Genus’ porcine subsidiary, as director of strategy and marketing based in Tennessee.
During his time at PIC, Mr van Orsouw led a series of initiatives and acquisitions across the animal breeding and genetics sectors. When approached about the possibility of taking over at Roslin Tech – which has preferential access to intellectual property from the Roslin Institute, the home of Dolly the Sheep – the lure of working alongside such an esteemed group was too powerful to resist.
“It [the Roslin Institute] is probably the most famous biotech institute in the world, so clearly that interested me,” he said. “Roslin Technologies is unique. We have a small team of about 20 incredibly gifted people, and through that private relationship with the Roslin Institute, we are backed up by hundreds of some of the best people in the world in this field.”
Mr van Orsouw took over at Roslin Tech from executive director and founder Glen Illing, who also has links to JB Equity. His predecessor, whom Mr van Orsouw describes as “an incredible visionary”, continues with Roslin Tech as the point man on potential acquisitions and is also in charge of its Insect Nucleus Facility near its headquarter in Midlothian.
Roslin Tech announced last year that it would build the £500,000 facility following its investment in Protenga, a Singapore firm that farms black soldier flies. Dubbed the “superstars of sustainability”, the larvae of these insects are edible and rich in nutrients.
Used for animal feed and fertiliser, insect protein competes in this market with cheaper but less reliable supplies of fish meal. Mr van Orsouw said Roslin Tech expects to get its first breeding lines out into the market next year.
“What is most exciting about what we do is that we have these two main areas, and both are incredibly novel,” he said. “The positive impact they can have is incredible.”
While insect protein currently runs at two to three times the cost of fish meal, Mr van Orsouw said cultivated meat costs anything between 50 and 2,000 times its traditional counterpart to produce. The challenge for Roslin Tech is to optimise its iPS cells to bring down the expense.
It is therefore a nascent segment in the $1 trillion (£727 billion) global livestock market, but is attracting increasing interest after Singapore in 2020 became the first country to approve East Just’s flagship cultured chicken nuggets for sale nationwide. Roslin Tech has also made its own chicken nuggets in the lab, but these are not for commercial distribution.
Mr van Orsouw said the fresh funding will help Roslin Tech further develop both the cultivated meat and insect protein sectors faster than would otherwise be the case: “We have incredibly ambitious plans for growth. Scotland will always be our headquarters but we want to open international bases as well. Technical acquisitions could be a part of that.”
What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?
Mozambique (leisure) and China (business & leisure). Both countries have tremendous natural beauty, great cultures, and incredible people but lack availability of affordable, sustainably produced proteins. It is a privilege to work on solutions that can help increase the local availability of affordable, nutritious and responsibly produced animal proteins.
When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?
I had always wanted to do something with physics or biology. As a child I was curious to understand how nature works. Now I enjoy the challenge of how to turn the understanding of nature’s building blocks into a meaningful contribution to society.
What was your biggest break in business?
During my time in the United States, I was one of the initiators of the Coalition for Responsible Use of Gene editing in Agriculture, a food system-wide group that included a wide variety of players aiming to build consumer trust and confidence in gene editing techniques. It was incredibly rewarding to work with such a diverse group to identify ways to introduce new technologies that align with the values of consumers.
What was your worst moment in business?
During my work in the livestock industry, I have encountered several situations where we had to manage devastating disease outbreaks. It is very tough to experience the impact that these diseases have on the animals, the farmers and their families.
Who do you most admire and why?
I seek to work with people that are intrinsically curious, have a passion, that have the patience to pursue that passion, and can motivate others. I have been lucky enough to have had colleagues and supervisors, both current and past, that fit that description and that I have learned from.
What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?
I am reading “The Wizard and the Prophet, Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World” by Charles Mann, a brilliant book that helps understand the motivations behind people in industrial agriculture as well as the environmental movement. On the bus to work I often listen to Congolese Soukous.