Growing our meat in a lab or factory has been a science fiction staple for decades, but much like jetpacks, it has never quite worked out in practice — at least not at scale. Yuki Hanyu and his team at Shojinmeat, however, are changing that.

Actually, scientists have been growing muscle tissue in labs for more than 100 years, but Shojinmeat has developed techniques that bring the cost down to less than one 1,000th of traditional approaches. Now, that still leaves it too expensive for most commercial applications, but Yuki explains how his team (and others) will bring the costs down into the commercial range very soon.

We also talk about both why Japanese life-sciences startups have such a hard time raising money in Japan and how Shojinmeat found a way to make the system work for them.

It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

  • How do you grow meat in the Lab?
  • Why cellular agriculture doesn’t get funding
  • Is lab-grown meat kosher?
  • Combining open research and patent protection
  • How to bring down the cost of cultured meat
  • Solving the taste problem
  • How cultured meat will become available

Links from the Founder

Transcript from Japan

Disrupting Japan, episode 83.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today we’re going to talk about the future of meat. Many would say the future of humanity, but really today we’re just going to talk about the meat. Yuki Hanyu and his team at ShojinMeat are growing meat in the lab, and they’re doing it at a tiny fraction of the cost of traditional methods. Actually, it turns out that lab-grown meat or cellular agriculture—as the discipline is actually called—is not particularly new. It’s been in active development all over the world for well over 100 years. What’s different about ShojinMeat, however is that they’ve been able to bring the cost down by an astounding three orders of magnitude. And that brings a technology within striking distance of a lot of practical uses. We dive into the actual science behind cellular agriculture. And if you can follow all of it, it means that you’re a huge biology nerd, and I love you for it. Otherwise, it would be good just to let the science wash over you. It’s a pretty amazing topic.

Another thing we talk about is why Japanese life sciences start-ups have such a hard time both raising money and growing here in Japan. And how ShojinMeat meat has found a way to make the system work for them. But you know, Yuki tells that story much better than I can so let’s hear from our sponsor, and get right to the interview.

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Yuki Hanyu of ShojinMeat, and thanks for sitting down with me.

Yuki: Thank you very much for inviting me to the podcast.

Tim: Today we’re going to talk about meat.

Yuki: Yeah, meat.

Tim: And most specifically, cellular agriculture. So to get started. Why don’t you explain what what ShojinMeat is?

Yuki: We are a collection of volunteer students, artists, and people of various disciplines to develop cultured meat technology.

Tim: So it’s a bio-hacker community here in Tokyo, right?

Yuki: Yes.

Tim: So how long have you been doing this.

Yuki: If you’re talking about active wet novelty work, that will be about a year and a half.

Tim: Okay.

Yuki: And if you’re talking about people building a team, that would be about two and a half years.

Tim: Alright. Okay, well actually before we go forward in this, let’s step back a bit and talk about the process. So exactly how does the process work? What are you doing?

Yuki: So the basic ideas of cultures meat is quite simple. Basically you take this animal, get a few cells from that animal—It could be chicken, beef, pork—anything. You don’t even need to kill that animal. You take the few cells and then you get this into a culture medium, and grow the cells in culture medium. And at the end you get a mass of cells, which is basically meat.

Tim: Okay. Now when you say, “Any cell.” Is it really any cell or any muscle cells? Do you need stems cells or anything at all will work?

Yuki: Actually, most specifically there’s a special type of cells called myosatellite cells or myoblast cells. And those cells are so called the stem cell of muscle cells.

Tim: Okay. In your own work, are you working with cattle, or pork, or chicken, or what type of meat are you growing?

Yuki: For experiment, we’re using mostly muscles cells, and for actual foods development work, we’re using chicken now.

Tim: Chicken?

Yuki: Yes.

Tim: Okay.

Yuki: And the beauty’s the method that we discovered for mouse is actually directly applicable to chicken cells as well, and so is it for cattle, pork, or anything.

Tim: Why choose chicken? Is that simpler than beef or pork?

