Miguel Neumann of Eternal
This episode is part of the Transforming The Future of Proteins series.
XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion is a multi-year, $15M competition that incentivizes teams to produce chicken breast or fish filet alternatives that replicate or outperform these conventional proteins in the following ways: access, environmental sustainability, animal welfare, nutrition, as well as taste and texture.
Miguel is an entrepreneur specialized in Innovation.
Over his career, he acted in a variety of C-Level roles. His experience spans over 20+ years leading projects and teams internationally.
Miguel founded and funded companies in the fields of cryptocurrencies and blockchain, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Many of these projects raised 8-figure rounds through venture capital fundraising, M&A, and ICOs.
Miguel is currently the interim CEO of Eternal.
Learn more about the XPRIZE Feed The Next Billion Challenge at www.xprize.org/feed
Alex Shirazi (00:03):
Thanks for joining us on the Future Food Show. This episode is part of the transforming the future of protein series where we explore the work of XPRIZE Feed The Next Billion, a global incentivized competition that challenges innovators to reinvent alternative proteins. On this episode, we’re excited to have Miguel Noman of Eternal. Miguel is an entrepreneur specialized in innovation over his career. He has acted in a variety of sea level roles. His experience spans over 20 years leading projects and teams internationally. Miguel founded and funded companies in the fields of cryptocurrencies and blockchain, artificial intelligence and biotechnology. Many of these projects raised eight figure rounds through venture capital funding m and a and ICOs. Miguel is currently the interim CEO at Eternal. Miguel has an MBA at Durham University and has taken courses in specialized finance at Harvard. Miguel, I would like to welcome you to the Future Food Show.
Miguel Neumann (01:04):
Thank you, Alex. I’m very happy to be here. And yeah, looking forward to share, what we have been doing with Eternal
Alex Shirazi (01:13):
Miguel. Tell us a little bit about your background.
Miguel Neumann (01:17):
So the short version of it, I’ll say a mixed bag, but more precisely or a little bit more into detail. Say, I have always been interested in new technologies, so at some point between high school and starting my first jobs, I bumped into this thing called the internet. So that was just how it all started. It was one of the technologies, I don’t know, I learned to code when I was really young, still like I was five and I got my first computer, like, properly get hit if you so want. But anyway, I started looking to tech in a variety of ways. So first I got involved into internet projects. I used to have a design agency around the turn of 2000. Actually, that was my first exit. Then when financial technology FinTech as such became a thing, I got involved into that. I was working in blockchain technologies for a while.
Miguel Neumann (02:15):
Then once I heard about biotech and I was lucky that I have always been surrounded by people who were into new things. I found this idea and that’s how in depth involved in this, but my actual training graphic designer as an undergrad, and then I went into certifying as a project manager. Then I start looking into banking and trading. I got eventually an MBA here in Durham. I started a little bit more finances with some courses from Harvard. So a little bit of everything worked on engineering for a couple years. But I think the only common theme here is just new stuff that gets, I dunno, that is exciting.
Alex Shirazi (03:04):
I love that just kind of chasing your passions and it seems like it’s, it’s really taking you through an exciting path. So, so you mentioned you learned about biotech, you know, when did you first kind of get introduced with the team that is now eternal?
Miguel Neumann (03:20):
It was a while back actually. So I, I met with Horacio, the founder of the business, probably about 5, 6, 7 years ago. I was still working different company. He was looking into something to do with artificial intelligence. I was working and something to do with blockchain. We could have just introduced by a mutual friend and we were talking about doing something together and there was this thing about we got along really well. One of the things that that he told me was that he was interested in, in working with me and something, and I was like, yeah, it would be really cool if we could find a project where we can do something together. And then I think a couple years went by. I just started a couple other things. So did he, and I got a call from him at some point saying, Hey, we’re looking into someone with financial background.
Miguel Neumann (04:14):
Were thinking maybe, you know racing for the business is this something that you’d be interested in? Like, tell me a little about, a little bit more about the project. And when they told me about what they were doing, I was like, yeah, I’m in, I’m in. Just tell me how I can help. But I’m definitely in. And I started learning more about the science behind what they were doing. I knew a little bit, but not a ton. I started seeing how all the new technologies and everything that had to do with computer vision and AI was actually being combined with traditional laboratory techniques and how that was delivering results that were just close to impossible in previous years or without that kind of technology. And, and that’s a bit how I started to get familiarized, but effectively my first biotech project and it’s been, it’s been amazing. It’s been an, an incredible journey.
Alex Shirazi (05:15):
That’s cool. And so tell us what eternal is and at a high level kind of what is the technology behind it?
