Modern Meadow, a New York-based company that has developed a method of turning living cells into materials used to make leather that mimics animal hide, has received a $40 million Series B funding to begin manufacturing and commercializing its leather products.
The company has developed a line of cells that produce collagen, a protein that gives structure to animal tissue and is used to form the company’s leather, according to CEO and co-founder Andras Forgacs. Forgacs declined to specify the kind of cell the company uses, noting that the type of leather Modern Meadow produces—one that is similar to, say, cow hide—is not dependent on the type of cell.
“It does not need to be a mammalian cell or a cow cell to make cow collagen,” he says. The company is targeting what Forgacs says is a $100 billion leather products industry, saying it has an innovative solution that could address global resource challenges by reducing the materials and processes that conventional leather products require.
Forgacs and his father, Gabor Forgacs, a University of Missouri professor of biological physics, are also co-founders of San Diego-based Organovo (NYSE: ONVO), which uses 3D printing technology to create functional, 3D human tissues for use in medical research and therapeutic applications.
Because it uses modified DNA to produce its laboratory-based leather, Forgacs contends that Modern Meadow’s leather is the same as traditional leather, without the necessity of killing and skinning cattle. The company says its process does not have the same impact on the environment that big cattle ranches do. He also says that the leather Modern Meadow “biofabricates” has a better strength-to-weight ratio than animal leather.
“Leather is essentially entirely made of collagen—organized collagen protein,” Forgacs says. “Our process makes cow collagen, without touching a cow. There’s no cow involved.”
Horizons Ventures and Iconiq Capital led the $40 million round, which brings Modern Meadow’s total funding to $53.5 million. Other investors include ARTIS Ventures, Temasek, Breakout Ventures, RedSwan Ventures, Collaborative Fund, and Tony Fadell, an early iPod designer and co-founder of Nest Labs.
After Modern Meadow creates the collagen, the proteins form nanofibers out of triple-helix collagen structures, Forgacs says. Those nanofibers form a larger network of fibers, which are subsequently made into the company’s leather “hides.”
Like you would with any animal hide, Modern Meadow puts its product through a tanning process. Right now, the company is focused on creating leather to resemble cow hides, though it could eventually develop products from a variety of animals, be it pigskin, crocodile, or even something extinct, he says. (Forgacs says the company has no current plans for dinosaur leather, unfortunately.)
Modern Meadow is currently working with a “handful” of companies that it hopes will become partners—buyers of its leather for use in their own products, Forgacs says. He wouldn’t name any companies he is working with, but did say that they will focus on luxury products initially, as well as some sports products, from footwear to activewear. Other industries could include automotive, transportation, and furniture, he says.
“We’re focused on being a design and performance leader, working on high-end brands in each category to launch this material on the market,” Forgacs says.
The company’s products will be sold at a similar, or, in some cases, lower cost than other luxury leathers, he says. Eventually, the company will manufacture lower-cost versions, he says.
While Modern Meadow is solely focused on its leather manufacturing, the company also has developed intellectual property around a meat-substitute product that is made from real animal protein, Forgacs says. While he has a small team of employees looking at how it could produce meat for consumers, Forgacs is keeping Modern Meadow’s focus on leather rather than shortchanging both by spreading the company too thin.
Modern Meadow, which has a staff of 35 that Forgas expects to double in the next year, is located in BioBAT, lab space that’s part of the massive Brooklyn Army Terminal in New York.