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Food Technology Company Gains $4M in Seed Funds

Cut oranges and grapefruit

(engin akyurt, Pixabay)

9 Aug. 2019. A company developing a food preservation technology from university materials science labs is raising $4 million in its seed funding round. Cambridge Crops Inc. in Somerville, Massachusetts is based on research at Tufts University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Cambridge Crops is creating a process to extend the shelf life of food, and battle a continuing global problem of food waste. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says as much as one-third of all food produced worldwide is either lost or wasted, despite a continuing and growing problem of hunger. Among the main causes of food waste is spoilage, particularly items that approach or reach their nominal sell-by dates.

To meet this challenge, Cambridge Crops is developing a technology for keeping food fresh for longer periods. The company’s process takes advantage of advances in research on bio-materials, particularly silk, conducted by materials science professor Fiorenzo Omenetto at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. Omenetto and colleagues study a wide range of silk properties, including photonics and polymer chemistry, with applications in optics, electronics, and biological sensing.

Omenetto’s work is supplemented with research by MIT bioengineering professor Benedetto Marelli, whose lab studies applications of bio-polymers in agriculture, food security, and food safety. Marelli and Omenetto collaborated on a number papers involving properties of silk, including a 2017 publication describing a process for directing the assembly of materials with a hierarchical structure from silk proteins in nanoscale networks. Both Omenetto and Marelli are scientific advisers to Cambridge Crops.

The company’s technology adapts these advances to extend the shelf life of perishable foods. The Cambridge Crops process uses silk proteins to create a protective layer over food products that blocks the exchange of gases promoting oxidation, as well as reducing dehydration, and slowing the growth of microbes. The company says this protective layer is edible, tasteless, and does not alter properties of the food. In addition, says Cambridge Crops, the silk-based layer can be readily applied in the food product supply chain to whole and cut produce, as well as meat and fish.

Cambridge Crops, founded in 2016, incubated at The Engine, an MIT-based start-up accelerator. The Engine seeks out what it calls “Tough Tech,” under-served and under-funded yet still disruptive technologies, providing long-term capital, knowledge, network connections, and specialized equipment and labs. In February 2019, Cambridge Crops was one of eight cleantech start-up companies dividing $505,000 in Massachusetts state grants to develop prototypes.

“Our team is focused on improving how we interact with our food supply,” says Cambridge Crops CEO Adam Behrens in a company statement released through Businesswire. “The technology we’ve developed has far-reaching impact, from minimizing our reliance on single-use plastics to expanding global access to safe and nutritious foods.”

The Engine is leading the new seed round with participation from Refactor Capital, Closed Loop Ventures, Bluestein & Associates, SOSV, and Supply Chain Ventures. The company expects to use proceeds from the round to complete FDA and USDA regulatory requirements, scale-up production, and develop meaningful commercial partnerships.

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