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Modern Meadow, developer of lab-grown leather, raises $40 million

The start-up will use the funds to scale up their process, which derives collagen from modified cells

by Melody M. Bomgardner
July 4, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 27

This story was modified on July 12, 2016, to correct what the company calls its product, the source of the cells used to produce its product, and the attribution of a quote. A sentence from a third party referring to the product as requiring cells from live animals was removed.

Brooklyn-based start-up Modern Meadow, which gained notoriety with its capability to grow meat in the lab, has raised $40 million to pursue a different material: leather. The funding round was led by Horizons Ventures and Iconiq Capital.

[+]Enlarge
Credit: Modern Meadow
This item is made of leather from a lab.
Credit: Modern Meadow
This item is made of leather from a lab.

Modern Meadow calls its product “biofabricated leather.” The firm says its scientists have genetically engineered cells to produce collagen—the key component of animal hide—in varying types and quantities.

Making collagen is just one step of the process, says Modern Meadow Chief Technology Officer David Williamson. “Another important part is the organization of the collagen into the finished product—the remarkable biocomposite of protein and chemicals that make leather.”

The firm’s design ability means it can make new types of leather, such as a hide that is much thinner than one from a cow. And the company claims its leather-making process is up to 80% less wasteful and requires less chemical processing. Forgacs says the company will use the funds to scale up its cell-culture technology and supply samples to customers.

But the firm has its skeptics. “There’s no clear value proposition for what Modern Meadow is doing,” says Jennie Lynch, research associate at Lux Research.

“At best, the market for this material is incredibly niche and not large enough to justify the costs,” Lynch says.

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Comments
Jon Harper (July 5, 2016 9:20 AM)
Reminds me of Corfam.
John Clayton (July 5, 2016 6:50 PM)
Seems to me the objections to lab-grown leather are similar to those against lab-grown meat: it's expensive and right now there's no clear added value. Nothing trumps leather shoes. Feedlot-fed beef doesn't taste as good as pastured, and its environmental consequences are far more serious, but hey, it's way cheaper. Gotta have those McBurgers.

Fast forward five, ten, fifteen years: with the steadily-increasing costs of water and feedlot corn and the steadily-dwindling supply of available arable land, the prices of feedlot meat and leather have skyrocketed. Meanwhile, with further development, the costs of lab-grown meat and leather have decreased. Non-vegan vegetarians, who object to eating cruelly-treated cattle, have no such problem with lab-grown beef and become connoisseurs; McBurger makers are delighted to find a source guaranteed free of mad cow disease lawsuits. Bioengineered leather coats and boots have reached the market and demand is booming.

Niche market? I can't wait for these guys to go public.

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