Sunday, January 19, 2020

"8 Startups Using Fungi for Innovative Applications"

From Nanalyze:
Your bog-standard white grocery store button mushroom makes up 38% of the world’s production of cultivated mushrooms. It’s one of the thousands of species of fungi, some of which haven’t even been classified. (Says Wikipedia, a fungus is any member of the group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and molds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms.) Most people don’t know a whole lot about mushrooms because the 250 or so known poisonous mushrooms are a turn off to those who might go out into the woods to forage an expensive food product that grows freely.

Unlike plants, mushrooms don’t require sunlight to grow, and dozens of species actually grow exclusively in the dark. What we call a “mushroom” is actually a fruiting body of a predominantly underground organism. “The majority of the organism is underground in the form of mycelium – the vegetative part of a fungus that consists of a mass of branching single-cell strands called hyphae,” according to the National Forest Foundation.

Mushrooms are nutritious, and they’re good for you. The Chinese are the world’s biggest grower of mushrooms and have been using their medicinal properties for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. These days, more and more people are advocating the humble mushroom as a solution to many of the world’s problems.

The Fascinating World of Fungi
A British fellow named Simon Sinek once said that “working hard for something we care about is stress while working hard for something we love is passion.” One person who is passionate about finding new sources of protein is Olivia Fox Cabane, someone whose accomplishments include things like obtaining “three master’s degrees in Business Law” or being “the youngest person ever to have been appointed Foreign Trade Advisor to the French Government.” These days, she’s left all that stuff behind to pursue the thing she’s most passionate about – climate sustainability work. In response to one of our pieces on alternative proteins, she asked if we’d consider doing a piece on the fungi industry – or as she put it – “a kingdom of species with infinite possibilities for clean meat scaffolding.” So, that’s what we’re going to look at today.

When deciding what startups to include in any given article, we like to refer to someone else’s list so that we can punt any sort of “you missed our sacred cow” emails that we get from startups that don’t make it into the article. Fortunately, Mrs. Cabane has put one of those together for the fungi industry as follows:
The fungi industry landscape
For today’s piece, we’re going to look at a sampling of applications for fungi across all industry types in the above market map. We’ll start by looking at several companies we’ve talked about before in previous articles.

From Packaging to Meat
Click for company websiteThe first startup we came across using fungi was New Yawk based Ecovative which was featured in a piece we wrote on Recyclable Building Materials You Can Grow Yourself. Since our 2017 article, they’ve managed to raise an additional $10 million in venture funding which closed just a few months ago bringing their total funding to $30.1 million. In September of this year, they announced the formation of an entirely new company dedicated to the future of animal-free meat: Atlast Food Company. They use mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, and their process allows them to fine-tune the structure to account for porosity, texture, strength, resilience, fiber orientation and more. The end result is a line of three products thus far.
Atlast is their alternative protein product, MycoFlex is a foam product that can be used in footwear or as a leather replacement, and MycoComposite is a high performing packaging solution. Customers include names like Dell, Ikea, BioMASON, Gunlocke, and Sealed Air. They also worked with our next startup to create faux leather.

A Bag of Mushrooms
Click for company websiteWay back in 2016, we wrote about a firm called Bolt Threads that was creating high-performance materials by mimicking how a spider weaves thread, a process that’s often referred to as “biomimicry.” Since then, the startup has taken in a whopping $213 million in funding to develop their product lines, one of which is a leather product that’s made from mycelium called Mylo which can be produced in days versus years. The startup is able to control the mycelium’s growth conditions to produce a substrate that can be cured and tanned into a soft, supple material that looks and feels like leather....

Sure, material science can be fun and profitable but what about computing? Coming up...