Mike Selden (@mikeseldenFF) is co-founder and CEO of Finless Foods, a food startup that uses cutting-edge cellular-agriculture technologies to grow marine-animal cells, creating fish and seafood products enjoyed around the world. They are working toward a sci-fi, soon-here world where everyone has access to healthy, delectable seafood, without the environmental devastation or the health hazards of traditional fishing and aquatic farming.
Mike has a background in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, he is dedicated to climate justice and science advocacy. Before co-founding Finless Foods, he was working at the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine in high-throughput cancer screening.
In our wide-ranging conversation, we cover many things, including:
- The clean meat revolution and end of animal agriculture
- How Mike’s company Finless Foods is growing fish in a laboratory
- The exciting science of foodtech
- Why people need to embrace GMOs
- How agriculture is increasingly driving climate change
- Why we aren’t far off from growing usable human organs
- How hard it is to fund traditional deep tech
- Why we are entering a foodtech revolution
- How human’s will eat and thrive in space
- Why we need to start pricing pollution into our products
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Mike: Yeah, I mean this is probably the only way anyone would ever be able to eat meat in space and actually we were invested in specifically by an investment firm that the focus is entirely on space because they know that this is kind of the only option so we’re very, very excited to be the first fish in space. I do know that because of human polluted activities we’re going to end up with more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish by 2050 is the estimate that I’ve seen. So that’s like well within our lifetimes and at that point we’re gonna have you know an ocean this completely filled with plastic like what are we going to do in order to get food from that? I think we should A: stop poisoning the ocean and B: start to move our food sources out of it.
Matt: They’re using cutting-edge cellular agriculture technologies to grow marine animals from cells creating fish and seafood around the world. It’s the sci-fi future that’s here today; delectable, healthy and great for the environment. In today’s wide-ranging discussion will discuss the clean meat revolution and the end of animal agriculture, how Mike’s company Finless Foods is growing fish in a laboratory – it’s real, the exciting science of food tech, why people need to embrace GMOs, how agriculture is increasingly driving climate change, why we aren’t far off from fully growing human usable organs, and how we’ll fuel humanity’s rise and expansion in space. Without further ado, I give you Mike Selden. Just a quick note, we wanted to apologize for the audio on Mike’s side, we did the best we could. It got a little bit garbled up at times but it’s easy to follow and incredibly valuable. Now I give you Mike Selden.
Mike: Yeah so what we’re doing is basically trying to give consumers a different choice than the one they’re faced with right now. Right now people have the choice between the food that they like and the food that’s good for the environment. You know, fishing has so many detrimental environmental effects and aquaculture while better still has a lot of like difficulties – I’m super sorry about that – a lot of like bad things that sort of need to be mitigated. So we’re trying to do is change that choice for people so what we’re doing is creating the same fish meat that people are used to eating but we’re just using a different production method. So it’s not vegan or vegetarian per se in that it’s not made of plants. It is real meat but we are making it by taking a small sample of real meat from a real fish and then growing that out indefinitely until we end up with meat that is large enough to feed a mass of people.
Matt: So basically you’re creating sci-fi meat that requires no death.
Mike: Exactly. We’re creating real meat without killing animals and without needing like massive environmental resources. We don’t need boats going out into the ocean to do all the fishing that fishing currently requires. We’re not needing large mariculture, aquaculture facilities where you fish farm in these big facilities offshore that require lots of insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, pesticides that create these big ocean dead zones. We don’t need large fleets of boats, we don’t need to give people all of the mercury and plastic that’s currently in fish. It’s just a cleaner, better, more efficient system that can grow fish that’s healthier and quicker and more efficiently than the systems that currently exist.
Matt: That leads me to a million different questions but the first and most obvious one is why is this, at least for most people, the first time that they’re hearing about clean meat and why is this not more prevalent?
Mike: It’s become possible with recent advances in technology. Some, like, really boring sounding technology that’s recently come out has really, really helped spur this industry into overdrive and really made it possible for us to do this type of work.
Matt: Hey, Matt here. I’d like to point out the obvious but often overlooked fact. Notice Mike said how there was technology that recently came out that it suddenly opened up the industry? This is almost always how it works. We have technological breakthroughs and suddenly entire new industries are created. The industries of the future. So I would just invite everyone, entrepreneurs and otherwise, to look at those changes as they happen and to try to react.
Mike: Like, it would be pretty much impossible for us to do the work that we’re doing without this really fast sequencing technology that has become popular in the past few years and so while that technology to most people it’s like, okay you can read my DNA very quickly that sounds really boring, to us it’s extremely important for iterating our process and actually understanding what’s going on inside of these cells in a deep enough way to really create something new with them.
Matt: And what led you to this field?
