Sedef Köktentürk will never forget the investment that got away.
In 2016, she was a director at Generation Investment Management, the sustainability-targeted firm started by former Vice President Al Gore and former Goldman Sachs Asset Management CEO David Blood. As they looked at different candidates for funding, there was one company that she thought deserved attention. And while others in the firm agreed that its technology was commendable, Köktentürk recalls that there was no consensus that the company would be commercially viable in the next few years, so they took a pass.
The company was Impossible Foods, which has been one of the leaders in the red-hot plant-based meat segment since its Impossible Burgers hit restaurants in 2016. The company has seen impressive growth as a CPG and foodservice item, and its much-talked-about future IPO is one of the most anticipated stock market debuts.
"Clearly, Generation was short-sighted," Köktentürk said.
Köktentürk, who is passionate about the power of food and beverage to improve the environment and accelerate sustainability, now works for a firm that has invested in Impossible Foods — and pretty much every other well-known company in the burgeoning alternative protein ecosystem. She joined Blue Horizon as managing partner, chief operating officer and head of impact in January.
Blue Horizon was founded by serial entrepreneur and investor Roger Lienhard, who had switched to a plant-based diet for health reasons and was amazed by the technology and transformative power at startups in the alternative protein segment. Blue Horizon went from funding food tech companies' seed rounds to raising more capital to invest in businesses at later stages. It closed a fund with more than 183 million euros ($222 million) in January. Lienhard is also on the board of directors and a founder of plant-based platform LiveKindly Collective, which closed a $335 million funding round in March.
Blue Horizon is well known for its careful attention to how its portfolio companies perform in terms of sustainability. The venture group looks to invest in businesses that have a positive impact on the planet, human health and animal rights, as well as those that will drive a positive return. This focus brought Köktentürk to her current position.
"When the opportunity came about at Blue Horizon, given that it [works with] much earlier-stage companies than I had worked with before, and the opportunity to not just invest in companies that are changing the world, but also to build a business around that, [it was] super attractive," she said.
Impacting the world, humans and animals
Blue Horizon's portfolio is practically a who's who of the alternative protein world. Its companies include plant-based meat leaders Impossible, Good Catch and Beyond Meat; cell-based rising stars Finless Foods, Eat Just, Cubiq, SuperMeat and Mosa Meat; animal-free protein providers Geltor, BioMilq and The Every Company; and platforms and applications including LiveKindly, Abillion and Tagger Media.
When Blue Horizon evaluates potential investments, it examines what kind of a greater impact a company can make and how this fits into the firm's goals around the environment, health and animal welfare, Köktentürk said. A startup looking for seed funding doesn't need to prove that it is already making a bigger impact, but the company's leadership and larger goals need to point toward that eventual effect.
Blue Horizon often helps earlier-stage companies quantify just what their larger impact could be and how to reach that potential. Köktentürk said this helps not only Blue Horizon — which can definitively say what kind of a greater impact its investments will have — but also individual companies.
"We believe [this will] help them become better companies, and in the future, develop more effectively," she said. "By measuring their impact and by communicating around it, they will actually also increase their adoption or growth in terms of consumers — but even B2B businesses are focusing on this right now."
Clicking on the different businesses on Blue Horizon's portfolio page provides a rundown of each company's reason for being, a profile of what it makes and short bullet points on its impact. It also offers a graphical representation of which of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals — 17 goals that the U.N. set to improve life for people, fight climate change and protect the environment — that the company can help meet.
Filling out the portfolio
Blue Horizon is fully aware of the alternative protein sector's potential. The firm partnered with Boston Consulting Group to look at its current size and future growth, finding in a study published in March that the global alt-protein market will be worth at least $290 billion by 2035. By then, the study found, one in 10 portions of meat, eggs, dairy or seafood will be made from alternatives.
In order to carefully curate which companies it invests in, Köktentürk said Blue Horizon tries to sit at the intersection of finance and science, looking for where there are needs in terms of business expenses and technology. The firm recruits directors who have a financial background, as well as a grounding in the kind of science and tech the funded companies use. Blue Horizon also looks to bring in professionals from all over the world to lend their knowledge about different consumer needs and expectations.
Köktentürk is one hire that checks many of those boxes. Last month, Blue Horizon added a partner and two directors — like Köktentürk, also women — adding more viewpoints and expertise to the firm. Lea Bajc, who's worked with venture capital and startups in Silicon Valley, joined as a partner. New director Friederike Grosse-Holz received a doctoral degree from Oxford University by using bioinformatics and protein biochemistry to improve plant protein production, and she also worked with biotech and biopharma clients for Boston Consulting Group. Olivia Stolt-Nielsen Meinl will be responsible for impact and environmental, social and governence goals for companies. She is co-founder of a farm-to-table fast casual restaurant in London, and has worked in investment banking and alternative asset management for Goldman Sachs and Blackstone.
How to help
Blue Horizon does more than just provide funding for the companies in its portfolio. Köktentürk said the firm's global reach and profile makes it a conduit for many connections that young companies need.
It routinely makes introductions to other companies in the alternative protein ecosystem, and to professionals who may provide needed expertise. It helps smooth access to distribution in different countries and jurisdictions. And Blue Horizon helps with networking — important when the company it is funding is a tech platform, makes sustainable packaging, or is an ingredients firm.
Köktentürk said Blue Horizon will also provide financial management support to companies and gets involved on their advisory and governance boards — although it doesn't try to dominate their business, she said.
While Blue Horizon started out investing in companies that could improve human health, it developed into something much wider, with an eye toward bolstering global sustainability through food, while being sensitive to different cultures.
"Over the long term, we believe that a lot of local and cultural preferences on food — that includes animals and the cooking of them — will actually be supplemented by alternatives to animal products," Köktentürk said. "Even something like sushi can become non-animal based. I think the impact is just so global and so huge. Being focused gives us an edge on that."