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The need for seasoned talent in a maturing alt-protein industry

By Robert Boer, Director at Blue Horizon

It’s no secret that the alternative protein industry is predicted to take a serious cut out of big meat’s pie with the likes of KFC and Burger King already adding alternative meat options to their menus. One out of five meals we’ll eat in 2035 will be made from alternative protein. However, today there are still many challenges to be solved to reach this consumer adoption. Recruiting talent is one of the biggest challenges our industry currently faces.

Startups aiming to innovate the food industry while competing with decades old traditional food companies need talent in order to scale up and become mainstream. Many alternative protein companies are deep tech ventures, which means they need a lot of technological innovation to scale from a prototype or beta product to their actual market-facing offering. On top, they face an additional challenge of building an often new commercial production process. Very few people know what these processes should look like, let alone how to make them cheap. For example, building a 100L-100.000L bioreactor capacity for food applications takes a strong grasp on the science behind the product to create at scale. 

Many founding teams manage to innovate on a lab scale, but the skill set needed to get to full commercial scale is significantly different and one to be honed. For example, think about figuring out the perfect formulation to scale the initial prototype – from microliter scales and highly precise instruments like mass spectrometry, to hundreds of thousands of litres in steel vessels and engineering as well as CAPEX project planning excellence. To achieve this, facilities need to be operational, having capacity to store large amounts of ingredients and to be temperature controlled with certainty that it won’t fail or else, it could set a company back months.  

Scaling new products to commercial sized production is one of the most important technical challenges the alternative protein industry needs to tackle now. Therefore, startups need to prioritize finding the right chief technology officer (CTO) and technical team to supplement the founders and executive team and start a culture of innovation. In the current war on talent, it is hard to find those diamonds in the rough, given compared to other sectors, the alternative protein space is relatively new, so there are few industry veterans, let alone ones on the market for a new role. 

Looking at the Blue Horizon portfolio companies, the majority is indeed looking to grow their technical teams. From the 200+ vacancies, the top three roles they are looking to fill, at the time of this article’s publication, are Engineers, Technicians and Scientists. And because they are struggling finding them, the fourth role is HR. The top 10 also includes more specific technical roles such as Research Scientists and Lab Technicians. 

This is the reason why Blue Horizon launched an industry-leading Jobs Board and Talent Network designed to match the industry’s brightest talent with live career opportunities. With over 200 active job listings already, Blue Horizon’s Jobs Board is one of the largest of its kind in the sustainable food space. The listings are updated automatically so the career opportunities are always fresh, with the number of opportunities to grow as Blue Horizon’s portfolio expands and its companies mature. 

Additionally, the Blue Horizon Talent Network allows individuals to privately share their career interests with Blue Horizon’s entire ecosystem of 70+ companies so they can be actively recruited. 

Hiring top talent is one of the biggest challenges for many startups and these tools help to reduce the friction in hiring for the whole industry and accelerate the transition to a new sustainable food system by creating a specialist job marketplace.

The timing for the launch could not have been any better. We currently see massive layoffs in the technology sector and these are exactly the talents we need, because accelerating the transition to a new Sustainable Food system requires a lot of technological innovation.