Mike: I, you know, was a vegan for a long time for like about six years and then I basically just always had a background in agriculture. Studied biochemistry and molecular biology at UMass Amherst which is a traditionally agricultural school and I was just thinking about how incredibly inefficient animal agriculture is. It’s like this awful system that just has so much waste and so many other externalities that really are completely unnecessary and if you’re ever going to design like you know a fish steak from the ground up and like the system to produce it you would never have designed a fish it’s just not an efficient system. A fish swims around, it has all these like life processes that it has to do, it has organs that function, it moves, it thinks and all these things are wasted energies. When thinking about these in terms of agriculture you want to have the least amount of energy put in, then the most amount of product out and so an entire animal isn’t really a good way to do that when you can just grow it from cells.
Matt: Did you come at it more from an empathy or an engineering standpoint initially?
Mike: This is a good question. From our company: myself, my co-founder come at it from opposite points of view. For me was an empathy thing and for him it was an engineering thing so the two of us together have got sort of the brains and the soul of the company *** together. For me it was really an empathy thing and also like I’ve always just been really concerned with like food justice and social justice and I just – there are so many people who don’t have access to clean sources of protein that can actually deliver high levels of nutrients for an affordable cost. And I think that there are better ways that we can do this so I really like to you, know there’s this whole like crusade for healthy food but it seems sort of more like a social movement. I think that we can really instead of trying to get people moralistically on board and get people to like and get corporations moralistically on board which is more or less possible, we can sort of shift the means of production themselves into a more gentle and better practice to produce better food for people. I’m very for like shifting things at the base. I’m not an individualist, I don’t really think that people’s individual choices can make an extreme amount of difference in the world, I think that collectively or on the production side, the supply side of things we really can shift things massively by changing things upstream.
Matt: So basically it’s the classic example of you’ve got to make something better, cheaper, so that people don’t have a choice they have to go to the better thing essentially.
Matt: How far off are we from a cost parity perspective? What’s it cost right now to make a fish steak or what type of entrees so to speak can you guys manufacture?
Mike: Very expensive. Well we made our first prototypes back in September that we served to a crowd of about 25 people. That was about the very, very low and affordable price of $19,000 per pound which you know, while very attainable for the average person, we felt that wasn’t really low enough. So we ended up basically just going beyond that and just in the past few months we’ve lowered our cost massively to – we’re now below $7,000 per pound. So just in the past few months we’ve already jumped the price down by massive leaps and bounds but it’s still obviously, you know, nowhere near cheap enough for anyone to actually buy. We plan on achieving price parity with our first set of products which is bluefin tuna by the end of 2019, beginning of 2020.
Matt: Which sounds absolutely absurd. How are you guys – how are you forecasting this? Is this some type of Moore’s law? How would the price – price the curves coming down?
Mike: Yeah I mean really we’re pushing on a few different price levers. Our biggest price numbers are three things and all of them are sort of centered around the exact same concept which is the inputs into this system. Cells need to eat just like animals need to eat and eat similar things so these cells eat these ingredients like salts, sugars and proteins that we give them and we just need to make the first lever we can push is making those things cheaper so we need to make those ingredients cheaper which is sort of a big chunk of our technology, I can go into that if you’re interested. The second component of this is recycling. Some of these ingredient that we’re feeding the cells don’t actually get taken apart by the cells or destroyed by the cells, they’re just signals. They come in and tell the cells that they need to divide and eat the other ingredients. Those are our most expensive ingredients and we can recycle them. So we need to create better recycling systems. It’s something that’s already very possible in cellular production. We just need to adapt and then the third lever that we can press is cell densities. Having the cells use these ingredients more efficiently. Now all these things are really components of the same thing which is our input cost where, to review, getting the input cost down, cycling the input and then having the inputs used more efficiently by the cells.
Matt: So you’re basically bringing on engineers that can make things more efficient and probably have some type of production capacity or experience with pharma or creating other types of medicines in a similar fashion?
Mike: Yeah we’ve got people from all sorts of things from you know food, pharma and everything in between. Yeah we’re – it’s really a big effort in cost dropping because we already know how to do 3d organ printing. Like that’s the technology that’s been around for a while. The problem that they’re having is they can’t get those organs to function inside of the human body but for us in creating this fish meat, it actually doesn’t matter. We don’t need the fish meat to function at all, we just need it to be cheaper. So we’re taking that technology that they were using to create these 3d organs and print 3d organs and just making it affordable.
Matt: Devil’s advocate: what are people doing in terms of cloning? Are people looking at something similar? Kind of cloning but you’re only cloning a small portion. Is this something where people are also exploring just cloning animals?
