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Animal-Free Leather Company Gains $40M in Venture Funds

Cowboy boots

(skeeze, Pixabay)

28 June 2016. A company making leather for consumer goods with tissue engineering and gene-editing from living cells is raising $40 million in its second venture funding round. The enterprise, Modern Meadow Inc., in Brooklyn, New York, says it now raised $53.5 million since its founding in 2011.

Modern Meadow produces leather without environmentally harmful methods of raising animals and tanning hides. The company applies principles of cell engineering developed in the labs of its scientific founder Gabor Forgacs at University of Missouri and Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. Its process starts with cells for producing collagen, an abundant protein providing substance to connective tissue such as bones, tendons, and skin, including the skin or hides of animals.

The basic collagen cells are then genetically modified to produce a leather-like material with specified properties, such as strength or suppleness, then the cells are cultured to proliferate and produce complex collagen molecules in sufficient quantities. The collagen molecules are assembled into nanoscale fibers that connect into networks that assemble further into raw three-dimensional structures resembling animal skins.

Because the engineered hide is produced in a lab, the traditional tanning process using chemicals to remove hair, flesh, and fat is largely eliminated. Only a final finishing process to preserve the engineered leather and provide suppleness and surface qualities is required. Modern Meadow says its processes reduce waste by about 80 percent, including fewer inputs of land, water, energy, and chemicals.

The new funding round is led by Horizons Ventures and Iconiq Capital with participation by ARTIS Ventures, Temasek, Breakout Ventures, Red Swan Ventures, Collaborative Fund and Tony Fadell. As reported in Science & Enterprise, Modern Meadow was an early recipient of seed funding from Breakout Labs, a program of the Thiel Foundation, founded by entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and early venture backer of Facebook.

The company plans to use the new financing to convert from a research and development to a manufacturing enterprise, taking its first products to the marketplace. Andras Forgacs, co-founder and CEO — and son of Gabor Forgacs — says in a company statement that the $100 billion leather market “is subject to fluctuations in availability, quality, price, and growing demand. At Modern Meadow, we’re re-imagining this millennia-old material to create revolutionary new features without harming animals or the environment.”

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