Bill Aimutis and Rohan Shirwaiker, Co-Directors at the Bezos Center for Sustainable Proteins

The Plantbased Business Hour

On The Plantbased Business Hour, Rohan Shirwaiker and Bill Aimutis, Co-Directors of the Bezos Earth Fund Bezos Center for Sustainable Proteins at North Carolina State University share the news about the new $30M grant for the center and its true and fast/slow approach to partnership, marrying food and science and addressing problems like food insecurity, planetary health and human health. It’s a true game changer and market signal.

Specifically, we discussed

  1. What is the intention of the first Bezos Center for Sustainable Protein hosted at North Carolina State University?
  2. What are the 3 points of focus for the award?
  3. What kind of time frame are we looking at for this to be executed?
  4. What partners are you working with, if any?
  5. Any hesitation about engineering and food together in the future?
  6. What predictions do you have for the sector?

Below is a highlight clip and transcription from our long-form conversation.

Elysabeth: My friend and pal, Bill Aimutis, and a new friend and pal, Rohan Shirwaiker. They are co-directors of the Bezos Center for Sustainable Proteins. Both of you, thank you for being here today.

Why is the Bezos Earth Center interested in food? They could invest in a range of things around sustainability. Why are they interested in food?

Bill Aimutis: I think Bezos looked at it as we have a challenge ahead of us in growing our food sustainably and manufacturing food on the long run sustainably. But we also recognize the fact that as the population starts approaching 10 billion people by the year 2050, we’re going to need about 50 to 60% more food and Mother Earth isn’t going to be able to sustain itself if we continue along the path that we’re on. So as you look at the mission of the Bezos Food of the Future objective, it is to increase our food security in a sustainable manner and prevent further climate change from occurring.

Elysabeth: You know, I don’t believe in silver bullets, but those are a lot of things with one sector. I mean, you just went through them really quickly, but they’re all sort of life affirming or life imploding sectors. So could you repeat those three please and if you could maybe even put them in order?

Bill Aimutis: Sure, I would say that first it’s to be able to grow and produce food in a sustainable manner, which does less damage to our planet. In the long run, reducing or slowing down some of the climate changes that we’re seeing. But then third of all, to make sure that we have a secure food supply for 10 billion people by the year 2050.

Elysabeth: So my question goes to Rohan. Okay, so now we know why Bezos is interested in food. It makes sense. Why North Carolina? I think of North Carolina, correct me if I’m wrong, as the largest pig farming state in the U.S.

Rohan Shirwaiker: So I think North Carolina has been at the forefront of agricultural innovation for a long time. What we are talking about through the Bezos Center is just another new generation of innovations that we need to further strengthen our food system. NC State as a university is hosting the center. We have a long line of expertise in food bioprocessing and biomanufacturing, and really strong ties with the local agricultural community. So we have to leverage all of these ties that we have in the science and education and community outreach that we do.

The other big factor here is also the industry ecosystem in North Carolina. If you look at the sector, the food tech, the ag tech sector, specifically to alternative protein companies, this domain is really growing here in the research triangle and North Carolina as a whole. So I think it was an obvious choice and a nice investment from the Bezos Earth Fund to invest in this center here in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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