Origin Story Interview W/ Roee Nir, Forsea

Origin Story Interview W/ Roee Nir, Forsea

Brighter Future

 / 

Dec 28, 2022

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #CultivatedMeat #SustainableSeafood #AlternativeProteins #FoodTech #OceanConservation #GlobalNutrition

Brighter Future

Today, we have the pleasure of talking with Roee Nir, co-founder of Forsea, a cultivated meat company focused on seafood.

Thank you, Roee, for joining us today. Can you give us a brief introduction to you and your business?

I'm the CEO and co-founder of Forsea. I'm a biotech engineer with years of experience in different industries. I started in food technology, moved to biotech and then digital health, I have now returned to working in food technology.

Forsea is a cultivated meat company focused on seafood. We were founded through The Kitchen Hub, a very reputable foodtech incubator here in Israel. We have a unique technological approach to the challenge of making this type of meat and have targeted a promising first market. Our technology has been developed by two researchers, Dr. Iftach Nachman from Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yaniv Elkouby from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. These esteemed researchers are my co-founders, and we launched Forsea together.

We have a different, disruptive approach to the technological challenge of how to produce cultivated meat. The common practice focuses on directed differentiation, where cells are specifically directed to a cell type, such as muscle or fat. Our technology, on the other hand, focuses on helping stem cells form organoids, which are essentially 3D micro-tissues that spontaneously differentiate from all edible cells, just like in nature. Simply put, our tissue is a natural composition of fat, muscle and muscle fibre.

Technology plays a huge role in your company. You must have an advanced academic background. Can you tell us a bit more about your path before starting on this journey with Forsea?

I am a biotech engineer. However, most of my career I've served in strategic and commercial roles in foodtech. I started as a product and sales manager at a food technology company selling natural ingredients to food and dietary supplement companies. At one point, I relocated to the states to do my MBA at New York University. At the same time, I worked at their newly bought subsidiary, which I helped integrate into the parent company. When I returned, I took the global role of Head of Business Unit for natural colours and flavours. So, I've done businesses from Australia through the APAC region, Europe, and the United States.

After ten years, I transitioned to the biotech industry, where I led the business development for a biopharmaceutical company, primarily in indications related to immunology and the transplantation of autoimmune disease. I led the entire innovation of the company in this field.

After that, I transitioned to digital health to try to help patients through technology innovation. I was the VP of Commercialisation and Customer Success for a digital health company. We raised $20 million just before I left, but I was already very much involved in co-founding Forsea with my co-founders.

How exactly did you come to co-found Forsea?

When I was working in digital health, I was approached by The Kitchen Hub and offered to join forces with them to co-found Forsea. Very early in our discussions, I felt that this was exactly what my career had put me in a position to do. My experience combines a mix of slow-moving biopharmaceutical and fast-moving high-tech companies, as well as both foodtech and biotech industries. At the same time, I am very connected to the ocean. I am a surfer, I care deeply about the sea's health and prosperity. Seeing how dirty our seas and oceans have become made me feel like I needed to do something about it. Therefore, I felt that I had the right background to pursue my ambition and impact our planet and the oceans.

When did this passion for the ocean and nature begin? Has this always been something you have been passionate about?

I have always connected with nature because I used to travel and hike. In my early 20s, I travelled through Africa for six months, hiking and hitchhiking, all the way from Kenya to South Africa. I've always tried to experience nature as much as possible. During summer breaks when I was a student, I spent a few months in Central America and another few months in South America. I've also travelled to India a few times and other Asian countries. So, my connection to nature was always there. Also, I'm a huge ocean fan.  Surfing has a special place in me and my family's lives. Today, our oceans are at risk and I am deeply concerned. We all must do something to change this grim reality.

Travelling the world and seeing it firsthand is a surefire way to make that passion grow and raise awareness for the problems we face. When you started Forsea, how did you go about approaching the market?

Forsea has a technology platform that can produce any seafood and fish we want. When we started the company, we had to decide which market to target first. Strategically, we were looking for an endangered fish that is highly-priced and has real market need. When we started examining the eel market, we were blown away. Many do not know that the eel is a very special animal with a very unique lifecycle and it cannot be bred in captivity. This fish is being sold at prices close to $70. Its population has declined by 90% to 95% in the last 30 years, leading to a fivefold decline in its consumption over the previous 20 years. As such, today, the huge eel market need cannot be fulfilled.

