Mzansi Meat for being a global food technology with African roots

Mzansi Meat emerged as the first farmed meat company in Africa in 2020.

Co-founders Brett Thompson and Tasnim Karudia share the ambition to produce high-quality, great-tasting meat without slaughtering or harming animals. Thompson, who is also the CEO of Mzansi, runs a nonprofit called the Credence Institute that advocates for animal interests; He is also the spokesperson for Meat-Free Mondays in South Africa. Director of Operations, Karodia, shares this passion for changing food systems in Africa, describing herself as an individual who “care about sustainability”.

Earlier this year, Mzansi Meat Company revealed that it has successfully grown its first beef burger after two years of research. The startup now aims to become a global food technology company with African roots.

Thomson (BT) and karodia (traditional knowledgeI talked to him recently AFN on how the company and team were set up, and they shared their views on what could boost Africa’s farmed meat industry.

AFN: If you weren’t building Mzansi meat, what would you be doing?

BT: I started a nonprofit about a year before I started Mzansi Meat called Credence Institute. It is a research center working on animal-related policy and action. We then started a program called Animal Advocacy Africa, which helps raise about $1 million for animal advocacy organizations in Africa, primarily outside of South Africa. So I think if I didn’t create Mzansi, I would spend more time in my nonprofit.

AFN: What made you move from that to growing meat?

BT: My background has worked in retail and food marketing for the past 10 years. So I actually came from a background that was more on the profitable side of things. Fortunately, my previous job allowed me to do a lot of work on animal advocacy, with meat-reduction campaigns across the country. So I moved from work to a nonprofit. Then I did an incubator program that was based in London [Covid-19-related] Insurance, which was about how to start a charity from a very effective altruistic mindset.

I took a lot of these lessons to start a company. So I think it’s very easy to go from working for someone in a company and then start my own nonprofit, starting a for-profit organization.

AFN: What was your experience in putting together a biotech team?

Q: Neither I nor Tasnim are artistic. We come from commercial backgrounds. So it was very difficult at the beginning to get the science people who wanted to be involved early on in the startup.

In South Africa, we were the first company [apply biotech to food], so we had no precedence. There was no other biotech industry or people, and we weren’t really connected to the biotech field. It’s been a bit rowdy but there are a lot of talented scientists here in South Africa, so we were very lucky there.

Now, we are moving to the larger scale engineering type and there are a lot of quality engineers in South Africa.

traditional knowledge: Brett and I are the only ones on the business side. The rest of the team focuses on research and development. For example, Wade, our Director of Research and Development, has 20 years of experience in commercial biotechnology. Much of his focus was on the bio-processing aspect. He’s created previous companies, built bioreactors, which have been very useful in what we use.

We also have Kyle who already has a marine biology background, but has spent many years in tissue culture and actually worked in the COVID space for a while.

Then we have Peter, the biotech scientist, but a lot of his background is actually in experimental design, which we use to develop media.

We build a dedicated team across the different levels required in farmed meat.

AFN: What are some of the things you love about your team at Mzansi Meat?

traditional knowledge: They work with incredible uncertainty, as scientists, which is probably really stressful. I was inspired by their ability to make a lot of things run so fast without them [many] Sources.

Q: I actually started a small marketing agency, four years ago, before I got into any of these things and was working with a lot of creatives. Creative people are great people to work with and a talent that I also respect.

The dedication to art that you find from creators and the way they do their methods is something similar and interesting that I’ve seen with scholars and people on the more technical side of the world. They don’t stray too far from their profession in terms of the scientific method or whatever, whereas when you’re in business, you kind of want to take shortcuts. Scientists have a very good way of saying you can’t.

It’s nice but we took the time to work in a symbiotic relationship. Now the science team and the business team work together a lot and are pushing each other back the right way. That’s what I’ve really learned to respect and love – a strong word, but something like that.

AFN: What excites you the most about the progress Mzansi Meat has made?

traditional knowledge: One of the most pivotal moments was when we were able to show off the prototype. Even then, it was very difficult to talk to people about what [we were] do if [there wasn’t] something tangible to show. For me, it was amazing to be able to see what we’ve been working on for the past 18 months before that and to be able to show that it’s there and not just a dream.

And the taste was amazing. Eating meat for the first time 15 years ago was pretty cool.

BT: I remember when we started working and Tasnim was in another city and this was just an idea. Launching for me was something I really loved. I’m also excited about future spaces that we can fill with something that delivers value and work with people who are passionate about remaking the food system.

AFN: How do consumers in South Africa in general feel about farmed meat right now?

BT: There is a lot of education that we as a company have to do. As the first to do so, we have this really exciting opportunity to shape the narrative and understand the cultural components of South Africa and the strong attachment to meat.

I think we’ve been very encouraged by the opportunity and the conversations we’re having with consumers, retailers, catering venues, restaurants, quick service restaurants, big restaurants, small restaurants and chefs.

These are the people who really influence what we eat because they make our food. there [also] Lots of excitement and attraction for the many South African restaurant chains to bring farm-raised meat to market.

AFN: Can the South African government play a role in boosting the industry?

traditional knowledge: One of the things that we have benefited from is that the lab we work in is a public-private partnership. Moving into the lab space was plug and play, which was very helpful to be able to get started.

In terms of other government support, other regions of the world have more grant funding for this industry.

One issue with grant funding [in South Africa] is that it is very hard to get and sometimes it takes a while.

We want opportunities to be able to ease this burden on entrepreneurs to spend a lot of time. Sometimes it is easier to get financing from, from the private sector, venture investors or other investors.

AFN: Where can startups and entrepreneurs get support?

traditional knowledge: We’d like to see more space-related funding [and] Access to higher levels of financing.

Investors are looking at Africa as something they can’t invest in and I think that’s one of the things we should have a broader conversation about. We can do great things with investment.

BT: I would just add that there is a bit of market failure, but also government failure. There is a view that infrastructure does not exist in Africa, when it is and people are very happy to invest in industries like fintech.

I think there is a job to be done on the ground on the part of the company, whether it’s from Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa or Kenya, where the leaders in the field in particular, when it comes to investment projects, are setting the precedents and making the first step investments. They are the people who should have a greater appetite for risk and will benefit in the long run.

There is also a job to be done to bypass this hurdle to eliminate infrastructure and industry risks here in South Africa, and possibly other parts of the continent, and only gain investor confidence. There is a lot of money going into Africa and its venture capital space, but it goes to very specific areas.

AFN: Where do you want to be in the next five years?

traditional knowledge: I want consumers in South Africa to be able to walk into a grocery store and pick up grown meat. Same taste, great price. This is my goal.

BT: I echo that. I think for me it’s about being able to put it in front of people. When it becomes readily available, at a certain price point, people will not need to make a decision. They will choose something that tastes good and happens to be planted.

On a company level, we want to be a global food technology company that operates out of South Africa and is proud of it, but pushing the boundaries of food technology globally.

We’ve offered at 18 months all we can do is not a lot of money. I think in five years, what we’ve achieved will be incredible. This company has a great ability to showcase what the continent can do and inspire others to do too.

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