SILICON VALLEY -- Don't have a cow, man. Technology moguls are pouring cash into synthetic food startups.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and others who made gazillions with their information technology tools now see great growth potential in an industry that is starting to feed an ever-hungrier, environment-strained world.
In February, Li Ka-shing, the founder of Cheung Kong (Holdings), a Hong Kong conglomerate, and Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang invested a total of $23 million in Hampton Creek Foods.
The foodmaker sells a variety of plant-based egglike products. It has already developed mayonnaise and cookie dough using rapeseed and other plant-based ingredients. Hampton Creek Foods will use Li and Yang's investment, made through a venture fund, to recruit top talent and upgrade facilities.
Gates is expected to invest in Hampton Creek Foods, too.
Biz Stone and Evan Williams of Twitter fame last year put money in Beyond Meat. The startup produces synthetic meat from beans and millet.
Similarly, an investment fund created by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel last year dropped some cash onto Modern Meadow. This company also produces synthetic meat, but from cattle stem cells and via a 3-D bioprinter.
In addition, Google co-founder Sergey Brin is supporting a synthetic food research project being conducted at Maastricht University, in the Netherlands.
Food startups last year received $47 million in investments, 20% more than a year earlier. The amount is expected to increase significantly this year, too, according to Dow Jones, the U.S. business newswire.
There is growing interest in synthetic meat and other protein substitutes in the U.S. and Europe. A lot of this is being piqued by a desire to provide protein without raising and slaughtering large cattle and other animal populations. Recent studies show that livestock is responsible for more than 18% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions.
But these startups have a long way to go. It will take Modern Meadow an estimated 10 years to bring its synthetic meat to market. The startup has to overcome a number of technological challenges and reduce production costs before it can commercialize its 3-D-printed protein.