September 10, 2021
BENZINGA — Wild Earth Inc., the Berkeley-based plant-based dog food company, has completed a new funding round of more than $23 million from an investor line-up headlined by Mark Cuban.
What Happened: Cuban first invested in Wild Earth in 2019 after CEO Ryan Bethencourt appeared on the television series “Shark Tank” and closed an on-air deal with Cuban.
Joining Cuban in the new funding round are “Vampire Diaries” actor Paul Wesley; Big Idea Ventures, which includes Tom Mastrobuoni, an early investor and former board member in Beyond Meat Inc; At One Ventures founded by GoogleX co-founder Tom Chi; Veginvest; Bitburger Ventures and Gaingels.
The Background Story: In an exclusive interview with Benzinga, Bethencourt addressed a potential concern that a plant-based dog food might not provide proper nutrition for animals that have traditionally been fed meat-based foods.
“Dogs are omnivores,” Bethencourt said, noting that canine dietary needs are based primarily on the need for protein. “We are plant-based dog food company, but one of our key innovations was how do we get a high protein product to pet parents, and we came across the idea of fermentation.”
Bethencourt explained that yeast offers a 40% protein level versus meat with a 30% level.
“The innovation was that we used yeast a primary protein source for our for our dog food,” he continued. “It’s high in protein and high in the amino acids that dogs require. They need 10 essential amino acids.”
Bethencourt stated the new funding will help finance the company’s next initiative in creating cell-based meat pet food. He pointed out that cell-based meat is already for sale for human consumption in Singapore while researchers in Israel and Qatar are in pursuit of their respective cell-based meat initiatives.
“It’s a game-changer and we’re working on that technology,” he said.
Why It Matters: Bethencourt added that improving the quality of dog food can contribute to canine longevity. He noted problems in many dog foods related to content that is not always properly labeled.
“Even though something is labeled as beef, it’s actually not beef,” he said. “It’s actually a euthanized horse. It’s cheap meat that goes to the render.”
If that’s not distasteful enough, there is more dangerous element: the drug used to euthanize the horse doesn’t always get destroyed in the rendering process and can find its way into the dog foods being sold.
“You can look it up. There are literally millions of units of multiple brands that have had these recalls, so the meat is contaminated,” he said. “In addition, the FDA has found a plastic that has been put into the food of the dogs. When meat goes bad in the grocery store, it’s not good for humans but it’s still usable in the pet food industry. The stuff that’s wrapped in plastic with Styrofoam is shipped off to the renders and then guess what happens next? The renders, don’t take off the plastic because it’s a biohazard.”
What Happens Next: Looking forward, Bethencourt is planning to expand the Wild Earth product line in 2022 to include plant-based cat food. Also on his agenda, albeit without a specific deadline, is a plan to take his company public.
“We think we can be a global company that has a really positive impact,” he said. “One of the drivers for starting Wild Earth is in the name. I think we can reduce the environmental footprint of our pets, feed them healthier food and give more of the land back to nature.”
Bethencourt is also looking forward to continuing his working relationship with Cuban, whom he describes as a hands-on, highly interested participant in his dream.
“I email back and forth with Mark every week,” he said. “Earlier this week, he sent me kind of a ranting email about how I need to get into the metaverse. He has been one of the reasons why we’ve been so commercially successful across the U.S. He really understands the U.S. consumer, unlike most venture investors who are not really plugged in with the average person is thinking.”