On stage! Plug and Play Japan’s Food and Beverage accelerator showcases its first cohort

Meros was thrilled to be invited to the final pitch event of Plug and Play Japan‘s Food and Beverage accelerator program, with Meros’ managing director Chisa Ogura on stage as a commentator. Plug and Play Japan is a subsidiary of Plug and Play Tech Center, the global innovation platform headquartered in Silicon Valley.

The 10 start-ups on stage on September 13th were the members of the Food and Beverage accelerator’s first cohort and included both Japanese and international start-ups.

The event was an exciting chance to see the strong interest in food tech among the Japanese industry, as well as the high level of interest in the Japan market among overseas startups.

Here are some of the highlights!

1 There is a high level of interest in sustainable packaging and bio-plastics

Of the 10 companies showcased by Plug and Play, four were related to sustainable packaging. Among the various fields related to food tech, the growing focus on sustainable packaging over the past year or two is very interesting, especially considering the interest from food-related companies in Japan.

Interesting start-ups included Phaxtec, which uses biogas powered by microorganisms to produce PHA, allowing high production efficiency and low emissions. The end product has high biodegradability but the high price remains a bottleneck for the company. The company says they are addressing this issue. From our chats with visitors at the event, we could sense a high level of interest in sustainable packaging and bioplastic technology.

2 From upcycling to precision fermentation?

There were four startups working on upcycling using fungi and bacteria, utilizing by-products of the food industry. They produced end-products ranging from bioplastics to food ingredients and alcohol.

However, the biggest challenge for these companies in scaling up is securing sufficient volumes of raw materials.

One company, Mi Terro, is looking to overcome this challenge by avoiding a focus on sourcing a specific food waste as it scales up its protein film/fiber products, and instead produces protein from microbial cultures. This is potentially a very interesting direction.

3 It all comes down to health!

Out of all the interesting companies in the Plug and Play lineup, the pitch winner was….. was Tait Labs!

Taking inspiration from the dried mandarin orange peels used in Chinese medicine, Tait Labs has developed a prebiotic supplement that reduces inflammation in the digestive tract and promotes digestion. They have a patented extraction technology and utilize mandarin peel waste from juice and canning factories. They are planning to link this with digital-based health management.

Tait Labs’ concept was easy to understand and its potential for future development as a medicine was also interesting. Importantly, this business concept seemed to resonated with the broader audience, beyond just those in food-related fields.

Welcome Yoko Iino, Meros’ first ever Fall Research Assistant!

For the first time in Meros history we are welcoming a Fall Research Assistant, Yoko Iino!

Yoko has a degree in Agriculture from Meiji University and spent a year studying at Srinakharinwirot University in Thailand, where she also was an agricultural volunteer working in a Hmong hill tribe village. She is now is close to completing her Master’s degree in Social Entrepreneurship at the International University of Japan in Niigata. She was accepted and trained by the Japanese government as a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JICA Volunteer) with plans for a two-year assignment in Rwanda to work on technical assistance in rural agriculture programs. However ultimately the pandemic scuttled her plans to work in Rwanda and she shifted focus to pursuing internship experience in Japan, instead of overseas.

Yoko will be joining the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (MAFF) from January 2023 and to prepare for this new career, she will spend the fall working with Meros to deepen her experience in international agriculture development and learn advanced research skills.

Yoko discussed why she wanted to join Meros. “I was attracted by Meros’ value of “strength in diversity” and at the same time, I wanted to make good use of my educational background and work in agriculture. Initially, I was slightly anxious because everything was new and much of our communication is in English, but thanks to the kind support of Team Meros and intensive training, I had no trouble fitting into the environment.”

“I think Meros is the perfect environment to learn how to work in a professional office,  how to collect and analyze data efficiently, and understanding the skillset required to become consultants. Because Meros fosters communication among teammembers I can feel free to ask anything. I really hope to absorb new things every day and contribute to Team Meros.”

In addition to jumping into Meros projects on topics such as insect for animal feed and agtech adoption in rural Japan, Yoko will be looking into feasibility of increasing organic agriculture in Japan, a goal of the government under the new Green Food System Strategy.

“In Japan’s Green Food System Strategy, which was enacted this year, a bold goal was set to expand organic farming to 25% of arable land (1 million hectares) by 2050. In addition, utilization of organic farming and conversion to organic farming is being actively discussed worldwide due to soaring prices of chemical fertilizers and growing awareness of the environmental impact of various farming methods. In this project, I am hoping to pursue the possibilities and challenges of organic farming in Japan through comparisons with conventional farming and organic farming in other countries, and also to investigate what kind of technologies and strategies could be introduced for the development of organic farming in Japan.”

Outside of the office this fall, Yoko plans to continue her love of cooking Thai, Chinese and Korean dishes – the spicier the better! She is a also a big fan of American TV dramas and movies and plans to spend time this fall immersed in Middle Earth with the new Lord of the Rings series.

Meros welcomes Sonali Chauhan, our newest research analyst!

Meros is excited to welcome Sonali Chauhan as the newest member of our team.  Sonali joined us last month and is already deeply involved in a variety of Meros projects. She has a Ph.D. in agriculture development studies from the University of Tokyo and a background in botany.

Over the past decade, her projects have taken her to rural India and Japan, where she conducted field research and projects with communities in the forestry, agriculture, and fisheries sectors. She also worked on a national ecosystem assessment for the country of Grenada as part of a global initiative by UNEP-WCMC (UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre) to support biodiversity and ecosystem services. Grenada is the first Caribbean nation to participate in a national ecosystem assessment.

Sonali’s most recent work involved project management and capacity building for revitalization of the Fukushima region of Japan, a region deeply impacted by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, by forming a university alliance network under the Fukushima Coast Innovation Framework.

As an ethno-botanist, Sonali is fascinated by how human use of plants shapes society and culture. She is deeply interested in medicinal plants and curious about synergies between the agrifood and health industries. As a plant connoisseur, she loves trying and cooking different cuisines,  including Moroccan and Mexican,  making handmade skincare products and sharing interesting tidbits about plants.  Her green thumb has already allowed the many plants in the Meros office to thrive like never before.

“The reason I am most excited to join Meros is because it is a perfect match for my career expectations – both the work culture and the subject area,” Sonali explained recently.

“I knew I wanted to work in food and agriculture consulting and learn from an experienced team. Not only does Meros provide just that, but also after talking to the team, I felt right at home geeking out about plants and talking passionately about food! It was the first time during my job hunt that I met people who matched my wavelength so well. This sense of belonging and team culture, as well as my high regard for the vast knowledge and experience of the team, sealed the deal for me and I knew I HAD to work at Meros.”

“I think Team Meros is all about enabling people to be their best individual selves, each one contributing their strengths and creating impactful results with detailed and diverse perspectives. I am looking forward to deep dives into various new interesting topics and adding new vantage points to Meros projects from my own background and experience.”

Since joining us, Sonali has worked with us to support the business development of a cultured meat start-up in Japan, dug into agricultural e-commerce in India and joined the team creating a guide to Japanese e-commerce.

At the University of Tokyo, Sonali’s doctoral work focused on technology adoption and impact of small-scale cultivation of medicinal plants on a tribal community in India. She is fluent in English, Japanese, Hindi and Gujarati.