Read the 12-page pitch deck I used to raise $30 million for my food-tech startup
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- Fengru Lin is the cofounder of TurtleTree, a food-tech company with offices in the US and Singapore.
- TurtleTree is a company that creates cell-based milk without the need for cows.
- Here’s Lin’s story and the pitch deck she used to raise money, as told to writer Claire Turrell.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Fengru Lin, the cofounder of TurtleTree. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I’ve always been a foodie, but little did I know that my cheesemaking hobby would spark the idea for a multimillion-dollar business.
My search for the perfect raw-milk ingredients brought me face-to-face with the harsh realities of dairy farming in the region I lived in of Southeast Asia. Cows were being pumped with antibiotics and hormones, and I thought, There must be a better way to create dairy produce.
I bumped into my now cofounder, Max Rye, in 2018 when he was giving a talk about sustainability at the Google office in Singapore, where I worked at the time in sales on the Google Cloud team. Other companies were already working on cell-based meat and shellfish, and we wondered if we could create cell-based milk similarly to how they were reproducing meat cells in a bioreactor, like a microbrewery.
In January 2019, we launched the cell-based dairy company TurtleTree. We bootstrapped the company with $500,000 of our own money, hired two microbiologists, and rented a lab at a research facility in Singapore. Ten months later, we filed our first cell-based-milk patent. We now have 42 employees across three locations, and we launched our first US office in Davis in west Sacramento, California, in September 2021 and another office a few months later in Boston.
As soon as we were ready to file our first patent, I decided to leave Google
Max, who had an entrepreneurial tech background in California, also chose to go full-time.
When COVID-19 hit, it highlighted the importance of our work even more. As Singapore imports 90% of its food, the ability to produce food within close proximity of the city to reduce waste and improve the supply chain became even more vital.
The pandemic could’ve affected our plans, but the Singapore regulators deemed us an essential business, so our scientists could continue working in the lab while office staff worked from home.
While the microbiologists worked on refining the product, Max and I met with potential investors, employed a headhunter to help us find the right staff for the company, and took a “Business of Biotech” course at MIT online to help us understand the economics of biotech investments and how to scale biotech companies. We also started seeking mentors, one being sustainability professor Nathaniel Salpeter of the nonprofit Sweet Farms, who advises companies and the US government on food biotech. He’s been supportive from the moment I first emailed him.
We started fundraising in June 2020 and between our preseed and Seed rounds, we raised $9.4 million from investors. Then in November 2021, we raised $30 million in our Series A led by Verso Capital, which is now being spent on getting our processes ready to bring it to industrial scale, growing the team to help bring it to market, and opening a new manufacturing facility outside of Singapore and the US.
During our research phase with potential B2B customers, we were asked if we could produce the immune-boosting protein lactoferrin, which is found in mother’s milk. We made this ingredient our focus, and once it’s approved by regulators, we hope to sell it to our baby-food-brand customers the following year. We also created Gut Logic, which contains lactoferrin and complex sugars but is designed for adult nutrition brands.
Before we pitched investors, we learned to edit the deck for our audience
If we’re talking to investors who are very educated about the food-tech space, we add more details around the technical areas, or if we’re talking to investors who care more about sustainability and the UN’s goals, we talk a little bit more about those. For me, the three key slides in the deck include slide five, the size of the market; slide four, the products that we’ve created that offer a sustainable solution; and slides eight and nine, the slides that show the expertise of our team.
However, slide seven, the milestone slide, is also important to show the progression of the company. Every year our milestones are themed: 2020 was the year of winning a lot of competitions for us, including the Entrepreneurship World Cup. The focus of 2021 was talent and hiring employees from companies such as biotech company Novozymes. Now 2022 is the year of scale with the launch of our factory.
Three-and-a-half years after starting, we’re now looking at bringing our first product to market. Here’s the pitch deck that helped us get here.