Miguel Neumann (05:24):
So the technology behind it and what is it Eternal as a company is, I’ll say a research powerhouse that has been looking into putting science into real problems and trying to solve them in a way, I think we are trying to rebuild how the work is gonna be working, the building bloke of what the future needs to look like. And there are interesting bits on that. So I mean, we’re tackling food now as one of the key or one of the key products that we’re looking into because there seems to be a very important issue now on what the food industry looks like and what it should look like. But the idea, and this case like to a report has been released is that more than more than half of what gets produced today could potentially be replaced with biological processes that are gonna be less polluting, more friendly with the environment.
Miguel Neumann (06:30):
They’re gonna be less resource intensive. And, and again, like thinking about it, it does make sense. So these are going to be the building blocks for the future. And I think starting with food is one of the most important ones. So the companies that just applied research into really important problems that are difficult to solve and well in particular, eternal micro food, that is what we have been working. The first project that we released is a very very versatile ingredient. It’s made out of fungi. It’s built using advanced fermentation. So sort of the same technology that has been around for hundreds of years that you could use to make beer, for example. But I’ll say seasoned with a bunch of new advancements in tech, more sensors, more technology optimizations at the lab, strength selection, and then just quality control. Just put through a series of processes through a series of texts that we developed to be able to produce these things to make it very sustainable, to make it, or to work with as little resources as possible so that you can ensure, for example, that producing high quality nutrition and a product that could well effectively fit a bunch of people in the best possible way would not be a region specific.
Miguel Neumann (07:55):
That you can produce it everywhere in the world independently of where whether you have a ton of arable land independent of how much water you have available for you. And even we’re looking to the possibility of getting this product produced in space. So that is the level of resource scarcity that we are able, or that we are able to address with these new technologies.
Alex Shirazi (08:18):
That’s exciting. And, actually I personally got a little bit excited when you did mention space because we run a, a webinar series called C M s Astro that talks about food and space. So I’ll, I’ll talk to you about that offline, but I wanna touch on micro food. But first I, I know that you mentioned that there are a couple other industries or applications that your technology can be used for. And I think I was reading like plastics and, and other things. Can you just give us maybe a couple of the categories other than food that the eternal technology could be used for?
Miguel Neumann (08:53):
So the first area that we’re looking into is materials. And that has to do with a few things. First of all, it’s a huge industry. So the impact that it can have, if we can start replacing chemical processes that are well quite pollutant or that produce products that are going to be just, I dunno, taking hundreds of year to the compose, we can replace all that with biological products. We actually are working to replace some binders in construction materials so we can produce insulation. But going back to space, we are looking at, that’s something that actually was really exciting. We got some martian soil and lunar soil. It’s called reg Light. I think that’s how they describe it. I mean, it doesn’t really come from Mars, it’s just the chemical composition. But we are testing how we can use that combined with some of the binders that we are creating with our biological products to see if we can find a way of actually doing habitats in, well basically for for space basis or for planetary basis on the moon.
Miguel Neumann (10:07):
That would not require to have a supply chain that comes from earth. I mean, obviously sending concrete from into a space shuttle is not a particularly good idea. So if we can find a way of combining a process that actually gets produced very quickly, that actually scales very fast, they use the same technology that what we’ve want to put on spaceships for food that allows you to build a habitat that would be amazing. And on the other side, I mean the same applications are still valid, but the focus is not on trying to reduce the type of supply chain that you depend on, but to reduce the amount of pollutants that you’re including in such supply chains. I mean from adhesives to construction, I mean there are even medical implants that you can start replacing with biological products, dice, leather. There there’s just innumerable applications. So we are looking into which ones are the ones that are going to find, have a more meaningful impact in the wellness. We’re starting there.
Alex Shirazi (11:10):
I like that. And, and I actually <laugh>, I like the startup name, you know, the company name Eternal, even, even more after you, you know, explained. Explain that. So that <laugh>. That’s cool. Okay, so thanks for that. Let’s get back to myco food. You explained to us kind of that’s what you’re calling the technology and it’s, it seems like it’s a fermentation based approach. First, can you tell us the name Myco Food, you know, where does it come from? What does myco mean for, for those that are maybe new to the alternative protein space? With, with fungi,
Miguel Neumann (11:46):
My and basic plain English is just a mushroom, like the description or the technical description of the fungi species are just micro. And the reason why we talk about micro foods is because other companies, which we are best frenemies have used the term myprotein, which is valid, but it’s incomplete. So micro is not just protein, it has fibers, it has healthy fats, it has a lot of other things that you need for a complete meal. It has a full am acid profile. So micro is something that you could literally, if you want, put into a protein shake and you are done. You don’t need to eat anything else for the day. So that’s why we build the name in that way. And again, it’s made of fungi. We are working with a microscopic fungus that has been used for several decades. We have optimized it.
