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Join host Paul Shapiro as he talks with some of the leading start-up entrepreneurs and titans of industry alike using their businesses to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.

May 3, 2024

No cultivated meat company has raised more capital than UPSIDE Foods. In 2022, after having already raised about $200 million in previous rounds, the company raised another $400 million in a Series C round with a company valuation north of the coveted $1 billion unicorn status. No company in the space has garnered more media attention, both positive and critical, than UPSIDE Foods. No company has as much volume of cultivation capacity as UPSIDE Foods. No company is as old as UPSIDE Foods, as it was the first startup formed to take this technology out of academia and work to commercialize real meat grown slaughter-free. It’s also one of the few companies in the world to have been granted regulatory approval to actually sell cultivated meat, which it did in the US.

So it was only fitting that this conversation with UPSIDE CEO Uma Valeti take place in person inside the beating heart of UPSIDE’s EPIC (Cultivated Meat Engineering, Production, and Innovation Center) cultivated meat pilot facility in Emeryville, California. I often say that I’m Uma Valeti’s first biographer, since I profile him in Clean Meat, but I certainly won’t be his last biographer, regardless of whether he succeeds or fails. And the last time I visited UPSIDE Foods, in 2017, when the company was still called Memphis Meats, and I got to enjoy their cultivated duck. At that time, they had only a handful of employees.

Now, as 230 UPSIDE employees worked away in the dramatically nicer building that houses EPIC, I first got to enjoy four different cultivated chicken dishes. I tried both chicken that was FDA-approved and grown in smaller cultivators, and chicken that was yet to be FDA-approved, which was grown in 2,000-liter cultivators. Spoiler: they all tasted great, and were easily discerned from most plant-based chicken in scent, flavor, and texture.

After the tasting, Uma and I sat down for this frank conversation in which we discussed UPSIDE’s past, present, and future. That includes details about the scale and capability at which they currently sit, why they paused their plans for their vaunted Rubicon commercial facility in Illinois, what expansions they’re planning on making at EPIC in California, what Uma thinks about the obituaries some journalists are writing for the cultivated meat industry, when he thinks cultivated meat will reach 1 percent market share in the total meat market, and much more. 

In this conversation, you’ll hear Uma elaborate on how the technology has gone from being decried as impossible to now possible, and what remains to be seen is whether it will now go from possible to inevitable. 

It’s a fascinating and revelatory conversation with a man who has served in many ways as a face for the cultivated meat movement for many years, even prior to founding this company.

Discussed in this episode

More about Uma Valeti

Dr. Uma Valeti is the CEO and Founder of UPSIDE Foods. Uma earned a degree in Cardiology from the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) in Pondicherry, India. After residencies at Wayne State and SUNY Buffalo, Uma completed three fellowships at the Mayo Clinic. He teaches Cardiovascular Medicine at Stanford University. In 2019, Uma was named a “Global Thinker of the Decade” by Foreign Policy magazine. He has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the Aspen Ideas Festival, and SXSW.