Yuki: Because it is easier to get the cells.

Tim: Okay, very practical reason.

Yuki: Yes.

Tim: Okay, so you grow these cells in a broth. How much time and money does it take to grow enough meat to eat? So if I wanted to grow enough for a 200-gram chicken sandwich. How much time and money would that take.

Yuki: The time would be about 20 days, but the money is the very important part—because with the current technology, it costs ridiculous amounts such as 10,000, 20,000 US dollars or something. It’s very, very expensive.

Tim: 10 to 20,000 dollars? Okay.

Yuki: Yes. And making that cheap is the most important technological hurdle.

Tim: Okay, that’s an expensive sandwich. A little later on, I want to get back to the technological hurdles, and what you’re trying to optimize to bring the costs down. But what does it taste like? Does it taste like chicken? That’s kind of a joke, but does it actually taste like chicken?

Yuki: Well, when we cooked it, it tasted like fried piece of KFC.

Tim: Okay, so you used like seasoning and—

Yuki: Yes, because you don’t eat raw meat.

Tim: Yes, that’s true. So lab grown meat, does it have a similar consistency and texture as regular meat, or is it different somehow?

Yuki: At the moment with our current limited technology, it’s just aggregative muscle cells. But in the future as the technology matures, it will be a question of what sort of meat do you want.

Tim: Excellent.

Yuki: Yeah, so you can have any texture, even any taste really.

Tim: Well, actually before we dive into the meat, I want to ask you a little bit about you. So before starting ShojinMeat, you studied at Oxford, and then at Tohoku University, and went on to as a researcher at Toshiba. And none of this had to do with cellular agriculture. So why the big change? Why leave a steady research position to start growing meat?

Yuki: Well, the idea of culturing meat has been around for longer. And for me personally, I already knew the idea when I was five or eight reading science fiction manga.

Tim: Really? Okay.

Yuki: As well as the culture meat, I was also fascinated with all the kilometers, skyscrapers, star shapes, and those things. Well, general science fiction—

Tim: Sure.

Yuki: —that a lot of young boys are into. I somehow never grew from it, and just kept going. My degree in Oxford was Chemistry, and more into organic and biological. And with that speciality, I moved into battery research. It was sort of like science fiction—as a mid-twenty-first science fiction where everywhere is covered with solar panels and renewable energy and those things.

Tim: So continuing this science fiction theme?

Yuki: Yes. After that, I realized that I actually need to study systems engineering in addition to my specialty in chemistry, battery technology—those things. That’s why I went into Toshiba research development center, system engineering laboratory, and then I came to the position of I have to choose which science fiction dream I should pursue?

Tim: Okay.

Yuki: Then I thought about my topic, chemistry more so biological. And the cultured meat is what the world needs now, so I go for that.

Tim: Okay, and it seems like something at least in Japan you pretty much have to do on your own. This isn’t a subject of research at any of the corporations or the large universities that I know of.

Yuki: It’s actually the same with any country. The cellular agriculture is not established as a discipline yet because there’s no discipline. There’s no expert. And there’s no way to fund that sort of discipline. So we have to establish that first.

Tim: Alright.

Yuki: That’s what New Harvest, the leading NPO on this field, is doing.

Tim: Okay, so I’ve heard people talk about lab grown meat in terms of sustainability and cruelty to animals, but your motivation was really—it was cool and futuristic.

Yuki: Yes, and it is also—the technology it uses is actually a large scale cell culture. It has a lot more applications than cultured meat. Using the same technology, you can grow, say, kidney or liver cells. And the medical applications of that are also huge.

Tim: Okay, but I can see even in the near term the medical uses might adopt this technology much sooner than just general food because if you can grow skin for grafting or, like you said, liver cells, it’s worth a lot more money than a chicken sandwich.

Yuki: Yeah,

Tim: So you started ShojinMeat in 2015.

Yuki: Yeah.

Tim: And what does the name mean?