Mike: I wouldn’t really say what we’re doing is cloning, it’s a bit of a different technology. What we’re doing is really just cell division. We’re taking the natural biochemical process that happens inside of a fish and replicating it outside of a fish. Your cells inside of your body right now are dividing and that’s normal and we’re just taking them and letting them do what they want to do. It turns out that if you give cells enough space and enough nutrients to survive they will just divide. They’ll divide it very, very quick rates and this is not something that we’ve like programmed them to do or showed them how to do, it’s just sort of what they already know how to and we’re just giving them the opportunity to do it.
Matt: Who are some of the other players in the space, not just fish but otherwise?
Mike: Well there’s all sorts of people. I mean the community is really great. It’s filled with tons of people who are really, really dedicated to working to make something better for people. We were hugely inspired by the companies that came before us. I mean Memphis meats is sort of the, you know, the leader in the land animal space and we’re trying to become a leader in the fish and seafood space. They’re making chicken and duck which is really an exciting and they’re a bit further along than we are. They have a bit more money, a bit more people on their staff, they have this big new facility and so they were the inspiration for us. I came out of a non-profit called new harvest which is working in the non-profit sector. They’re taking donor money and putting it towards grants that can be used by PhD students to do this work. We were super inspired by Dr. Post over the Netherlands. Dr. Mark Post. He has a company called Mosa Meat which is working on beef. There’s Clara Foods in South San Francisco working on egg whites, Perfect Day that’s actually just a few blocks from us working on milk proteins, Geltor and San Leandro doing gelatin. All these people were like not just like really inspiring for us but also mentors in a lot of ways. They’ve all been – it’s just a great community to be in, of people who all have the same mission and really want to work together to achieve it.
Matt: Would you say for most people in the industry it’s more about the engineering or the empathy side of things and ending industrial farming of animals? You know, you end up talking about both so often that I don’t even know if there’s a way to separate it anymore. I think that most of us, like, came at it from an empathy point of view and an environmentalist point of view and now we’re so entrenched in the engineering that like it’s definitely half and half. I mean at this point it’s like our entire life’s work. I mean I can’t really speak for myself but for me it’s like it’s – if it was just an engineering problem I would not be interested in it. No I really want to do something that has an impact. I want to do something that changes the world for the better.
Matt: Quick aside. As an angel investor and someone who’s worked with numerous start-ups you see companies, they come, they go, they succeed, they fail. The ones that succeed are the ones that can persevere, that are obsessed about a mission and become driven to make that product or that vision of reality. Mike’s one of those entrepreneurs, most entrepreneurs aren’t. Typically if you just go for the money you don’t end up building something incredible and lasting because it is just a roller coaster and it’s so hard to come up from some of those lows so that you really do need a driving force. Now let’s jump back to it and Mike’s starting course.
Mike: That said the engineering’s really interesting and it’s really fun to like see it happen on a day to day basis.
Matt: How will you know when you’ve succeeded?
Mike: Well we will have succeeded when we can – I mean there’s so many goals that we have in this – but we’ll succeed well we can provide healthy food for people and we’ll also have succeeded when we can sort of lower the toll that we’re taking on the ocean by fish prediction. We’ll have succeeded when we can cut plastic and mercury in people’s diets. We’ll, you know, we’ll have succeeded when we can create localized fish production in places that previously had no access to it because right now when you get fish you have to get it from the ocean generally and that is difficult for people who live far inland and we can create like a localized system of production for those peoples. They can have healthy protein that they previously had no access to. And all of those things, one of those things, some combination of those things, any, like, all those things I would consider to be just an absolute victory.
Matt: The other implications of course are as we start to go ideally interplanetary. It’s very easy if you can bring a factory with you that produces. Bringing animals is another story. Noah’s Ark isn’t gonna fly.
Mike: Yeah, yeah I mean this is probably the only way anyone would ever be able to eat meat in space and actually we were invested in specifically by an investment firm that focus is entirely on space because they know that this is kind of the only option so we’re very, very excited to be the first fish in space.
Matt: What company or what firm?
Mike: They’re called Hemisphere Ventures. They’re based out of Seattle, a really great group of people.
