Pandemic encourages safer food alternatives, boosts food-tech industry, says Prince Khaled

January 20, 2021

ABU DHABI — The coronavirus pandemic has encouraged governments and people to look for safer food alternatives, which will boost the regional and global food-tech industry, according to Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, founder, and CEO of KBW Venture, a prominent venture capital firm in the Gulf.

In an exclusive interview with the Emirates News Agency (WAM), the member of the Saudi Arabian royal family also added that the global financial crisis unleashed by the pandemic will not hamper investment flows into cleantech and green energy.

Pandemic induces food-tech alternatives

"With the proliferation of zoonotic disease, and the growing public awareness about the benefits that food-tech alternatives can provide, the pandemic has created a ripple effect: people want to know more about their food systems, and they want better, safer alternatives," he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday from Riyadh.

"This is why I’m so excited about acting as an advisor to XPRIZE’s Feed the Next Billion challenge," Prince Khaled added, referring to the competition sponsored by ASPIRE, an arm of Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology Research Council, which seeks food-tech solutions around chicken breast and fish filet. The organizers have sought entries for plant-based, cell-based, 3D printed, or even a combination of solutions.

"These are the exact types of companies that we invest in; plant-based and cell-based solutions meant to give the world cleaner, healthier, more sustainable alternatives," said the 42-year-old venture capitalist who advocates for and invests in food technology, including alternative proteins and cellular agriculture.

Born in California, he spent his youth in Riyadh under the mentorship of his father, philanthropist Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, Chairman and founder of Kingdom Holding Company.

He is extremely engaged with the food technology and food sciences industry, promoting emerging technologies that serve as potential solutions to food security and sustainability concerns facing today’s global community.

Growing food tech in Gulf

Prince Khaled finds a bright future for food tech in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

"In both Saudi and the UAE, the governments are looking more towards biotechnology (food-tech sources) and agtech (agricultural solutions like vertical farming) to prepare for and meet any food security issues that may arise," he said.

"Both governments are also looking at these tech-based alternatives because they are sustainable and help to reduce GCC’s impact on the climate crisis. Science is going to be the answer to most of the problems we are dealing with now, so we better all get on board."

Prince Khaled has invested in multiple rounds in four separate cellular agriculture start-ups, numerous plant-based start-ups, as well as other parts of the food supply chain.

He thinks more awareness is needed among all investors and businesses about emerging technological ventures.

"There are answers to the world’s big problems, but investors are always needed to help propel these scientists and technologists in their missions," he pointed out.

Investments in cleantech and green energy

Asked whether the global financial crisis caused by the pandemic might hinder investment flows into cleantech and green energy, he said, "I disagree. Similarly, there were predictions that venture capital would stop moving in general, regardless of the industry. That proved untrue; KBW Ventures has invested quite a bit since the onset of the pandemic, and so did many other venture capital firms."

Some of his co-investors in food tech made sizeable investments in many other impact ventures as well, showing that the climate crisis was top of mind.

"Global decarbonization is a pressing issue, and investors who are backing companies relevant to that are ramping up due to the pandemic, not slowing down," he said.

Prince Khaled was the speaker at a panel discussion on Tuesday at the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW), an annual global event for accelerating the world’s sustainable development.

ADSW seeks to answer global issues

"My last time at ADSW in 2019, we were discussing the impact of investing and how technology can improve the world. I consider my conversation in this edition and the previous edition intrinsically linked as several of our investments are in technologies that seek to answer pressing global issues — like food security," he explained.

"I believe that ADSW plays a very important role on the global stage, bringing together so many different viewpoints and stakeholders annually. Abu Dhabi is really taking a leadership role in how governments can draw on science and technology to improve society and how it can improve life on earth for all," he said. — WAM

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