Canadian-led, California-based Joyful Ventures closes $23 million USD to back sustainable protein startups

Joyful Ventures co-founders and general partners Blaine Vess, Jennifer Stojkovic, and Milo Runkle.
Joyful has backed two firms with Canadian roots: New School Foods and Orbillion Bio.

Joyful Ventures’ Jennifer Stojkovic believes we can help tackle the climate crisis by changing what’s on our plates.

Alongside fellow co-founders and general partners Milo Runkle and Blaine Vess, Canadian-born and raised Stojkovic has launched a California-based venture capital (VC) firm to invest in startups developing more environmentally-friendly alternatives to meat.

Joyful has secured a first close of $23 million USD for its first fund focused on early-stage companies operating in the sustainable protein and food tech space. The fund, for which Joyful ultimately hopes to raise $25 million, will target pre-seed and seed-stage startups developing plant-based, precision fermentation, mycoproteins, molecular agriculture, and cultivated—or lab-grown—technologies.

“I believe Canada can and should be a global hub for sustainable food innovation.”
– Jennifer Stojkovic, Joyful Ventures

“We launched in late 2022 to catalyze investment in the future of food 2.0,” Stojkovic told BetaKit. “We believe that this industry has matured and now reached its next era of investment opportunity.”

To date, Joyful has invested in two Canadian-founded companies: New School Foods, a Toronto-based startup developing plant-based seafood, and Orbillion Bio, a San Francisco-headquartered cultivated meat company led by a Canadian founder.

Joyful’s first close comes during the economic downturn, which Stojkovic described as “an incredibly difficult time to raise” for both the VC firm and early-stage startups operating in the sustainable protein and food tech space it aims to serve.

Collectively, Stojkovic, Runkle, and Vess have made over 60 angel and early-stage investments and bring over 40 years of experience in the sustainable protein and food tech space.

Stojkovic is the author of the book The Future of Food is Female and the founder of Vegan Women Summit, a media and events platform for women founders, investors, and advocates in food, fashion, beauty, and biotech. Stojkovic also claims to advise and work with some of the world’s biggest plant-based brands, including Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.

Runkle founded Mercy for Animals and co-founded the Good Food Institute. He also previously launched New Crop Capital, a $40-million fund and early investor in Beyond Meat and Upside Foods, among other firms. For his part, Vess co-founded and led Student Brands and Solve, a pair of tech firms acquired by Barnes and Noble Education and Blacklane.

Joyful’s advisory team and limited partners include some notable players from the sector, including Oatly co-founder Bjorn Oste, Shiok Meats CEO Sandhya Sriram, Indie Bio co-founder and Wild Earth CEO Ryan Bethencourt, and Every CEO Arturo Elizondo. In the sustainable protein and food tech industry, Joyful claims to be the “only LGBTQ and woman-led [VC] firm.”

RELATED: After selling startup to Instacart, New School Foods founder raises $15.9 million CAD to create plant-based meat

Eating meat, which comes with ethical concerns and health risks, also represents a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions for the planet. Per a 2021 study published in Nature, worldwide production of food is responsible for a third of all planet-heating gasses emitted by human activity, with the use of animals for meat causing twice the pollution of producing plant-based options.

“The world’s expected 10 billion people in 2050 can be fed with sustainable proteins made with plants, fermentation, and cultivated cells,” Stojkovic argued. “These technologies should use substantially less water, land, and energy while emitting a fraction of the methane and CO2 as conventional animal proteins.”

A wide range of companies looking to develop more environmentally-friendly alternatives to traditional meat that do not require animals to be killed has emerged in recent years, including New School Foods and Kitchener-Waterloo’s Evolved Meats.

However, the market for alternative meat has cooled recently. Demand for products masquerading as meat has plateaued, and companies in the space, ranging from small operators to big players like Beyond Meat, have experienced growing pains with consumers and investors alike.

RELATED: Meet the biotech startup that received funding from both Garage Capital and Maple Leaf Foods

Even as some other investors pull back from the sector, Joyful remains bullish on the potential of sustainable protein options and their possible long-term impact on the planet.

“The future is full of multi-billion dollar, world-changing sustainable protein companies, whose founders are currently facing critical challenges, particularly in the pre-seed and seed stage,” said Stojkovic.

Joyful intends to back around 20 companies total through the fund, with a target investment size of $500,000 to $1 million per firm. Stojkovic noted that Joyful also intends to back more Canadian startups.

“I believe Canada can and should be a global hub for sustainable food innovation, and will continue to invest in more Canadian companies,” said Stojkovic, who added that the Government of Canada’s commitment to plant-based protein capacity “makes Canada a strong contender for a future global leader in the new food system.”

Feature image courtesy Joyful Ventures.

Josh Scott

Josh Scott

Josh Scott is a BetaKit reporter focused on telling in-depth Canadian tech stories and breaking news. His coverage is more complete than his moustache. He was also the winner of SABEW Canada’s 2023 Jeff Sanford Best Young Journalist award.

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