Miguel Neumann (12:50):
And that’s part of where the AI and all the new technologies are coming in, just these new parts of technologies that haven’t been used on, on science that have allowed us to, to create something that is quite unique. So, and by unique, I mean we’re looking into an existing product that actually can be done or can be, let’s say, manufactured with a tons of the amount of water that initially was required for it or with a very small amount of the energy that was required. But again, that that’s what the micro food stands for. Just a very healthy ingredient made, made out of fungi that actually could be used as a complete meal. Now I have an interesting treaty on that and that comes out of how the company started and if you allow me attention here. So part of the whole idea is that the company founder, the reason why this guy actually wanted to build the business was because he realized that nutrition in children between one and five was going to be determinant in the potential that their cognitive capacity would have for life.
Miguel Neumann (14:11):
So if you didn’t get your nutrition right on your first five years, you will be potentially following in a vicious cycle where you were not able to break poverty, you don’t have money for food, you don’t develop to your full potential, you can’t break out of that cycle. So he was looking to how to solve this and bumped into a particular fun guy that was developed in Britain around the sixties, seventies, but that was literally left forgotten to its own devices and it was a very efficient way of producing nutrition. So he spoke to some of the AA people that I knew that he was talking to me about even before the company started and said, can we optimize this? So it’s cheap to make, and his first idea of this particular organism that is used for was they was just a mushroom, like, I dunno, like a cinon that would grow in a pot.
Miguel Neumann (15:08):
So he wanted to grow that thing on his balcony. And yeah, after spending I think a couple months working with the scientist, one of the sad realizations was that it was a very nic organism that is microscopic. So forget about the plant pot and can only grow in a way that would be useful for food production into bioreactors under very specific conditions. So yeah sorry, no plant pots here, but what we had was again, this idea of the of the mechanical cow, which is in essence what the bioreactor became just a way in which you can produce and let this organism grow really, really quickly and start producing this very nutritious ingredient. I don’t know if I covered the what micro is well here or if I went, just went way tooray on a tangent.
Alex Shirazi (16:02):
No, <laugh>. No, no. That’s great. And actually it, it made me think of a, a really nice quote that was from the video on the eternal website. We need to get out of the something and into the bioreactor. I don’t know if you remember what it was.
Miguel Neumann (16:17):
Yep. We we need to think out of the box and inside a bioreactor reactor.
Alex Shirazi (16:24):
Exactly. Yeah. I like that <laugh>.
Miguel Neumann (16:27):
Yeah. And that’s and we used to have that in our deck with a picture of the first bioreactor that we built that was a custom build. It was a small like lab scale thing, but it had the type of tech that you see on the really tall ones that could be several stories tall that you use for this particular type of fermentation. So it has a, I mean, it has some sentimental value to see that equipment that I think for people in biotech, they’ll look at it, it’s like, well, why are you putting that just piece of chunk? Well, but that’s, that’s where it all started. And yeah, but that, that was a phrase. And, and, and it’s true. I mean, I think, I think there are so much that we could be doing or so much so we could be changing. There are so many processes that haven’t left and changed since Industrial Revolution and, and I believe that we owe it to the world and the coming generations to actually start thinking a little bit more into it.
Miguel Neumann (17:26):
And this might be just a unnecessary piece of oversharing, but I do have a kid, I, I have a small kid and yeah, I mean, I wanna be sure that if he ask me what do I do? Like what do I work in, I I can tell him that it’s something that that makes me proud and that I think it’s gonna leave the world in a better place than where I, where I found it or how I found it. So, you know, like I think those are important things that I hope more people find relatable and start thinking about how to, to, to look into these type of situations where you can use technology for good. And not only because it’s something that we must do, but also because it could be also a really good business if you reinvent how half of what the world produces is being made. So like a product with a purpose and with a financial view so they don’t have to be one against each other.
Alex Shirazi (18:34):
How did your team hear about XPRIZE? And more specifically, I really wanted to ask you how XPRIZE and the feed the next billion competition has accelerated your team’s efforts?
Miguel Neumann (18:48):
We heard about it because Pablo, which is one of the guys that is working on space applications, he was in one of the first XPRIZE. So he was building a particular spacecraft, and I think it was the first competition for the Ansari prize. Actually he knows miss Ansari personally. And he he actually command, well, he mentioned that this challenge was up and we were looking into it and when will note when the feed the next billion appeared, I mean, it felt like the challenge was like literally talking to us before the, the challenge appeared. I used to open half of my presentations to, to other companies and investors saying, we cannot feed 2 billion people with cows. And when you have this thing like Feed Next Billion, I was saying, okay, that’s us. That’s, that’s talking to us. We need to do something about it.
