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Animal agriculture accounts for one-third of global carbon emissions. With the planet’s population on track to reach 10 billion people by 2050, what can we do to reduce our consumption of milk, meat, and other high-emission products?

Edmund Chan and his team at Meat the Next say they have a solution. Their company uses patented technology to turn tiger nuts into healthy, plant-based milk that produces less than one-third of the carbon emissions of dairy milk. 

Meat the Next, a purpose-driven startup based in Hong Kong, won the audience award for Greatest Potential for Social Impact at this year’s Global Launchpad Demo Day in Hong Kong. 

Global Launchpad is a three-month training program for social entrepreneurs offered by The Hong Kong Jockey Club Programme on Social Innovation and the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. It brings together ten social impact startup teams for a series of high-touch workshops and coaching sessions with UChicago faculty and other experts.  Demo Day is the culminating event where the teams pitch their ventures to those experts, local stakeholders, and potential investors. 

In addition to Meat the Next, this year’s participants  included ventures that are scaling urban farming, providing advisory services to nonprofits, promoting access to books, fostering social inclusion through art and culture, making green lifestyle fun, promoting friendly ageing conditions, and more. All are early-stage ventures that are seeking funding to scale to the next level. 

This year’s panel of judges included experts from a variety of sectors and perspectives: Mark R. Barnekow, ’88, executive director of the University of Chicago Francis and Rose Yuen Campus in Hong Kong; Will Gossin-Wilson, adjunct assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Chicago Booth and lecturer at the Harris School of Public Policy; Starr Marcello, deputy dean for MBA Programs at Chicago Booth; Dan Sachs, executive director of Polsky Deep Tech Ventures at Chicago Booth; Brian Tsui, ’11, partner at Catallyze; and Christine Yu, ’13, cofounder of Sophia. 

Highlights from the day included:

Food for a New Generation
Demo Day gave each team eight minutes to describe their ventures and make the case for funding support. The panelists then asked follow-up questions and offered advice. 

Meat the Next cofounder Edmund Chan began his presentation with a stark warning: “Our food system is not sustainable.” Meat the Next tackles that problem, he said, by using technology to turn tiger nuts, a type of nutrient-rich root vegetable, into a lower-emissions alternative to meat and dairy products. 

The company launched its first product, a vegan ice cream, two months ago. Chan said it was receiving good feedback. One catering partner sold 1,000 servings of the ice cream within a month, and the Hong Kong Hyatt Regency purchased the product to give to staff members as a Christmas present. Noting that event attendees would have a chance to taste the ice cream at the lunch following the presentations, Chan invited audience members to invest in the company. “With your support, we can create a better world with positive impact,” he said.

In the feedback session, Barnekow advised Chan to remember that the top priority for products in the food industry is taste—not scientific ingredients. “Consumers have to love the taste,” he said. “So we’re going to test that out at lunch, and you should take our feedback.”

Marcello raised a question about how the business would respond to fluctuations in the tiger nut market. “Your business might be subject to sensitivity in pricing on your core ingredient,” she noted. “Do you see it as a risk to the business that you’re reliant on that ingredient?”

Chan said that ingredient price risk is a key factor driving the company’s goal of scaling rapidly. “Otherwise, our very good concept, including the tiger nut ingredient, will be copied by others,” he said. “This is the only risk I can see currently, and that’s why we’re asking for funding right now.”

Arts for Good
Introducing her startup, the Arts for Good Foundation, Amanda Sun spoke about the power of stories to uplift communities and instill values. “I was very privileged to grow up with stories from the community,” she said. “The lifelong impact of these stories is that they enable me to visualize and take action for change. And that was the starting point for the Arts for Good Foundation.”

The foundation, which provides experiential arts opportunities for all children in Hong Kong, fosters social inclusion and seeks to empower future generations. Through an art-viewing program, community-based arts, and integral learning, the organization works with schools and other institutions across Hong Kong to engage students in artistic endeavors.

“We see artists as a creative engine for our future society,” said Sun, founder and director of Arts for Good. “People value the work we do. People feel the impact. Every single day, we make one smaller step with the purpose to serve others and make a better world.”

Sachs opened the feedback part of Sun’s presentation with a question about resources. “When you think about it holistically and sustainably, how much funding do you need?” he asked. “Do you see that funding coming from relationships with corporations? Are there other resources?”

Sun explained that the organization is seeking initial funding from philanthropy while also allocating funding from the public sector. “We would like to be the education partner for major arts exhibitions in Hong Kong and beyond, so funding is also coming from the private sector,” she said.

Yu followed up on the funding question while expressing admiration for the organization’s mission. “I think art has a massive place in our society, especially focusing on the inclusivity of art,” she said. “And I love that you’re focused on that.” 

Demo Day was followed by a luncheon discussion between Francis Ngai, Founder and CEO, and Florence Cheng, Head of Impact Strategy, from Social Ventures Hong Kong, as part of the Social Impact Leadership Series: Driving Revenue with Social Impact. In the conversation moderated by Barnekow, Ngai and Cheng shared their insights on how social ventures in Hong Kong prioritize social impact in their business planning, and on the challenges in balancing the mission with the revenue model.

Four flavors of Meat the Next’s tiger nut ice cream were served at lunch - Hojicha, Uji Matcha, Dark Chocolate and Tofu. Did they pass the taste test? Here’s one clear indication: the attendees asked for more.

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