Matt: How do you – how do you work with VCs enable – in terms of working with either them or their portfolio companies for synergy? We consider like when a VC has invested in us we really want to make that our ecosystem in a lot of ways. We want to help the other companies in the portfolio and we want to really have like a synergetic approach to them so you know for VCs themselves, they are a resource. They are like a resource for us and it’s really excellent because like I don’t have a business background, like you came at this has like an environmentalist and a scientist and so I’ve had to really learn as I’ve gone. And having the VCs that we’ve had just really sort of walked me through some of the more complicated aspects of this has been really amazing and I’m always really grateful for them and the other companies they have in their portfolio I mean we want to work with them as much as possible. Sometimes we actually have synergy in terms of our technology and we work together in that, like we’ve worked with plenty of companies in terms of actually doing research together and hiring them to do research for us or them sort of working off the stuff that we’re doing and that’s been really excellent and also just sort of like introducing each other to people. I mean if you’re in a network with a VC you know sometimes you’ll… So for example like I ended up at this set of meetings with all these large agriculture and fish producers and one of them I know doesn’t do fish whatsoever. But they do cattle and so I knew there’s this other company that’s invested in by one of our investors that does stuff for cattle and so I was like oh hold on give me your deck I’ll send it off to this corporate because I think that they’d be really interested in you and I like am gonna be in their boardroom because I ended up with a meeting with them because of this program. So I can like plug this other company when I don’t have any reason to plug myself.
Matt: We’re living it seems in a golden era of food tech start-ups. How do start-ups work with the large corpus and incumbents? Do you feel a tension? Do you feel synergy? What’s your perspective?
Mike: It totally depends on the corporate. There are some who really like claim they want to innovate and then think that that means like new methods of advertising and then there are some they’re really genuinely interested in building something new and some that understand like this disruption is coming and they can either get on board or be disrupted and the smart ones get on board which is awesome and it’s just been really exciting to me, there’s so many forward-thinking companies out there who really, really realize that like you know this is going to happen no matter what and they want to join. And a lot of them are even excited. They’re like this is great we’ve been looking for an environmental solution to like XYZ for decades now and there just hasn’t been one. I know that a lot of companies are looking for ways to produce bluefin tuna. It’s currently not something that can be effectively aqua-cultured for any sort of price that’s reasonable and so they’ve just been scouring the globe for ways to do that and now we offer a solution for producing bluefin tuna sustainably and they’re really excited to be in on this more sustainable way of producing something that’s extremely desirable.
Matt: And I think the sustainable part is a huge driving force behind this. Especially as we move towards climate change and some challenges that we’re having. What are the – do you have off hand or rough estimates of the stats of how much animal agriculture is impacting and polluting our planet?
Mike: Ooh that’s a good question. I don’t have exact numbers on land animal agriculture. I know that there’s a lot of things going on with sea agriculture which are extremely problematic so in terms of like wild-caught fishing I know that we just can’t produce any more fish than we already do. We’ve tapped out every fishery that really exists on earth, we’re at like ninety percent capacity and for the past like your decades we really haven’t been able to up our production of wild caught fish. This is where aquaculture has come in and aquaculture has been interesting in some ways because it has been able to up fish production and reduce the cost which is great. On the other hand it comes with its own problems. Aquaculture still being in the water means you’re still getting mercury in the food that you eat, you’re still getting plastic in the food that you eat. One of the biggest problems with this is that like we still don’t know what the effects of plastic on the human physiology is. We do know its effect on fish. It is not good and I think it’s going to be like the next cigarettes where it’s like we were all eating fish we thought it was healthy and then it comes up there’s going to be some plastic studies in humans which are already being worked on and it’s going to be really, really bad. And so us being able to take it out of the water is really massive. I do know that because of human pollutive activities we’re going to end up with more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish by 2050 is the estimate that I’ve seen. So that’s like well within our lifetimes and at that point we’re gonna have you know an ocean this completely filled with plastic. Like, what are we going to do in order to get food from that? I think A: we should a stopped poisoning the ocean and B: start to move our food sources out of it. So yeah there’s a few things that we’re doing that you know mean we need to change the way we make food.
Matt: Speaking of stop poisoning the ocean, I’m sure you’re relatively connected to a lot of the other ocean tech type companies out there. What are some interesting things you’re seeing in the space?
Matt: Spoiler alert. If you’re a Back to the Future nerd like me you’re gonna love this. Say hello to the DeLorean.
Mike: Good call. There are some really interesting companies that are making things in terms of, like, there’s a lot of companies that are working on this really big problem of being able to see underwater which we’re somehow just still very bad. And so they’re working on a lot of like drones that can actually see when ships are damaged and like see when we’re you know leaking things into the rivers and to oceans and creating these npts with cameras on their heads so we actually have eyes underwater. I know that there’s a lot of interesting projects going on in terms of that. I also know that there is currently an open source project going on in France where this guy, I was gonna say young guy and I realize he’s like he’s exactly my age that’s kind of a silly thing to say, this young guy he’s saying, anyways working on a boat that is powered by trash and so it’s this really fascinating project. This guy Simon Bernard, he’s working on this thing called Plastic Odyssey and he wants to pilot this boat like around the world that’s built in – it powers itself entirely using trash and it doesn’t actually end up creating pollution using the trash, it’s all like completely biodegradable in the way that it functions. I’m not much of an engineer so it’s – you should get him on the show. He’s fascinating and yeah really cool technology. So yeah those are like the two things I think are most exciting in terms of in terms of ocean tech right now so there’s new forms of transit essentially and then new forms are actually being able to see what’s going on down there so we can like lessen our footprint on the ocean.