Yuki: Shojin actually means—it’s originally a Buddhist term. It means that devotion to the path. And the path is a path to enlightenment, or nirvana, or those things. I would say what’s going on with the world now such as the environmental dysfunction, the current cutting down forests, and those things—unsustainable practice. It’s obviously not leading to nirvana.

Tim: I see.

Yuki: Yeah.

Tim: Okay.

Yuki: Me, myself is not a Buddhist, but I can see that those unstainable things is not a good idea.

Tim: So it’s more the idea like this is the right path forward?

Yuki: Yes. And also the devotion to the right path because just saying, ‘That’s the right path.’ doesn’t really help. So you have to be committed to that.

Tim: Actually, now that I think about it, you’re not using Shojin in the Buddhist sense of the world. But is cultured meat—is that Kosher? Is that Halal?

Yuki: There are debates on that. And although no religious body has officially made a comment on it, but some clerics have already done so. And there was a rabbi saying that if the original animal was Kosher, then the Kosher meat out of the animal is Kosher. There is a similar argument for Halal. And there was one of the Muslim cleric who said you don’t even have to worry about those things because it’s just same as yogurt like bio-engineered food.

Tim: Right, it’s coming from the animal.

Yuki: Yeah.

Tim: I think it’s fascinating that they’re already discussing that. Okay, so getting back to ShojinMeat. You started a company called ShojinMeat and a company called Intragaculture both at the same time. Can you explain the relationship of the two and how they work together?

Yuki: Well ShojinMeat project is an inter disciplined effort, and within that organization, it has got lost of classes. Like art classes, research and development classes, culture media classes, or lifestyle assessment classes. And Intragaculture Inc. is commercialization classes.

Tim: Okay, so that’s a commercial entity that has to make commercially viable product out of this?

Yuki: Yes.

Tim: Right now how many people are involved in the project.

Yuki: Levels of commitment vary, but I would say 25 to 30, and the youngest member is like high school girl.

Tim: Okay, what are most of the members. Are they university research faculty? Are they just interested laymen?

Yuki: About 40% are students, about half are professionals, the remaining are like married woman and the retired person for some people.

Tim: Okay, ShojinMeat is an open research project. The goal is to share data and collaborate around the world, but you’ve also applied for several patents using this technology. How do you reconcile the patent protection with the open nature of the research?

Yuki: The registered patents becomes open, but it’s up to us. What normally what corporations do is when they file a patent, they’re the only ones who can use it. But what we’re trying to do is allowing people to use our patents so it can be individuals, universities, or even start-ups. And big companies who won’t use our technology, then that’s where the money would become involved in.

Tim: Okay, so any companies less than a certain size or producing less than a certain dollar volume can use your patents for free, and if they go beyond that, they have to pay?

Yuki: Yeah.

Tim: Okay, that makes a lot of sense, but in the immediate term, this kind of research is expensive and time consuming. What’s your business model now? How are you making money to fund this right now today?

Yuki: Well, it goes in two ways actually. One way is doing experiments that’s very, very low cost, which we have to achieve in the future anyway such as doing experiments at home. My mother wasn’t very happy about that, but I did make a culture medium at home.

Tim: Okay.

Yuki: Yeah, and use other very low cost ingredients. Another team member’s using apple juice to prepare culture medium component.

Tim: Well, I think there definitely is an interesting competitive pressure by the fact that you’re forced to use very inexpensive materials sends you in a technological direction to develop something that can be used much more wide spread.

Yuki: So thus like basically one approach, the very, very low cost experiments. And another approach, you mentioned slightly earlier, the medical applications. We’re actually trying to team up with this medical supplies company to start research on medical applications of large scale cell culture, and that will be a joint research project.

Tim: Okay, clearly at some point, you’re going to need significant outside investment to move this to the next level.

Yuki: Yes.

Tim: I know Intragaculture raised five million Yen in December last year, but it doesn’t seem like five million Yen is going to go very far. You can’t even make a sandwich with that.

Yuki: That investment money came from our seed accelerator, so that’s basically their first bite for risking supporting us. So technically speaking, we haven’t done the first major outside investment. For the outside investment, we are going forward with that conversation with the medial supplies company.