Miguel Neumann (19:52):
Well, and I think it is interesting that, or at least it shows a good fit that we’re finalists and, and fingers crossed, I’m not gonna say what’s gonna happen. But I think, I think we are a strong team. I mean, I have to say it <laugh> in terms of how it actually accelerated things. I mean, I think it was inspirational just to find a challenge that was so well respected that was having a focus in things or in problems that we are already envisioning. And the way in which actually helped us is that injected an urgency into developing some of the applications. I mean, probably we would not have looked into making a chicken breast ourselves. So part of our focus is on the ingredient. So one of the things that we have been big on is just to use the versatility that we have on micro food to allow people who are already in the business of food to actually make better products.
Miguel Neumann (21:00):
Because I know that a frustration of many vegan people is that the texture isn’t there. Sometimes the flavor isn’t there, and many times even the nutrition isn’t there. So we don’t really consider competing against food producers, but we wanted to enable them to have better products. But then with the competition coming up, it just made us again, think out of the box and just scratch our heads and think, how can we actually use our ingredient to make a really good chicken breast? And I think the results are pretty convincing. I mean, I have seen, I haven’t seen the videos. I have actually, I didn’t taste the prototype because we didn’t, we didn’t make enough of them. But but I have seen it, and I’ve have tasted some of your applications that are pretty good. And most of the people that also have have received and have sampled the products that we have created were, were very happy with them.
Miguel Neumann (22:00):
So I think it’s, it’s just that like the element of healthy pressure, inspiration and and support to actually say, okay, this is the goal that we need to achieve. We need to be able to create something that is nutritionally equivalent to a chicken breast, which was one of the first things that we managed to do. And we were, we were happy to see that it was possible. And then just to keep perfecting that, saying, okay, this, there, there are a lot of a lot of big companies, there’s a lot of brain power putting into making domestic and analog. We need to be there, we need to make it, and we need to make it and make sure that it’s still affordable. Because one of the things that personally I have looked into was when one of our I’ll say competitors and neighbors, because theirs just in Scotland came up with an announcement that they were making, I don’t know how many chicken breasts per minute on their new factory.
Miguel Neumann (23:03):
I was saying, okay, great, but at which cost, because personally I think it’s not enough just to make a ton of food. You need to make sure that that food has a capability and the pricing that will allow it just for everyone to have access to it. And mind you, that might be a bit biased. I grew up in Latin America, I know what not being able to put food on the table looks like and it’s not pretty, and, but I don’t think I will be doing the right thing. It wouldn’t be fair. It’s just to develop something that is amazing, but it’s only available for very few people.
Alex Shirazi (23:40):
Right. And I think accessibility is definitely something very important. It, it makes me think about something you said earlier about, you know, food being very important, especially in the first five years of, of life. And so definitely an interesting kind of, and important thing to think about. I think this is also a very good transition to, to talk about the future because I, I wanted to to specifically ask you, you know, where do you see the future of food and food security in 20 30, 20 40 and 2050? Where do you see it
Miguel Neumann (24:17):
To be able to explain the vision for health? The future of food will evolve. I think we need to look into what are the pressures that are actually watching it. Say, think about it in one hand, you have the government that are putting pressure into companies to reduce their carbon footprint, to have a more sustainable production, to look after the world and the territory that they’re at, while also being able to guarantee a level of food sovereignty. Then you have the company thinking about how can they reinvent themselves to be relevant for the consumers, which is the third leg that you have in this equation, which is demanding more ethical production, better food, less contaminating, more sustainable, more ethical. I mean, those are questions that probably, I don’t know, 20 years ago, 50 years ago would not have been a point right now. People wanna know where food is coming, how it’s been produced, are the people who are producing the food looked after?
Miguel Neumann (25:34):
Is the food done in a way that you can carry on producing it for decades or I am gonna completely devastate the land by doing it. And I think those three factors are putting pressure into changing the food system into something completely different. And I think companies like ours are starting to be enablers. And I mean companies like ours, because there’s plenty of room to reinvent this industry. And I think it’s the big players, it’s the government demanding that. And also, again, even from celebrities saying, how can I reduce my meat consumption? I mean, everyone is gonna be pushing in that direction to make, I think in the first few years, closing to 2030, making just probably categories that we are not used to seeing. The same way that you’ll see on a menu. I know beef, chicken, fish, fungi, and maybe something else, maybe something that we don’t even know.