Matt: We’ll definitely need to look at getting back to the future boat guy. So yeah so there are incredible changes that are coming forward in the next decade, the next coming generation. What are some things outside of your own work that you’re excited about?
Mike: Outside of clean meat I think that there are a lot of really exciting possibilities in the tech space in terms of like I think one of the things that I’m most excited about is this complete decentralization of the internet and its ability for use in politics. I mean one of the most exciting things that I saw happen – it was just a few years ago – was during these protests in Hong Kong the Chinese government shut down the Internet so the protesters couldn’t get in touch with each other anymore and so they created this intranet I guess. I’m not – that might be the wrong word but they just used Bluetooth to all talk to each other and it was app-ware. So you turn Bluetooth on on your phone it made messages jump from phone to phone and Hong Kong is so dense that they just were able to communicate with each other by going through each other’s phones and ending up finding the right person entirely without Wi-Fi, entirely without internet. With just phone. I think that stuff’s fascinating and it means that like you know it creates so much possibility of like decentralization of power because right now governments have so much power being able to censor and shut off our internet. So creating spaces where they can’t touch that sort of thing is really incredible and I’m very excited for technology like that.
Matt: That obviously transitions to blockchain but I want to rewind for a sec
Matt: So genetically modified food. That’s massively fought against by a large percentage of the population for different reasons. I would like to get your opinion on the – upon the thoughts of what’s happening and why people are reacting how they are.
Mike: Totally. So you know it’s a touchy subject there are a lot of reasons to be upset at the way the GMO industry went about putting products on the market. I think the GMO industry did not have an open and honest conversation with the public, did not really explain what they were doing and I think that they could have mitigated this by doing this differently. So instead of using genetic modification to create products that immediately benefit the consumer they instead created products that immediately benefit the farmer which is more b2b so they made things that you know use less water use less pesticides use less land. But that’s very abstract for people and it’s confusing and difficult to understand whereas instead right now what they’re doing actually makes more sense like Intrexon is creating the ,you know, the arctic Apple which doesn’t Brown. That stuff’s really exciting for people and they’re working on you know like Golden Rice which can do added levels of vitamin A for people and that’s really exciting. So I think moving GMO more into the realm of like things that immediately benefit people and so it’s sort of seen as is an actually healthy option rather than just as something that’s more efficient. The reality is that people care a lot about their health and they care a lot about food and food is very personal and to change that underneath people without having an open and honest conversation is going to definitely just have bad results. So we’re trying to learn our lessons from that and to have an open and honest conversation with people before we hit the markets. That we make sure that people understand who we are and where we’re coming from and what the benefits of this are to them, not just to us. I think GMO has massive potential for saving the planet and for lowering water use, lowering pesticide use, lowering land use, creating more efficient uses of land and creating new and nutritious food that people can eat that has added functionality. I think it just needs to be brought to people in the right way and in more of an open setting and I think that what’s really important is making sure that GMO is taken into the public sector. More research should be done in public universities. More powers can be given to biohackers to create plants in their own homes that really are completely can benefit them and that are completely decoupled from the capitalist system. People don’t see it profitable **** meat but instead see it as something that you know is this really cool beneficial technology that can make the world better.
Matt: I mean would it be fair to say essentially what’s happening – it feels like is a lot of entitled people that aren’t entirely educated on the science over-reacted or got very upset by how things were done without really thinking about the implications that we were gonna eat ourselves to death. So that you really would not be able to have kids in the future if you didn’t have a future with GMOs. Oh totally I mean this attitude of like no – like anti GMO stuff it’s very much set in privilege and it’s very much set in this idea of like well I don’t trust it so no one should be able to have it. I mean you can even see that on like the really imperialist laws that Europe puts on Africa in terms of denying them access to GMOs. It’s very paternalistic and it’s really, you know there’s a lot of African farmers that are crying out and want GMO technology because they know like their banana crops are being absolutely ruined and all sorts of other crops are in danger. I mean like my research previous to this was in this fungus called fusarium oxysporum which is more colloquially known as Panama disease and it wiped out bananas on a scale so massive that actually we don’t – the thing that was wiped out no longer exists and we’ve just picked another plant and now call that the banana because it was so thorough in wiping out this plant. And this thing that we eat now was before called a cavendish. It was just another type of plant that’s sort of like a banana, like a plantain and the one before was called a gros michel and like this fungus is still out there. If we don’t create solutions to bat this thing off this is gonna create massive food shortages in places like Africa where they do rely on large mono crops to feed themselves sometimes. And I mean it’s even dangerous for us in like our wheat. Like our wheat is large and it’s pretty much identical so if anything comes to like knock this stuff out we are in trouble. If we can’t embrace new technology and new crop protection solutions we are in trouble. But the thing that I wanted to say to bring us back to what you’re talking about is that I guess we is the wrong word. I will never be in trouble from any of this stuff. I am a, like, fairly well-off, like, white male in America and like I’m not ever going to deal with food shortages and this idea of like non-GMO and not allowing this technology that can produce more food to be out in the wild just means that the people who can afford food will still be able to have it and the people who don’t have as much access to resources won’t be able to eat. So it just comes from this massive place of privilege that I – that really irks me and so I think it’s important to like get conversation out there and to talk to people in their own terms about this stuff and to explain to them not from like corporatist point of view and not from a prophet’s point of view but more from a humanitarian point of view. Like how important GMOs are.
