Microbes are essential to all life on earth and, in fact, the most dominant form of life on Earth. The study of microbes has historically advanced society in numerous ways such as the creation of the first smallpox vaccine, identifying the causes of cholera, tuberculosis, and anthrax, and the discovery of penicillin. Today, microbes in controlled settings can improve healthcare, food production, and agricultural output. Kingdom Supercultures is a designer and supplier of microbial strains that are naturally found in food. By using experimental and computational approaches for formulation, the company is able to provide the raw ingredients for use in manufacturing plant-based food, fermented beverages, and personal care products. There are over 6000 food additives – flavoring, glazing agents, bleaching agents, improvers, etc. – that are used to process foods that we’re told are harmless but, in reality, are anything but and never found in natural food. Kingdom Supercultures offers a viable substitute, at scale, to these ingredients to ensure that the future of food production and consumer goods is with real, natural ingredients, free of manipulation and processing aids.
AlleyWatch caught up with Kingdom Supercultures CEO and Cofounder Kendall Dabaghi to learn more about the company’s ambition mission to reframe the way we think about food production, strategic plans, latest found of funding, and much, much more…
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
We raised $25 million in this Series A funding round led by Shine Capital. In addition to Shine Capital, this funding round was supported by Valor, Tao, Lux, SALT, Reference, Digitalis, and existing investors – along with recognized names in the future of food, including the founders of Daring Foods, Good Culture, Hungryroot, RXBAR, Waterloo, and many others.
Tell us about the product or service that Kingdom Supercultures offers.
Kingdom designs and supplies Supercultures, a new class of natural ingredients that can create plant-based yogurts/cheeses that taste like dairy, lower-alcohol wines/beers with full flavor, and personal care products without artificial chemicals.
These Supercultures are composed entirely of microbial strains found naturally in food; using experimental and computational approaches, Kingdom rearranges these strains into new combinations with exciting new emergent functionalities.
What inspired the start of Kingdom Supercultures?
Ultimately this work was inspired by millenia of human tradition, in which our ancestors discovered how to harness microbial cultures to transform very basic inputs (milk, wheat, grapes) into much more complex and iconic food products (cheese, yogurt, wine, and beer).
They of course didn’t understand the underlying science or microbial cultures involved, but figured out impressionistically how to harness these cultures for food production.
Now, for the first time in history, we have the chance to design these communities in an intentional way, building upon cutting-edge advances in the microbiome and machine learning fields.
Unlike other biodesign companies that genetically engineer single strains to create single molecules at high titers, our approach constitutes an entirely new field of science in which we rearrange microbial strains that are already naturally occurring in the food system into new combinations.
By looking to nature and treating these tens of thousands of food-borne, food-safe strains like Lego building blocks, we can intentionally assemble new communities with entirely new, exciting functionalities.
Whereas traditional biodesign companies can really only execute on delivering a single molecule of interest, Kingdom can optimize the design of its communities for particular consumer benefits and the desired end marketing claims of its customers.
What market does Kingdom Supercultures target and how big is it?
Kingdom is actively working on projects in the plant-based dairy ($6B), low-alcohol wine ($6B), high-end pet food ($6B), biopreservative ($8B), and high-end personal care ($13B) markets.
What’s your business model?
Our business model spans the design and supply of novel Superculture ingredients for our customers. In the first stage of Superculture design, we grant a customer access to our state-of-the-art platform, through which we customize a Superculture for their specific needs. We then license that technology and supply that Superculture as an ingredient to the customer on an ongoing basis.
What are your post-COVID office plans?
We’ve been fortunate to not have had this too disrupted by COVID. Much of the work that we do requires people to be in-person to perform experiments and work together in a highly dynamic, collaborative manner.
At a time when many people feel extraordinarily isolated, we’ve benefited from being able to interact with one another on a consistent basis (with the proper precautions), and no one at Kingdom has gotten sick with COVID.
What was the funding process like?
It was a relatively quick process for us, as we had a lot of interest and wanted to make a decision and get back to work. What we liked in particular about Shine the team was their depth of expertise across both scaling large tech companies and a background in consumer packaged goods, both of which will be integral for us going forward.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
Raising capital can be very distracting for the business, so we treated it as a necessary issue that we needed to address, but strove to do so as efficiently and quickly as possible.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
Shine was excited by our founding team, technology approach, and customer traction with some of the largest and most innovative consumer packaged goods companies.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
In the next six months, we will continue to build out our world-class team and scientific capacities to support overwhelming customer demand for new Superculture ingredients.
We have the opportunity to grow that customer base by orders of magnitude and are incredibly excited by the projects we will be working on and the impact they’ll have on both human health and environmental sustainability.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Focus on identifying and solving the needs of your customers. That is the most important step to building a sustainable business, and if you do that well, revenue and investment dollars will follow.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
We plan to expand our set of partner customers for whom we design novel Superculture ingredients, and translate those partnerships to supply agreements to actively power products on store shelves.
Our long-term vision is to replace artificial chemicals and GMOs with natural Supercultures as the ingredient backbone of the modern CPG industry.
What’s your favorite outdoor dining restaurant in NYC?
Our favorite NYC restaurant would have to be Eleven Madison Park – the three-star Michelin restaurant that made waves for creating an entirely plant-based menu, and which we are actively supplying Supercultures to power some of their featured products (including the creme fraiche and sunflower butter).