Tim: So you think the direction of the company will be more towards the medical side of the field first?

Yuki: Yes. We won’t go completely to medical applications because otherwise we have to deal with the FD applications and those things, and that’s not our work. Yeah, and we are sticking with large scale cell culture.


Tim: Well, let’s talk big picture about the future of meat. So today, what are people’s general reactions to the whole idea of cultured meat? Is it something people want to eat? Is it something they feel disgusted by?

Yuki: Well, the reactions vary quite a lot according to the social classes. For like young people, or people with progress in, or those scientists, there are very much for the idea. Even 70, 80%. But when it comes to elder people that are not familiar with the idea, they’re initial reaction is very negative if uninformed.

Tim: If uninformed? So when you explain the reasons behind it, do they tend to change their minds?

Yuki: Yes. That actually happens. We’ve experienced that, and also the similar experiences have been reported by other groups overseas. The general theory is if uninformed, 70 to 8 percent says no. But when informed about the sustainability, and what’s actually happening with factory farming, then the ratio flips.

Tim: Well, that’s really encouraging. It indicates that this is a technology that will be accepted and embraced. But as we talked before, there’s a lot of challenges that still need to be overcome. So you were saying my chicken sandwich would cost $200,000. Why is it so expensive now? What are the big technological problems that still need to be solved?

Yuki: Yes, it is because the culture medium is very expensive. The culture medium meat also uses animal source components, so the culture medium is not cruelty free or animal free.

Tim: So the medium is it grown on—is it like a broth?

Yuki: It uses something called fetal bovine serum, which is basically the processed blood of unborn cows.

Tim: Okay, so with the current technology it requires in a way more animal input than animal output.

Yuki: Yes.

Tim: Okay, that’s a problem.

Yuki: Yes.

Tim: So what’s the solution? What are you guys doing to solve that?

Yuki: Yeah, yeah. So without animal component called FBS we are basically replacing that with yeast based component. So basically I make this yeast extract thing at home, and use that instead of FBS, prepare culture medium, and get meat out of it.

Tim: Alright.

Yuki: There, that’s our general idea.

Tim: And so how much does that bring costs down using the yeast based culture medium?

Yuki: The current FBS is about per liter a thousand to a hundred dollar, or something. The yeast extract prepared at home, it costs only one Yen per liter. So one cent.

Tim: Wow.

Yuki: It’s very, very low cost.

Tim: Okay, so that’s a factor of ten thousand times?

Yuki: Yes, something like that.

Tim: That is game changing. So is that really the only thing that’s holding back large scale production? Is that the cost of the culture medium?

Yuki: There are two other components which is the basic sugar, protein, those things. And also the growth hormones. The growth hormones are also very, very expensive, but we’re basically solving the problem by—as well as muscle cells. We are also growing other types of cells which secretes growth hormones. Just if you look at the human body such is like thyroid, liver, those cells secrete growth hormones. So basically, we’re culturing muscle cells alongside these cells to get the growth hormones. And for the third component, which is the sugar, protein—those things. If you look at the component, you probably think you can buy that in supermarket, and we actually did that. When I was doing an experiment, I thought our culture medium was running low, so I basically went out to the coffee room, brought a Gatorade-like sports drink, took it back to the lab and used it as a culture medium.

Tim: Well, I’m wondering what is the trigger for this advancement? So we met last month at the Singularity University event. We talked a lot the exponential nature of change, and clearly this is—Exponential change is something that’s really important for this kind of technology. But cultured meats not new. I thought it had been around since the 1930s, but you were telling me that it’s been around for more than 100 years, right?

Yuki: Yeah.

Tim: And it’s not a digital technology where you have something like Moore’s Law giving you more power every 18 months. This is really chemistry and biology, and you’re constraining mostly by the laws of physics.

Yuki: Yeah.

Tim: So what has it been recently that has allowed you to make these big jumps in 10,000 times cost production?