Miguel Neumann (26:34):
Maybe insects will become popular, but I think you’ll start looking more granularly into what now is bundle under alternative protein in which another category of food. And that’s it. Then going forward, if you think about thirties, forties, what’s gonna change is that price party is going to be already reached. And I think the most cost effective way of producing food is going to be by far, by using what we know, what we are calling now, alternative protein. So you’ll start saying that I know animal-based protein is going to be the exception, not the norm. More so if you keep going into the future, and I dunno if it’s going to be in the, in 2050 or if it’s going to be in a hundred years time, but something that I have found and my mind you, I’m a sci-fi fan, so I read a lot about, about that because I think a lot of what is not yet created, you can find a literature and then just thrives people’s imagination and directs people imagination into build in the future.
Miguel Neumann (27:44):
And I have read in at least a few novels, people who see eating an animal, like something completely brutal, something that you wouldn’t do. And I think in the same way that a hundred years ago no one was thinking about animal rights, I believe that just animal based protein is gonna move from being something that is the norm to something that is a niche, to something that is just not done. And I think that’s part of the ethical evolution that I think people will start having generation over generation thinking, hold on, if we can make this thing without involving any animals, why are we gonna do it? And I think that is going to be the change that we’re gonna see in food in the future. So that’s that’s how I see this process going.
Alex Shirazi (28:28):
You know, you mentioned sci-fi. I think it’s actually pretty important to think about what these fictional scientific and, and futuristic visions look like, because I, I also believe that this is kind of one way we can start to, you know, maybe not manifest, but start really thinking about what we could be doing and you know, it might be another decade or few decades before we actually achieve things like that. And there are probably a lot of ideas that will never come to fruition. But I think, you know, if you, if you think about it it’s it’s, it’s really a, a nice exercise.
Miguel Neumann (29:06):
Yep. You have to dream it first. If not, it doesn’t happen. And I think that is the interesting part, and that’s the exciting part, just thinking what are the possibilities? And, and again, just all, all the recent work that we have done with nasa and it just, it just makes us think about what’s possible, what, what are the things that we need to be considering? What’s gonna happen if all the sudden this really takes off? And again, like, okay, maybe I won’t get to see it, but if we get to be an interplanetary species, which will be pretty awesome, I mean, the whole way in which we do things is going to change. So supply chains are gonna be something else. Like just everything is going to change. And if you don’t think about it, if you don’t even think that it’s going to be possible, that’s not going to be possible. First has to be that dream to drive the idea.
Alex Shirazi (30:04):
You can learn more about firstname.lastname@example.org. You can connect with Miguel on LinkedIn. Miguel, I wanted to ask you, do you have any last insights for our listeners today?
Miguel Neumann (30:15):
I think we have talked about the future. We have talked about anything that is sci-fi related and a little bit about the future of food and how technology can enable that. I mean, I think that’s the last thought, I believe, or I hope that people start thinking in particularly with food in production terms in different way. And this is, this is something that I have been looking into and I discussed a couple of times that I’ve seen a lot of people who talk about the price of these new technologies and the cost of producing food and the equation that I think a lot of people have not been looking into, which is that for every dollar that people are saving on cheap product, they’re not really saving it. Most times they’re actually transferring that cost to the environment. So if you are eating something that is unhealthy, then okay, maybe you paid less, but then you’re gonna have to pay more on your medical bill.
Miguel Neumann (31:24):
If you are eating something that it’s not harvesting a way that is sustainable, then okay, right now it’s fine, but in five years time, it’s gonna be more expensive because you simply won’t have the means to produce it again the same way. So I think people should, or I would hope that people start consuming sustainability from the perspective of what can happen on the next 5, 10, 20 years, not what dime they’re gonna save. They’re gonna be saving today, because that is really not the point. And I know how hard it is for, for people who are really trying to make ends meet, to think strategically about food. You just, you just need food and that’s it. So I guess that is why I’m excited not only about the idea of making micro food and making good nutrition, something possible, but something available to everyone. And, and again, that feels a little bit the legacy of the company founder. And I know that he’s looking now into philanthropy because again, it just, I that we should be focusing on making great things, but concerning humanity, the world, the environment, and a lot of things that many people are not really thinking about as part of a whole equation, just to see a full picture.
Alex Shirazi (32:55):
I like that. Thank you. Thank you for that. And, and with that I’ll say, you know, Miguel, thanks for joining us on the Future Food Show.
Miguel Neumann (33:03):
Really appreciate it.
Alex Shirazi (33:04):
This is your host, Alex, and we look forward to seeing you on the next episode.