Madison, WI-based cellular agriculture startup Cultured Decadence recently secured $1.6 million in a pre-seed funding round to advance its mission of making lab-grown seafood. The company is working to grow seafood, particularly lobster, from a small amount of animal cells to create seafood products in a new way that does not damage the world’s oceans. Cultured Decadence’s lab-grown lobster is nutritionally equivalent to traditionally raised and wild-caught lobster but will be made without waste products such as shells and organs and will eventually be available at a lower cost. Thus far, the startup has developed novel lobster cell lines and reduced the cost of growth media and will use its new funding to expand its team and continue the development of a cell-based lobster meat prototype in preparation for a commercial launch. 

Co-founders John Pattison and Ian Johnson met in San Francisco while working for other cellular agriculture companies and, during a game of golf, discovered their shared passion for creating impactful change on the world’s broken food systems. While a number of startups are currently working to grow animal meat from cells on the West Coast, the duo moved to Wisconsin to create Cultured Decadence, the first cellular agriculture startup in the Midwest. 

“The way we engage with animals as a food source needs to change if we are to thrive as a planet,” Pattison, the startup’s CEO, said. “Our team is at the forefront of that change as we build the future of seafood a thousand miles from the nearest ocean. We are pleased to partner with an experienced group of investors that share our vision and are eager to accelerate our technology to bring transformative seafood products to market.”

While Cultured Decadence is starting with lobster, the startup’s technology can be applied to grow other types of seafood, including crab, shrimp, and scallops. 

Lab-grown seafood

Startups around the world are working to create lab-grown versions of chicken, beef, and pork, with a few working in the seafood space, including San Diego-based BlueNalu. In January, the startup secured $60 million in debt financing from international investors, marking the largest financing to date in the global cell-based seafood industry. BlueNalu previously outlined its plans for a lab-grown seafood production facility, which, at scale, would produce 18 million pounds of seafood without the need to slaughter marine animals and has recently signed a lease on a 38,000-square-foot facility, a six-fold increase over the current BlueNalu space, to make its vision a reality.

The emerging cellular agriculture industry must overcome several hurdles before lab-grown products can be brought to market, including regulatory approval. Currently, the only country in the world that allows the sale of lab-grown meat is Singapore—which approved the sale of Eat Just’s cell-based chicken late last year. While the United States has yet to follow in Singapore’s footsteps, BlueNalu is working to gain regulatory approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of its initial products, and begin testing its cell-based fish at foodservice establishments, starting with mahi mahi, later this year followed by premium bluefin tuna.

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