Many don’t know this, but the eel is a very unique animal that lives in freshwater for most of its life. It can live up to tens of years. At some point in its life, it decides that it wants to breed, and then it swims into the deep ocean – around 6000 kilometers for this purpose. To survive the journey in the salty water, the eel undergoes a metamorphosis, and only during this journey does it become sexually mature. The European variant spawns near the Bermuda Triangle in a place called the Sargasso Sea. The Japanese variant spawns near Guam. After they breed, they disappear. Their larva, which later turns into glass eels, return to the land, drifted by the currents and captured, grow to become adult fish and sold as food. No one knows how to breed eels in captivity and that has created a huge market demand and opportunity.

That's quite an alarming decline—one that many people are probably completely unaware of. Conducting the research and focusing on a specific area, as you have done with the eels, gives you a solid foundation to build and focus on. So, who would you say Forsea is for?

Forsea has two primary missions; the first is to feed the world with delicious, high-quality seafood, which is similar to what nature creates. The world population is increasing, and we already consume much more than the ocean can provide. Our fish stocks are depleting, and the only thing that can help provide high-quality sustainable nutrition is alternative solutions such as cultivated meat. As I see it, we have been given the enormous task of providing sustainable nutrition to the 10 billion people that will be living on this planet in 30 years.

Our second mission is to help humanity face the environmental challenge. We can help our planet restore its balance by providing alternative ways of delivering protein to feed the growing population. The ocean's ecosystem is very close to collapsing, and many species are endangered. If they are eliminated, the entire ecological system in their habitats will create disaster.

This is why I love my job so much – we're not only focusing on nourishing the population, but are also here to save our planet and our children's future.

What would you say is the most fulfilling part of your work?

Many things fulfil me. From a technological point of view, what we are doing is truly fascinating. It is indeed a kind of science fiction that years ago no one thought could take place. Think about it – we’re taking stem cells, making different edible cells from them and then building edible tissues (in our case, a fillet of a fish). And all this as part of a great mission to nourish a huge population and help save our oceans. In addition, my days are full of excitement that is related to technological breakthroughs and solving business challenges. Every day is very fulfilling.

Was there a time in your journey when you took a completely different direction? Or did something that you didn't plan to do?

I have always been an industry guy. I started in foodtech, then moved to biotech. I have always been fascinated by industrial process designs – bioreactors, tanks, biological and chemical processes and so on, working to produce a complex finished product.  However, at one point of my career I decided to explore high-tech. You may know that in Israel, high-tech is a very dominant industry. In fact, most of my friends work in this industry. So, back in the day I decided to pursue a career change. I moved to a digital health company where I served as the VP responsible for commercialization and customer success.  After two and a half years I acknowledged that this is not where my passion lies, and decided to co-found Forsea. I am happy that I have had the chance to work in this industry, because now I know where I feel most at home professionally.

What gave you the perspective and the confidence to come up with the good idea that became Forsea?

The alternative proteins industry as a whole, and specifically the cultivated meat industry, aim to provide the global population with an alternative nutrition solution. This will help solve food supply issues as well as halt our overuse of the world's natural resources.

Here in Israel, we have few advantages that have enabled us to reach the forefront of this industry. First, we have an entrepreneurial spirit. Second, we have excellent academic infrastructure. And third, we have governmental support that helps us push forward some very bold ideas. Forsea, for example, received significant funding from the Israeli Innovation Authority upon its inception.

After serving in executive roles in different biotech, foodtech and digital health companies, and working with smart entrepreneurs, colleagues and mentors along my professional journey, I have decided to take another major career step and co-found Forsea. My diverse background, which includes a deep understanding of biology as well as manufacturing practices, along with my experience in strategic roles, gave me the confidence that we could elevate this amazing technology and lead it to global success.

Most startups in business are faced with challenges along the way. What were the biggest challenges you have had so far with Forsea, and how did you deal with them?

My biggest challenge at the moment is staffing. The alternative meat industry in Israel is on the rise. Although we have the right academic infrastructure, we are only second to the United States in terms of cultivated meat companies. We always want to bring the right people on board in terms of academic knowledge and culture, so that they fit in with the company's vision. This is my biggest challenge because we are growing very fast. We are recruiting many employees, and there is a lot of competition.

I always like to get advice from different people I value. Partnering with The Kitchen Hub, which has already helped found 23 companies, gives me access to many brilliant CEOs leading amazing foodtech companies.

What have been the biggest failures so far in your career?

I have worked very hard to develop and commercialize technologies that failed commercially. I led successful clinical development plans that did not reach the market, although their results were very promising.

These failures are a part of my professional journey. They provided me with valuable lessons, for example how to make an effective sales pitch both inside and outside the organization. They taught me that you have to pre-prepare for unexpected events. They also taught me how to handle team disappointments while keeping employee motivation at a high level. My assumption is that failures are part of anything we do. We have to learn from them and move forward.