Yuki: Yeah, the reason why we succeeded is that everyone else was not even trying. Well, precisely speaking, the culture medium it has been used only for research and development or medical purposes, and no one was really looking at the food application of that. And obviously food application and medical application, they’re specifications are entirely different.

Tim: True.

Yuki: And culture medium from food product, from my point of view, it can be made a lot cheaper, and that’s basically what we did.

Tim: Interesting. But when you’re growing the meat, like growing muscle tissue—When an animal grows muscle tissue, there’s a lot more than just the muscle tissue. If you’re growing meat in a broth or a petri dish, there are no arteries to bring nutrients to the meat, there’s no veins to carry away the waste. So how do you scale up production from a few cells in a petri dish to a chicken sandwich?

Yuki: Yeah, it depends on what type of meat you want to grow. We are looking varying like three categories. One is a ground meat, and second is bacon, and a third is steak.

Tim: Okay.

Yuki: Ground meat is technologically the easiest, then comes bacon, and then comes steak. And because for ground beef it’s basically an aggregative muscle cells, and you can just simply grow them in a big tank, which is being sold around. But when it comes to bacon, you have to have certain textures, and that’s where texture engineering technology or the use of cells scaffold come in. So that’s basically something that cells can hold onto and grow. And when it comes to steak, then you have to—It’s like worrying about full arteries, nerves—those things.

Tim: But then I guess that is true when you want the taste of the meat, it’s not just the muscle, it’s fat cells, it’s all kinds of things. But taking it a step back into bacon or something similar to ground beef, would you need to add flavoring to make it taste like meat?

Yuki: The meat tastes actually consistent of the amino acid taste and the fat taste, and also a bit of blooding taste.

Tim: So that would have to be added later?

Yuki: Well, the fat cells can be grown together. The key component, you can actually get it out of liver cells, or you can also use plant-based key components.

Tim: Alright, so the taste is actually one of the easier problems to solve?

Yuki: Yes.


Tim: Interesting. Before you mentioned that there aren’t many start-ups applying this to food, but if the process is still expensive and you need to add in kind of this flavoring afterwards, why not use plant-based substitutes like soy and non-meat products to simulate the meat?

Yuki: Well, the soy-based beef has been for a long time. Comes the important question: what do consumers actually want? What people want is not a protein and not even a meat, what they actually want could be Yakitori, or Teriyaki, or steak, and those things. And when it comes to that, plant-based meat alternative or meat look-a-likes, they can’t simulate steak or bacon.

Tim: Well, I guess that is true because food is—it is as much about the experience as it is about then food itself.

Yuki: If you just want protein, you can just go for something like Soylent.

Tim: Yeah, right, right, right. Okay, that makes sense. So the right way of looking at this technology in the market place is not that it is a nutritional replacement, but that it replaces the whole experience.

Yuki: Well, I would say not replace the experience, but offer the same experience, but with much, much lower environmental footprint.

Tim: Okay, right now even with the lower cost medium. My chicken sandwich, even with your latest technology would still cost how much?

Yuki: It would be about 100 gram, 400, 300 dollars.

Tim: 3 or 400? Okay, it’s still an expensive sandwich but it’s trending in the right way.

Yuki: Yeah.

Tim: How do you see this technology rolling out over the next 5 years, 10 years, 20 years? What are the first applications? Who adopts it next? And what would it look like 20 years from now?

Yuki: When it comes to cultured meat, probably people will take 10 years before you see them in supermarket. But when it comes to medical applications of that, I think it will be fairly quick. If you are talking about level tree scales, probably in the next five years you’ll start seeing complete muscle tissues grown in university labs.

Tim: Okay, so for clinical applications, what type of applications are the closest to seeing real world use?

Yuki: Well liver cells.

Tim: Liver cells?

Yuki: For drug testing. First start with drug testing, and then it’ll probably roll out into liver illnesses, the replacement liver cells.

Tim: And that’s just because liver cells are particularly easy to grow?

Yuki: Well, that’s one, and also it’s an important cell because it secretes various hormones and it’s also hub of the chemical process change happening in the body.

