Future Fields was founded to grow meat in the lab. It pivoted to generating the growth factor that cellular agriculture depends on. And now its leaders see a whole new opportunity in developing recombinant protein for therapeutics, vaccines, and other such applications.
The company isn't abandoning cellular agriculture. "We truly believe that industry has so much potential in terms of sustainability," co-founder and COO Jalene Anderson-Baron told Episode 25 of Bloom. "But we also realized that our platform has incredible potential to do a lot more things."
The EntoEngine platform is built on the common fruit fly — Drosophila melanogaster — something the company hadn't talked about much until May 2022. Now, this technology is at the heart of the startup's pitch as it seeks "to create the largest and most sustainable biomanufacturing platform on the planet."
Jumping right into pharmaceuticals is probably a little premature, Anderson-Baron said, as there are lots of hurdles to clear to live up to GMP standards. But there is low-hanging fruit to capture, she said.
"We're focusing on industries that we know we can get a good foothold in now and then planning to capture those more complex ones down the road," she said, noting the different sales process involved in shifting markets. "We know the science works. We're constantly developing new products. So now our next exciting challenge is just figuring out how to make that scale to a brand-new level that we've never done before."
The company had hoped to close a Series A round of fundraising in April. Anderson-Baron didn't want to disclose where that raise is at right now, though she hoped to have news "in the next little while." She did suggest the market is nowhere near as frothy as when Future Fields graduated from Y Combinator in 2020. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"Investors are doing their due diligence, they want to know there's something there, and you need to show them that their investment is going to be worth it," she said. "Cellular agriculture has had a lot of hype. And now it's time to see what everyone's been working on."
Future Fields has grown to 30 people and moved out of Enterprise Square and into a new building on 105 Avenue. That changed the scope of Anderson-Baron's job as chief operating officer.
"Suddenly, you're having to worry about things like, 'Who's picking up our bio waste? And how are we making sure that nobody's breaking in?' ... All these things that you really take for granted."
But she's happy to have lots of office space, lab space, and room to rear the insects the company will need to scale up its operations. Sustainability is at the heart of decisions at Future Fields, whether it's locating its office near bike lanes or developing a process that reduces waste and uses less energy than traditional bioreactors.
"Basically, what you're doing is filling a tank with culture media to grow something that you then take growth factors from to do the exact same process in another large tank where you're using growth factors to grow something," Anderson-Baron said of the traditional processes. "Our technology essentially removes that entire first half of the process — removes the need for a bioreactor and replaces it with an insect."
Sustainability is also key to the kind of company culture Anderson-Baron wants to cultivate. Future Fields won the award for best startup workplace at the 2022 YEG Startup Community Awards. She was recently recognized as the top woman entrepreneur at the Alberta Business Awards of Distinction, and she sees it as a part of her role to build a biotech workplace that is welcoming to parents and where women can rise up the ranks. That's not to say the juggle is easy.
"I want to be the mom who bakes a cake... but I am actually the mom that goes to Duchess five minutes before my daughter's birthday and hopes there's something left," she said. "It is what it is. And you cannot do it all, or you will burn out."
Learn more in the Aug. 4 episode of Taproot's podcast about innovation in Edmonton, which also takes a look at the work of a couple of other Edmonton-based pioneers in cellular agriculture: Isha Datar of New Harvest and Lejjy Gafour of CULT Food Science.