Creating Something From Nothing
Wednesday, Dec 7, 2022
A letter from Matt Gibson (CEO) and Inja Radman (CSO), co-founders of New Culture
“To create something from nothing is one of the greatest feelings, and I would—I don’t know, I wish it upon everybody. It’s heaven.” -Prince
Believe it or not, New Culture’s roots go back to a single burger. When it was revealed back in 2013, neither of us could’ve ever guessed that a $300,000 patty of cultivated meat from a lab in the Netherlands would’ve laid the foundation for New Culture.
At the time, we were on opposite sides of the world. Matt was building his first start-up in New Zealand and Inja was working on her PhD in molecular biology at Cambridge. Having grown up in New Zealand, Matt was never too far from the dairy industry. However, that also meant he saw the industry’s devastating impact on New Zealand’s natural resources and the animals themselves. Having already gone vegan a number of years prior due to his passion for animal rights, he was now growing even more motivated to do something about it.
Across the globe in London, Inja had shifted from the lab to analytical consulting, all the while looking for a way to put her skills to use tackling climate change. She had been a passionate vegetarian and living near zero waste, including even making her own toothpaste and laundry detergents. Finding a professional pursuit that aligned with her personal values was the next step.
Five years after hearing about that cultivated burger (the world’s first!), Matt just couldn’t shake his enthusiasm to use the underlying technology to make animal-free dairy products for a kinder and more sustainable dairy future. But he needed a technical co-founder. So when Inja received an out-of-the-blue LinkedIn message from a random Kiwi looking to start a climate-friendly, animal-free dairy company, it was as if the stars had aligned. Three months after that LinkedIn message, we both completely uprooted our lives and moved to the Bay Area to pursue this crazy idea.
Off to San Francisco
We suddenly found ourselves working in a basement on Jessie Street, in the heart of San Francisco, as part of the Indiebio biotech accelerator. It’s in that basement where we laid the foundation for New Culture. Ultimately, we decided to focus on cheese because it has the largest environmental footprint of any dairy product and its sustainable alternatives had made minimal traction with consumers (plant-based cheeses account for a measly ~0.5% of cheese consumption in the United States). So how would we solve this problem?
Turns out there was only one answer: casein protein. Casein is responsible for everything we love about cheese. The crumble and creaminess, the stretch and melt. It’s what makes cheese…well…cheesy. Trouble is, until that point, casein had only been found in mammalian milk. But if we could somehow create casein without any animal inputs - without needing animal milk - we could make delicious cheese without the environmental or animal welfare drawbacks of conventional cheese, or the taste drawbacks of plant-based alternatives.
So over those 4 months at IndieBio in early 2019, we got to work showing that animal-free casein was possible. Those earliest days were full of exploration and experimentation and iteration, which led to our first “cheeses,” some of which were so funky that we weren’t even willing to try them. We learned the ins and outs of cheesemaking, the problems with plant-based products, and what makes casein a magical protein and the foundation of cheese. Slowly but surely, we made tangible progress, started growing the team, and raised our seed investment following IndieBio demo day.
Since then, we have been fortunate enough to recruit a stellar team of over 30 incredible curd nerds. We’ve built a people-first culture that continuously exceeds our ambitious goals and does so with kindness and a genuinely team-centric approach. It’s heart-melting to think back and appreciate how far we’ve come. Our world-class team has created something from nothing: our first product - stretchy, melty, animal-free mozzarella for pizzas that people love. We never tire of hearing people exclaim, “It just tastes like cheese.”
Impact + Beyond
New Culture exists to transform our food system and reliance on intensive animal farming: consumers should be able to indulge in delectable cheese without harming the environment or our furry friends. That’s why we’re all so passionate about bringing consumers animal-free cheese that tastes great, without compromises. Or, as we like to say: cow cheese without the cow.
The next 5 years will be filled with even more exciting moments as we continue to make progress on New Culture's multi-decade journey - scaling our production capacity, releasing our first products onto the market, bringing our cheese to consumers everywhere. No matter who you are, what you believe in, or whatever dietary restrictions you might have, you won’t have to compromise when it comes to enjoying your favorite cheeses.
Although it has been harder than either of us could’ve imagined, we’ve never believed more deeply in our work to lead the change to an animal-free dairy future. We hope you’ll come along for the ride, and that you like pizza :)
- Matt & Inja