Billionaire Peter Thiel backs vegan pet food startup developing lab-grown mouse meat

PayPal founder Peter Thiel has invested nearly $500,000 in a vegan pet food startup called Wild Earth aimed at disrupting traditional pet food companies.

The Berkeley, California-based biotech company said on Monday it has successfully completed its seed round of fundraising with an investment by Thiel and his venture capital firm, Founders Fund. To date, the company has raised more than $5 million.

Wild Earth’s goal is to develop protein food products for both cats and dogs using fungi and lab-grown meat from mouse cells.

The company’s CEO, Ryan Bethencourt, told FOX Business its first dog treat, which will be made from an ancient Asian protein called koji, will be available in late August.

“Our treats are a mix of high-quality, plant-based ingredients like oats, peanut butter, pumpkin and koji,” Bethencourt said.

“Koji (aspergillus oryzae) is an ancient Asian protein, a member of the fungi kingdom that’s known as the ‘food of the gods’ in Japan for its beneficial properties. We develop and brew koji in our bioreactors to usher in a new era of better pet food made with science.”

Koji also contains all 10 essential amino acids dogs require and is 45% protein by weight, compared to steak, which is only 24%.

But the company isn’t stopping there. It is also working on developing cultured meat for cats using mouse cells.

Bethencourt said he pitched Thiel two months ago about investing and focused on the sheer scale of the problem of feeding hundreds of millions of new dogs and cats over the next few decades.

“The scale of the challenge is staggering. In the U.S., we have 180 million dogs and cats. Globally, in the next 30 years, we’ll likely see another billion dogs and cats brought into existence as the world’s population grows and rises out of poverty,” he said.

He said that one of two things is likely to happen: Either “we’ll have a world very hungry for protein or we’ll see pet ownership skyrocket.”

And according to Bethencourt, Thiel immediately saw an opportunity to create an entirely new and scalable way of making protein through the company’s technology.

“To my surprise, he deeply understood the growth of the pet food market, not just in the U.S., which is a $30 billion market size and growing rapidly, but also globally. China alone has seen a roughly 100% growth rate last year in pet ownership,” he said.