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August 18, 2022

Empowering farmers to produce organic in-vitro meat: Lars and Alexander's Entrepreneurial Fellowship

Hello, we are Alex and Lars. We are both Senior Project Managers from the Hamburg Office.

Alex: Before joining Roland Berger in 2018, I had received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Hamburg and spent a few years in laser research. Before that I had a successful freelance career in which I advised SMEs in the northern German "Mittelstand" on digitalization and process optimization strategies – something that helped pay for my physics studies and taught me the ups and downs of self-employment. Within Roland Berger I am a member of the Advanced Technology Center and specialize in high-tech projects usually involving optics, photonics, semiconductors, and quantum tech – quite often in an M&A context.

Lars: I joined Roland Berger four years ago. I studied Industrial Engineering & Management and got an MBA (Master of Business Administration) from Handelshochschule Leipzig (HHL)/EADA Barcelona and earned a post-graduate degree in strategy and organization from Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. Prior to Roland Berger, I worked for a technology company creator and built up a startup from scratch in the field of electro-biocatalysis. During my time at Roland Berger, I spent a long time working mainly on performance and restructuring projects into which I was able to bring in my product and business model optimization and innovation expertise.

How did we come up with the idea of empowering farmers to produce organic in-vitro meat

We thought about how to combine our enthusiasm for complex technology and business. And we wanted to show that it is possible to make a positive change in this world through positive incentives, not through bans, restrictions, and finger-pointing. An Entrepreneurial Fellowship financially supported by Roland Berger has brought us a lot closer to realizing this dream.

After some discussions and brainstorming sessions, the idea of offering a turnkey new business for farmers was born: the first organic in-vitro meat. In our business model, farmers don't slaughter the animals but have stem cells taken from the animals' umbilical cords after natural birth. This will allow people to trace exactly which animal the meat came from. We will develop a "plug & play growth pod" plus an all-around carefree package for farmers – including sales channels and logistics.

There will be no industrial production overseas but local and transparent instead, no genetic engineering, no harming or even killing of animals, and made only from natural raw materials. Farmers can finally participate in the global megatrend of protein alternatives, consumers can finally enjoy a real meat alternative without a guilty conscience, and retailers have a broader, attractively priced product on offer.

What we did

It all started with the spark of an idea, but we wanted to immediately run it past our potential customers. We have far too often witnessed products being developed without looking at the customer's needs. Consequently, we had to check whether the farmers wanted it, whether the retail trade and thus the end consumers accepted the product, and whether it was technically feasible. And then it would also have to be profitable for us...

So we started cold calling farmers and presenting the ideas to them. After several attempts, we found willing ears in Schleswig-Holstein. Then we discussed the technological feasibility with technology experts, who manufacture nutrient media and have invested in similar companies themselves.

Overall, we encountered a lot of green flags for our radically different approach. It involved discrete scaling, i.e. preferring many small units rather than one large one. And it was less capital intensive and biotechnologically easier to control and automate than the overly complex upscaling to large volumes. To make it profitable, we developed a business model in which we can participate in the value creation in two ways: in the production by farmers and in the sale of the meat products to end customers. This gives us a disproportionately scalable sales model and the opportunity to retain farmers in the long term by sharing profits.

What we have achieved

We found that, after numerous intensive workshops and critical inquiries, farmers were inspired by our idea. Food retail chains have agreed to put the product on their shelves and partner with us. Technology partners support us in realizing the technical equipment and the production process. This includes already running tests to confirm assumptions (e.g. power consumption) in our business plan. We have been able to expand our team by onboarding startup experts as well as Germany's leading in-vitro meat scientists.

Status quo

We have now entered the investor-seeking phase of our venture and the Entrepreneurial Fellowship has greatly paved the way. Our fellowship was originally planned to last only four months, until the end of May. We continued our project full time for one more month at our own expense. Being able to fully concentrate on bringing our idea to life within four (densely packed) months involved a lot of arduous work but was thoroughly enjoyable. We are both beyond excited about what the coming months hold in store for us.

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