We caught up with Leo Groenewegen, CEO and Co-Founder of CellulaREvolution as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. A spin-out of Newcastle University, CellulaREvolution are revolutionising cell-cultivation with their scalable bioprocessing technologies. CellulaREvolution have developed an innovative new approach that will unlock the unrealised potential of cultured products and cell therapies. Their technology is superior to existing inefficient solutions and delivers significant economic benefits at scale.
The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with grand potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Leo: My name is Leo Groenewegen, and I am the CEO and a Co-Founder of CellulaREvolution. CellulaREvolution is a company based in Newcastle and we are developing enabling technologies that allow companies to produce cells at scale, with higher yields and at a more affordable price. We produce cell cultures that could be used in the cultivated meat industry or cell therapy industries.
Leo: Thank you so much, we just announced that about a week ago and we have completed a round for £1.75 million. For the company, it is really good news as this fuels our next phase of our growth. We are working on scaling our technology so we will be investing in people, equipment, and starting to gear up for launch of our first system. Also, it is a great indicator that we can create a lot of value with our proposition. We already knew this but it’s comforting when others believe it too.
Leo: Yes, sure. It goes back a few years already. Originally, the company is a spin-out of Newcastle University. Both my co-founders, which are Dr Martina Miotto and Professor Che Connon, were working together at Newcastle University. They came up with the product and the IP behind the company we have today. However, years before that, my co-founders were doing their research within the university laboratories. It was early 2019 when I met them at a conference, and we started talking and they identified that they were looking for a third co-founder with more commercial/business experience, as opposed to their more sector specific technical experience. That is how I originally joined the team and built the initial business plans and planned the initial investment from spinning-out of the university. We started as a team of three but now we are a team of twelve, so we have grown quite a bit in the past three years. We are looking to grow much more too!
Leo: For everybody, especially in start-ups, it is attracting the right talent. It is a big problem if you hire the wrong person in a small team as they have a larger influence than in a smaller company. Hiring is more important in a smaller business than a larger one, as it is very important to get the right people in place at the start and, of course, to make sure they are happy in their job and get what they deserve. We are basically hiring continuously as there is always a need for the next role or we need to look ahead and think ok, when do we need this next person to join the lab or the wider team. Hiring is something we are very much focused on.
Leo: We have been looking at a few different things there. Initially, we identified that there is a huge call for people to produce cells at scale, as yields and cost are big drivers. Then we thought, we identified that we could do this better; we considered the switch from a batch process system, when you produce the cells in batches, to a system where you can do this continuously, so that at every minute, cells are being produced. This comes into yield, with a reduction of resource cost and so on.
We are really confident in the economic benefits of our bioprocessing technology, so the focus is really on perfecting and then scaling it in the medium term. The business has been presented with so many opportunities that it’s important we focus on one thing. We will be evidencing our technology at various scales and will launch hardware to achieve this, but we aren’t a hardware business, we are bioprocessing specialists and will look at process design and technology licensing long term. It’s our ambition to have our technology used in the largest cultured meat production sites in the future!
Leo: The cells grow in bioreactors for several days before they are being programmed into steak or another product.
Leo: We have two addressable markets in cultured meat and biopharma. We see cultured meat as the area we can have the biggest impact long term as it has the largest need for substantial quantities of cells to be produced. There is higher cost pressure in this field and the current technology has limitations hence our solution having a great market fit. However, Biopharma is a mature and growing market which has its own unique needs. We will be focusing a lot more attention on this market in the coming months.
Leo: I think every company faces challenges at some point. For us, which most companies will have had, is being a start-up and having your office or lab closed for COVID. For quite a while, we could not access the lab or only have one person there half a day per week! For any start-up, especially if you are within science, you need to be in the lab. This was very impactful, mainly as it delayed our business process, and the business process of our partners, by several months. I must say though, as a company we got through it quite well. As an industry we also feel that, because of what happened, it actually drew more attention to how we should eat food and manage our planet and so on. I also think it might have given a push to consumers and investors to say okay, we need to change the things we do now and invest in the future.
Leo: It is pretty good now and spirits are high. I think the focus is working on the science and get the products right. We are happy to be back in the labs and interact with colleagues on a more informal basis. We can now go out as a team again and do things together. We are also seeing conferences and meetings open up again, being face-to-face which can be a very nice experience and often, you get a lot more out of the meetings than over zoom.
Leo: I have done three business investment rounds now for CellulaREvolution. It was hard for the last round because we couldn’t meet the investors in person. Investment is always an on-going process when you are a founder; it is always in the back of your mind, for example, whenever you speak to someone ‘could they be a potential investor?’. Investment takes time and is hard, it is a lot of work and can be a struggle in comparison to normal meetings. Investment meetings can feel a little bit more forced as you need something from them and have to pitch. The meetings can feel more clinical and less personal.
Nowadays, there are far more fundraising platforms, that are industry specific. This makes it easier, in a way, for founders to raise money or reach a group of the right people.
Thank you for your time, Leo!