It's important to keep going and adopt a “never give up” ethos. Learning from mistakes and failures puts you in a stronger position to drive forward. Did you have any big “A-ha!” moments throughout your journey?

My biggest “a-ha!” moment was when The Kitchen Hub reached out to me with the offer to join forces and co-found Forsea. The first thought that came to my mind was “wow, this is exactly what my career has led me to do”. Having worked in foodtech for many years gave me a deep understanding of the market dynamics in this industry. Working in biotech provided me with careful, long-term project planning and execution skills, and also access to deep biology science. Working in a digital health start-up has made me very adept at working in fast-moving environments, facilitating discussions with investors and reaching short-term milestones. And, as I mentioned, I am emotionally connected to the ocean and its wealth.  

Were there any books, movies, or people that inspired you most on your path?

One book that has inspired me is Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbach. The book is about a family in the economic recession of the early 30s, where greed and oppression forced farmers to move to the west coast of California. The book discusses how corporations take people's jobs, and they have to find a way to continue living their lives. It is one of the most famous books out there and it's one of my favourites.

What I liked most about the book is the travel from the Midwest to the West in search of a better future. As they try to survive, the book examines the characters' willpower and physical and moral elements. It's a fascinating book. It's very slow at the beginning, as there are only descriptions of what the farmland and lives look like, but when it starts to kick in, it becomes a gripping story. Some lessons to be learned from this book include facing unexpected challenges and staying optimistic while pursuing a better future.

What were the most significant compromises and sacrifices you made to get where you are today?

I had an extensive traveling schedule for almost my entire career. On average, I used to travel for one week every month. Naturally, this had impacted my family life. For example, I needed to go on a two-week trip to America immediately after my young child was born. My ambition to pursue a meaningful career also led me to relocated my family to the United States. I had to compromise and make sacrifices in order to get the roles I wanted and develop my skills.

How do you envision the future, or what Forsea is trying to create?

A report from BCG and Blue Horizon estimates that, by 2035, 11% of the protein supply will be from alternative sources. The water that will be saved from this is roughly enough to supply the water consumption of London for 40 years. The farmland that will be saved will be the size of England. The greenhouse gases that will be saved are the same as if you made Japan completely carbon neutral.

This is an amazing vision, and it’s just a conservative estimate. One research institution predicts that by 2040, alternative proteins will account for 60% of the protein supply. I'm not sure this will reach this percentage by then, but the potential of this industry to impact our entire existence on this planet is amazing. It is certainly a noble goal to work for. This is exactly where we want to be. We want to supply healthy, tasty, and nutritious food to the global population. At the same time, we will help humanity live in a world without heat waves, rising oceans and collapsing ecological systems. I believe that 10 to 15 years from now, Forsea will supply a significant percentage of the nutrition of the global population.

How would you like your close families, friends, and perhaps future generations to look back upon you and your journey?

My kids are already proud of me. They're very environmentally conscious. So, I only want to be viewed as someone who took part, even in a small way, in the journey to try and solve two of the biggest problems our generation will face: food security and preserving our ecological systems. As I accomplish my small part in this mission, I’m sure my family will be proud.

Do you have any advice for young and upcoming entrepreneurs?

First, be where your passion is. Don’t be afraid to make some concessions at the early stages of your career, as long as you learn and develop. Salary is not the most important thing when you are starting out. It is more important to have a solid career path. Try to learn as much as possible and put yourself in a place where you are passionate about the work you are doing. This will lead you to a place where work is not just a job but something you are happy to wake up for.

If you had one last message to share with the whole world, what would that be?

The environmental crisis is here and it is progressing. It is already part of our lives – we feel it in the summer, we feel it in the winter, we feel it in the supply of our food products, in the lack of drinking water and many other areas. In Israel, we notice that some fruits ripen very early or all at once in the summertime, just because of the changes in the weather. The crisis is here! We cannot avoid it and we must take all measures possible to minimise its rapid progress and find ways to solve it for future generations. We should all be aware of what we are doing and how we act in order to solve it. It's a global mission and not a task for a single country. Every one of us has to take responsibility. Otherwise, nothing will be left for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

What are you trying to achieve with Forsea, and why does it matter?

First, Forsea has a mission to become a large, global seafood and fish producer. Our vision is to provide the world with high-quality seafood and at the same time help secure the ocean's health and wealth.

Our mission matters because we will be able to provide nutrition to the growing population, which is expected to be 10 billion people by 2050. But also, at the same time, we wish to help our planet recover and preserve its natural resources.

Thank you, Roee, for such an interesting insight into Forsea. We really appreciate you taking the time to share with us today and wish you all the best with your journey.

If you would like to find out more about Roee and Forsea, you can find them at: www.forseafoods.com

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