Tim: Okay, that makes sense. Now before you mentioned that the other companies researching this technology for medical use, did not want to use the less expensive culture medium for one reason or another. Can you use the less expensive culture medium and still provide medical quality cells or organs?

Yuki: Yeah. That’s the reason why we are teaming up with medical supplies company. To upgrade from food grade culture medium into medical grade culture medium, they will have to look at two things. One is the purity and the second is traceability. Purity is actually not a huge problem, but traceability is. But traceability is actually not a science problem.

Tim: Well, what exactly is traceability?

Yuki: Yeah, traceability is you’ve defined all the components in it, but it takes a lot of expensive measurement and medical equipment to do that. And also the whole track record of which component comes from where.

Tim: Alright, okay. That makes sense. So we’ll see those medical applications first in testing, and then in sort of human liver cell transplants and things. When should we expect to see lab grown meat in supermarkets?

Yuki: In supermarket I would say 20—27—28—something like that. Before that probably get that in expensive restaurants. Not in general supermarket, but in special—Well, butchery if you call—or cultured meat is not butchery but, yeah.

Tim: Yeah. Kind of by definition. Okay, so you mean more as like a novelty food—

Yuki: Yes.

Tim: —an exotic food?

Yuki: Yeah.

Tim: Alright, so right now it costs $200 to get enough meat for my chicken sandwich. That needs to drop down by more than a factor of 100, right? So what is going to drive those cost reductions over the next 15 years or so?

Yuki: For cutting costs one-tenth, that will be using better culture medium. But after that, to make it even cheaper, that’s when an economy of scale comes in.

Tim: Okay, so automating the process?

Yuki: Using bigger tongs. Those things.

Tim: Fantastic. One of the things I’ve noticed in Japan that I find really frustrating sometimes is that there are such amazingly good fundamental research that’s being done in Japan in all fields. But Japanese companies both large and small tend to have a hard time productizing these technologies. Tend to have a hard time taking this technology and putting it in people’s hands. What steps do you think you should be taking or will be taking to make sure that this technology becomes a commercial product and not just a series of really amazing academic papers?

Yuki: Well, I think that’s were the system’s engineering effort comes in. Think of various aspects of the technology, and then assemble necessary component, and put that into a working organization. When it comes to the productizing, what we are not doing is basically jumping into consumer product because that’s very difficult. So we’re basically starting with medical applications, which is more research and development heavily. And then gradually, as we scale, make it cheaper, more viable, then gradually moving to more closer consumer products. And at the end the goal is obviously supermarket, which is very, very consumer product.

Tim: Right, right. Okay, well listen, before we wrap up, I want to ask you my “magic wand” question. And that is if I gave you a magic wand, and I said that you could change one thing about Japan, anything at all. You could change the education system, the way people think about risk, anything at all to make things better for start-ups here, what would you change?

Yuki: What I would change is that I would reach young people, especially the scientists, or people with the technology, and people who are working with the technology to be more rational and free of community biases on the risks of doing the start-ups.

Tim: So what do you mean? What kind of cognitive biases do people have?

Yuki: Well, there’s always a certain degree of uncertainty doing a start-up. Obvious risk is that it could fail. But if you look at the actual numbers, even if it fails, it actually doesn’t entirely destroy you. But people who come in bias who are not very rational about the risks, basically take that as the end of the world.

Tim: Okay, so you think that people are looking at start-ups and seeing them much, much more risky than they really are?

Yuki: Well, because risky is basically obviously recognize that risk. But most people even before that, they just fear it.

Tim: So more like just focusing on the downside?

Yuki: Yeah.

Tim: And worrying about the downside rather than looking at the whole picture?

Yuki: Yeah.

Tim: And doing a more accurate risk, reward?

Yuki: Yeah.

Tim: Okay, that’s a deep cultural attitude that you see in many places, not just start-ups.

Yuki: But I think it’s just a question the people—especially the young people—don’t really know how to calculate those things. But mine was actually quite simple. I basically calculated this economic metabolic rate, which is how much money do I need to sustain myself per year. Then I calculated that and came out as if I live with my parents, that came out as 400,000 Yen, which is like $4,000?