Matt: Hey Matt here. If you think more people need to hear this, need to learn this information and hopefully incorporate it into their life please consider sharing fringe.fm – share it around on iTunes and stitcher and any bit of support helps and anything that we can do to reach more people and try to make a bigger impact is all for the better. So fringe.FM slash iTunes or stitcher. Share it around and help us try to change the world. I think a big part of it’s ignorance as well, just not understanding the situation or the potential pros and cons but the next thing I wanted to transition to before we get to blockchain, one more important thing is where do you see the future of farming headed? Do you see large-scale farming as we have today or do you see it going on a much more consumer eyes basis: urban farming etc?
Mike: It’s an interesting thing I think – I think that you know we should be doing things efficiently and I think that means large-scale farming and I think that large-scale animal agriculture is like not a winner. I think that there’s really no way to scale that up more than we already have. We’re pushing the limits of biology in terms of that. I think even if we start moving into things like indoor agriculture people aren’t gonna be growing their own food. I mean that’s also like a privileged thing. Like, I don’t have enough time to grow my own food. Like I think it’d be fun but I’m running I’m running Finless Foods over here and like I just don’t have time to maintain a garden even if I wanted to do that. I think a lot of people are similar especially in America where people have to work like three or four jobs in order to get by. Those people don’t have the ability to grow their own food, they don’t have time and so I think that like massive like industrial farming, as bad as that sounds, really is the solution for that. It just it needs to have better technologies that it can be done in a more gentle way.
Matt: And closer to – closer to home. Closer to where the food needs to be. I think if you can do smaller scale industrial farming around individual cities it probably makes the most sense.
Mike: Yeah absolutely and like this idea that we’ve like picked a dichotomy between these two things like oh well it needs to be either massive industrial farming that has – that isn’t local or you know small-scale farming in your own home like the answer is definitely somewhere in between. You know we can have large-scale farms near urban centers and make sure that food is actually eaten locally. Like you can eat local food from an industrial farm that’s near you like there are crops that are farmed on a large scale close to you. So it’s like the solution is like not using these buzz words really. I think you’re totally right. The solution is like somewhere – I hate when people say this but solution is somewhere in the middle.
Matt: You mean we don’t need two political parties? So speaking of blockchain…
Matt: What uh, what are your thoughts?
Mike: I am not an expert. I mean I – I’ve never been – I like computers, I like build – I build my own computers because I like recording music and that’s the cheapest way to do that, not much for video games. I don’t – coding makes me feel like I’m dying. Blockchain is really cool. I don’t know how it integrates with us so much. I’m excited about it for a lot of things. I mean I’m excited about it more like the political side of things. It would be really interesting to you know say blockchain technology takes off and we all use that as our currency for whatever reason. How is anyone going to have their money kept track of? So taxes will be this sort of thing that is impossible to do on individuals which, you know, in some ways it’s good, in some ways it’s bad, but I think that what could be interesting about it is it would force the government to consider new ways of taxing and I think one of the most exciting prospects of that is that we could, in America, actually move to something that I’ve advocated for a while which is a land value tax. Land value tax basically is like taxing land that isn’t used so right now people go into cities they massive amounts of land and they just sit on it. Just wait for the price to go up because they’ve created a shortage and then once the price is really high they sell it. These people are creating no economic activity whatsoever. They’re profiting off of basically just having money already and they’re sort of leeches on the economy. They are taking money from people who do things with it and just keeping it. So land value tax would like create a tax system where you would tax very heavily land that is owned and isn’t used so you can use it by letting someone build something on it or having some sort of business on it or letting people live on it and creating housing. That’s all usage but if you just sit on it and do nothing you get taxed to all hell and so there are a lot of analysis of land value tax that show that we could actually replace the income tax with the land value tax in America and end up with more income coming into the government than we currently have. So we basically take the tax burden off of people and move it on to corporations and property owners and I do like that because I think that people could use a break at least a lot of poor people although I do worry that then we wouldn’t be able to tax billionaires which I think we should do, so I don’t know. I’m mixed on it. I’m not – I’m not the best source I guess.
