Wanda Fish navigates VC waters to catch $7M for production of cultivated bluefin tuna | TechCrunch

Wanda Fish Technologies, an Israeli food tech startup, secured $7 million in seed funding to accelerate the initial production of cultivated bluefin tuna.

Cultivated, or cell-cultivated, technology involves creating animal proteins from cells without the need to slaughter the animal. The cells are grown in a bioreactor, most often using fermentation techniques in the similar way beer is made.

In Wanda Fish’s case, the company aims to create whole-cut cultivated fish filets, starting with bluefin tuna, using muscle and fat cells to replicate the texture, flavor and nutritional value of wild-caught fish, Daphna Heffetz, company co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch.

“We are one of the very few companies that succeeded, without any prior knowledge, in making bluefin, which is highly demanded and one of the tastiest fish,” Heffetz said. “However, it is also one of the most contaminated ones. Many companies are trying to do them, but we will succeed based on our dynamic and the fact that we are very experienced people attacking the problem from various ideas.”

The company joins BlueNalu, which has raised over $80 million so far, in working on bluefin tuna, particularly the premium-priced toro cut. In 2022, BlueNalu CFO Amir Feder said its “projected 75% gross margin within the first year of production of our large-scale facility is unheard of in the food industry.” Feder expected to open the company’s first commercial facility in 2027.

Wanda Fish was co-founded in 2021 by Heffetz and food tech incubator The Kitchen Hub, which was created by Strauss-Group. Prior to joining Wanda Fish, Heffetz, who holds a PhD in biochemistry, spent 20 years at the helm of biotechnology companies, including PhytoTech Therapeutics. She is joined by stem cell and genomic engineering expert Malkiel Cohen and Yaron Sfadyah.

It has an exclusive licensing and sponsored research agreement with Tufts University and is also working with David Kaplan, a Tufts biomedical engineering professor and cellular agriculture expert.

The company is still in pretty early stages, though Heffetz said it has made progress toward achieving a whole-cut prototype by forming a 3D filet structure using bluefin tuna cells, differentiated into both muscle and fat tissues. With its proprietary technology, Wanda Fish can precisely control fat levels in its end products so that it can eventually create other cuts, including the toro cut.

The $7 million round was led by Aqua-Spark which was joined by existing investors The Kitchen Hub, Peregrine Ventures, LLC, PICO Venture Partners, MOREVC and CPT Capital, LLP. To date, Wanda Fish has raised $10 million in venture-backed funding.

This new capital will enable Wanda Fish to optimize its technology and accelerate the scalability of its cultivated whole-cut filet of bluefin tuna prototype.

Heffetz expects to begin obtaining its regulatory approvals from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies at the beginning of 2025 and then selling into restaurants in 2026.

“We will now scale up production and work on the cost parity,” Heffetz said. “We will also collaborate with big food companies for distribution. Our core technology is being done in-house, but we need to collaborate to get to market as fast as possible.”

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