Tim: Yeah.

Yuki: And basically, that’s the bottom line. So as long as I have that money, I’m okay.

Tim: I see. So it sounds like you’re saying, clearly define what your risks are, and what your success criteria should be, and then work within that?

Yuki: Yeah. Well, as I say, start from that.

Tim: Yeah, start from that.

Yuki: Got to work within.

Tim: Do you think the reason a lot of people are scared of start-ups is they just don’t do that analysis or they focus too much on the downside, or?

Yuki: I would say because they focus only on the downside, and they don’t know about the techniques such as calculating the economic double grade, those things. If there’s a manual, it could probably help.

Tim: Yeah, probably will. But in the last 10 years or so, we’ve see a lot more start-ups in Japan. Do you think that attitude is changing?

Yuki: As more people are getting into start-ups and things. Many university students are starting to see friends doing start-ups and those things. And those are probably the biggest factor in increasing the number of start-ups.

Tim: So just having role models?

Yuki: Yes.

Tim: That makes sense.

Yuki: And always those role models have the know-hows of how to do start-ups. How to make their minds on starting a start-up.

Tim: And also looking at role models you can see not just the negatives, not just the risks, you can see a more complete lifestyle—

Yuki: Yeah.

Tim: —and what’s involved.

Yuki: Yeah. And probably until about 10, 20 years ago, most people thought start-ups something like a way to make big bucks. But then as we start seeing more role models, people start seeing it’s actually not the money that drives those people.

Tim: Well, excellent. I hope we’re going to be seeing more and more of that in Japan too.

Yuki: Yeah, I hope so too.

Tim: Hey, well listen, thank you so much for sitting down with me.

Yuki: Thank you.

And we’re back.

After the interview, Yuki asked me to explain something that might not have been clear during the interview itself, but is really important for the future of ShojinMeat and other biotech companies in Japan. ShojinMeat is not getting investments from pharmaceuticals and life science companies. Rather they’re selling research services to these companies. Things are challenging for life science start-ups in Japan. Japanese investors are quick to invest in proven SaaS business models, or even hardware companies that can be expected to get to market in a few years. But life science companies usually require hundreds of millions of dollars in capital, and won’t see revenues for at least 10 years. For the most part, Japanese investors are unwilling to take such risks. So it’s interesting and encouraging that large life sciences companies are filling that gap with long-term research contracts.

You know, I have to admit, before the interview I was secretly hoping that I would get to try some of Yuki’s lab grown meat. I don’t know. Maybe I would arrive at the lab and we’d pull out some steak or ground beef-like substance out of a vat, and we’d grill it up on a barbeque. I was a bit disappointed that the lab was not exactly set up that way. I didn’t actually get to sample any lab grown chicken, but several sources have assured me that it does indeed well, taste like chicken.

As to the future of lab grown meat, it looks like it’s coming. On a technical level, over the last decade, the costs have gone already come down three orders of magnitude from hundreds of thousands of dollars to hundreds of dollars. And Yuki is confident that further improvements in the culture medium, along with automation and economies of scale, will bring it down another three levels of magnitude. From hundreds of dollars to a few dozen cents. With something like lab grown meat, however, I assume the big problem to wide spread adoption was not technological, but social. Having consumers get used to the whole idea of lab grown meat. So I found the survey results to very encouraging. Across all cultures and countries people were either already willing to eat lab grown meat, or quickly became so after a lot of education and explanation. It seems like we’ll all be eating lab grown meat a lot sooner than we ever expected.

If you’ve got questions about growing meat in a vat, or eating meat grown in a vat, Yuki and I would love to hear from you. So come by and tell us about it. And when you drop by the site, you’ll see all the links and notes that Yuki and I talked about and much, much more in the resources section of the post.

But most of all, thanks for listening. And thank you for letting people interested in Japanese start-ups know about the show. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for listening to Disrupting Japan.