Matt: Well that would tax the billionaires but it would also tax all of the people in government so they probably would not be keen on that I imagine they all have a lot of real estate that they do not do much with. Yeah it is annoying how much arbitrage and just garbage there is in the economy. The same could be said with pretty much all stock trading automation.
Matt: better… it’s just arbitrage that doesn’t add value. I want to transition now to something that’s a little bit lighter and brighter and that’s your thoughts on the future. What industry are you most excited about?
Mike: Can it be mine? It can be this?
Matt: We’ll go outside of clean meats because obviously that’s exciting and one of the great tragedies of today is that we’re killing everything we eat without quite killing it.
Mike: Industries outside of my own that are extremely exciting? I would really like to say something that’s not stereotypical. I mean obviously like AI and blockchain and machine learning, machine vision. It’s all very, very cool. There’s people who can say way cooler stuff about that than I can. I think what’s really exciting is the power of machine vision and automation to plow through paperwork. In terms of civic tech I think that it’s actually extremely exciting. One of the most exciting things that I saw recently was, I’m gonna butcher this, but the core truth of it is still there. There is this law recently passed where like loads of people in California can have their sentences reduced or can get out of prison because of – I think it’s new marijuana laws. Like now that marijuana is legal in California like you know all these sentences are being reduced. It might not be that might be something else but basically but there’s a lot of forms that need to be filled out in order to reduce your sentence or to get off whatever your role is X Y Z but there’s this really great sort of civic tech incubator called Code for America and out of this incubator came this app that can automatically fill out that forms for you so you just put in a few simple pieces of information and it’s gotten like I think it’s like 6,000 people have their sentences reduced now just because this one app got produced and so like and this is just able to create these solutions where you can just cut through red tape and create better solutions for people which is awesome. I’m you know kind of anti prison. I think people shouldn’t be in prison and like this is a really good way to get nonviolent offenders out of prison and it’s a really great use of technology and I wish people were focused more on – more on that side of thing and like directly improving people’s lives.
Matt: But you know prison is just so profitable. Often you find the root of evil so to speak at the misalignment of incentives. So here we find the prison system which is a private system where businesses are built based off of locking people up. That creates a system where more and more nonviolent offenders become locked up because large parties and influencers i.e. people putting money into politics for less than ideal reasons, can create some of the laws and regulations that affect us. This has been true in the prison system, this has been true with automobiles, this is true with pharma and many, many industries. When you find incentives that aren’t quite aligned you often find these type of problems and potentially massive solutions in businesses. There’s our big – there’s our big problem. A lot of time people that are doing things that matter don’t have the – don’t have the profit side of things down. Are there any areas like that where you see really interesting or compelling problems you would like to see solved but that don’t have great businesses or use cases or start-ups focused on them?
Mike: Man, I wish I had thought really hard about this before we got on here. Definitely. I think that more open-source platforms for communicating between local grassroots organizers. You know the political organizing is something that just inherently has like no money in it or if it has money in it then it’s not great right? Because the point is to organize people without money involved. We need more platforms or we need a better platform that people can communicate with and coordinate like local politics and then sort of build that up into more of a national politics thing. So that’ll be really difficult to monetize one way or another but the technology in it would be really fascinating. And then just all sorts of deep tech stuff that would be really massive for all sorts of medical purposes and our purposes. My prime example of this that I always harp on is stereolithography. Like this crazy technology that is being used to 3d print organs in like 45 seconds to a minute and it can print micro vasculature which is really exciting. We’re excited about potentially using it for what we’re doing in terms of our tissue engineering. It’s very hard to make this sort of thing profitable right now because it’s a bit far away and so the research really has to happen in the public sector in a pretty – in a pretty extreme way. Also tech that can be used to like clean things up generally has to be paired with legislation so like there’s this great company called Ula Biologics that’s using this bacteria to clean mine wastewater and the only reason that their company exists is because the government basically regulated mines so, like, hey you can’t dump this wastewater anywhere you want, you have to clean it and so they create this really efficient system for cleaning wastewater. And so you know we can incentivize things that are not, that shouldn’t be profitable or at least that aren’t directly profitable, using legislation like that. When legislation says hey corporations have to clean up after themselves. That actually ends up spurring a whole green industry so I think that what we could do is like do what Europe has done in terms of, like, linking corporations more to the effects of what they’re doing and in doing that actually create a profitable industry out of cleaning up the mess and like capturing carbon and creating cleaner energy sources and stuff like that. That sort of stuff I think is a good solution for taking things that currently aren’t profitable like cleaning up the environment and making them profitable so we actually can get some private capital into that.
