Plantruption, an Irish start-up that is developing plant-based seafood, has raised $500,000 (€426,000) from entrepreneur Sean O’Sullivan’s SOSV and been chosen to participate in the venture capital firm’s prestigious IndieBio accelerator in the US.
Founded by Jennifer O’Brien, the food tech company is using wild Atlantic seaweed and combining this with other sustainable ingredients to make burgers and goujons that are stocked by retailers, which include SuperValu.
While plant-based food substitutes developed by companies such as Impossible Foods have become popular, almost all of these are focused on replicating the look and taste of meat. Seafood substitutes are considerably harder to mimic.
“There is a massive gap at the moment with plant-based burgers, with seafood only representing 1 per cent of products, but the situation is changing, which is why we’re trying to move fast,” said Ms O’Brien.
“It is considerably harder to replicate fish as it is difficult to get that flaky texture,” she added.
Ms O’Brien has worked in a number of sectors, including asset management, real estate and aviation leasing. Her transition into food tech came out of an MBA project. She hesitated about turning it into a business but, spurred on by positive feedback from – among others – former Dragons’ Den star Gavin Duffy, applied for Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme, for which she was accepted.
The company has since partaken in an innovation studio programme run by the aquaculture tech-focused accelerator programme Hatch, which is headquartered in Cork. It was also recently selected for Google’s Adopt a Start-up initiative, and for SuperValu’s Food Academy programme.
“We’re focused on trying to find solutions that help resolve the problem of overfishing and pollution in our oceans. We’re working with a university in the Netherlands on technology that hasn’t been commercialised which will help us make more sustainable food products that we can go to market with,” said Ms O’Brien.
“We have sourced a local manufacturer here in Dunshaughlin and so now have the capability to scale production,” she added.
Plantruption is talking to investors as it initiates plans for a Series A funding round totalling €1.5 million. Ms O’Brien said she hopes participation in IndieBio will lead to interest from US-based investors.
The IndieBio accelerator, which is run in the US, was established by SOSV, the venture capital firm originally founded in Cork as a personal investment fund for tech veteran Sean O’Sullivan. It is the world’s largest early-stage biotech start-up accelerator and has backed over 159 companies to date.