Matt: So like a carbon tax credit type system?
Mike: Yeah that stuff is – that’s a really good example of what I’m talking about.
Matt: Yeah I think we have a long ways to go on that especially with this administration we can only hope for the next one, but…
Matt: Sometimes that’s how things are. Part of this program is about inspiring the next generation. The change makers, the creators. So I want a challenge for our listeners or an ask. Something that you would like to point out or ask folks that are listening.
Mike: I would find, I think that there’s so many things that can be done b2b that could make a massive difference that people aren’t looking at. All sorts of little tiny things that can make enormous impacts and they’re not flashy and they’re not sexy and they don’t even seem interesting but like say a corporation uses like an animal like a lot of big manufacturers use fish oil as grease, as a lubricant but if you could create a cost-effective lubricant that doesn’t use fish you’d be decreasing humanity’s dependence on the oceans and you’d be taking us out of that and you know making fish less profitable. You’d be maybe reducing the amount of fish that’s caught, even if it’s a by-product. You’re at least making the fishing industry less profitable which means less fish end up ****. So I would say look to b2b solutions. Look into the minutia of things. My challenge to people is like look into tiny pieces of large industrial operations and find where – for me I mean, find where animals are being used or find where like slave labour’s being used. Find where like unethical business practices are being used and how can you like solve that? I mean…
Matt: Notice what Mike did here by the way. Mike’s building an incredible social enterprise which is also one that will be incredibly profitable in the future and he’s calling out other entrepreneurs to do the same to find the problems that exist in the world and solve them. This is the way that the world becomes a better place and entrepreneurs like Mike are making that happen.
Mike: Right now is a lot of slavery going on in Thailand. In terms of shrimp processing, can you develop a cost-effective shrimp processing machine so that there – it’s cheaper to use this machine than to have slaves? Like there’s massive problems on the business-to-business side that could be solved through technological fixes and I think people aren’t looking at that enough.
Matt: Or you can grow those shrimp which I imagine that might be in your pipeline which is why that came up.
Mike: I agree yeah that’s exactly why that – I was like researching that basically and I was just like oh my god. I was looking into, you know, shrimp production and like the cost of it and I was like wow it really is cheap and looking at why it’s cheap and it’s slavery. So that was not super exciting.
Matt: So I have one easy question for you and by easy I mean incredibly challenging. When will 80% of the meat that we eat to be manufactured versus killed?
Mike: Ooh that’s the million-dollar question. I want to say things with varying degrees of certainty. I am a hundred percent certain or as close you can get to a hundred percent that it will happen within our lifetimes and I mean my lifetime, I’m 27 and I’m convinced that it will absolutely happen within my lifetime. I am fairly certain it will happen within 50 years and I think that we can get over 50% in like maybe 20 to 30 years.
Matt: Which means it’ll either be a little bit longer or significantly faster because that’s how technology seems to progress.
Mike: Yep and you know this industry has exploded in the past year it – the progress that we’ve made alone at Finless Foods has been crazy and then also like you know when we started this company we were the second company really. Or like maybe like the third. We were the second to get funding and now there’s 13 companies working just in the meat space. So that’s not counting like the egg mayo people anything like that, the milk or gelatin. This is just different types of meat. Now there’s like 13 companies which is wild and who knows how many are still down the pipeline. So this is exploding and tons of money is being dumped into this ****. People understand that this is the future so it could be accelerated way beyond what I just said and I, you know, really hope that’s true. Matt: I really hope that’s true as well. This is one of the great crimes of humanity at least of our generation.
Mike: I totally agree. I’m a little biased but I totally agree.
Matt: Just a little bit biased. Mike, where’s the best place for people to find you online and tell you you are awesome?
Mike: Yeah sure, so we’re at finlessfoods.com – you can definitely follow us on Facebook: Finless Foods, Instagram, Twitter. I’m very responsive on Twitter. My Twitter is actually where you should definitely try and get in contact with me. It’s Mike Selden, FFSELDEN. I am thoroughly addicted Twitter. I love it very desperately. So yeah if you want to talk to me personally that’s the best way. If you want to get in touch with the company, send us an email through the website. There’s a contact form and that’ll go you know to more broadly the company itself. Yeah, feel free to get in touch. You can always message on Facebook, we exist there too. We’re everywhere.
Matt: We’ll throw links and everything in the show notes guys, fringe.FM – Mike thanks so much for coming on. This has been a fun conversation and hopefully it’s expanded people’s horizon just a bit.
Mike: Yeah thanks so much for having me Matt. This was awesome. Great questions, I can’t wait to hear it.
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