Announcing our bold, new campaign: "Cellular Agriculture for the Public Good."

We’re Bootstrapping the Future of Food – Here’s How

How does a charity bootstrap? We co-founded some of cell ag’s first companies and now we are re-investing in the future of food. It’s a “go big or go home” moment.

Published December 13, 2022 | Updated December 14, 2022 | Isha Datar

Hi there,

I have a story to tell you, before I explain how a truth ended up as a lie.

Back in April 2014, I co-founded a company called Perfect Day Foods with Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi (it was actually called Muufri at the time). 

I was about a year into my role as Executive Director at New Harvest and was growing incredibly impatient about the lack of real, material scientific advances happening in cellular agriculture. I never wanted the concept to be “just an idea”, or for New Harvest to be an org that just talked about nice ideas without executing on them.

At the time, the best means necessary for getting real scientific work done was to start a company and get some venture capital money. I remember thinking, worst case scenario, maybe we can at least come up with a little shot glass of milk that never came from an animal to inspire the world. And best case… well there was no upper limit to a best case.

Fast forward to us signing our first term sheet in a gigantic office tower looming over Hong Kong. With my pen above the paper, I decided it was best to hand over all of my personal shares as a co-founder to New Harvest. I knew, and I know, that this work is so, so, so, much bigger than what one company can do. I knew I could have a bigger impact focusing on catalyzing change on the non-profit side. Aggressively protecting my independence would help me achieve the impact I wanted to see.

Sure enough, within a matter of months I had the opportunity to co-found another company, called The EVERY Company (called Clara Foods at the time), with Arturo Elizondo and David Anchel. Same deal – I was happy to spark some new companies in the field but there was just too much to do on the non-profit side.

The super early days with the founders of Perfect Day, Ryan Pandya, Perumal Gandhi, and me, on the left; and the founders of Clara Foods, myself, Arturo Elizondo and David Anchel, on the right.

Here’s the lie: For the past decade I’ve said that I founded New Harvest without any family money or benefactor support. That was true until some months back, when the value of our stock in Perfect Day and The EVERY Company exceeded the value of our largest donation ever. On paper, I guess I am New Harvest’s biggest donor and benefactor.

Fast forward eight-ish years to the 2022 New Harvest Conference, at the start of the 2022 economic downturn. We had just spent the previous three years on a hardcore growth path, thanks to an escalating grant from Avina Stiftung and COVID-related stimulus. By 2022, we were hit with the worst giving environment we had ever seen. So many of our donors’ contributions are dependent on their investments, so when they’re down, we are too.

While we were able to secure enormous support from our community at the conference, it was also time for us to change strategy. For New Harvest to keep our level of impact high, we need to keep switching strategies to focus on the most neglected aspects of the field. We’ve had such success sparking the start-up community through Perfect Day and EVERY, and then, the academic community through our grants, that now we strongly believe that the field needs shared infrastructure at the level of government investments and financing in order to reach the next level. What would that take? Well, our ten year track record, for one. A strong, interconnected community, for two. And time.

As we know, time is money, and the grants that we are applying for, while they could be huge payouts for the field, they could also easily take a year or more just to be deliberated by the granting agencies.

That’s why we’re beginning to sell our stock, to carry us through this transition, which happens to come at a terrible time, economically speaking.

Why am I sharing this? Isn’t it a bit inside baseball?

Well I’m sharing this because we’re a public charity and you should know what we’re up to. I’m also sharing this so you know that your contributions aren’t going to an organization that is winding down or taking things easy by any means. 

We’re ramping up, in fact, just with fewer resources. And we’re ramping up because this is the moment when this work is needed, is important, and is most impactful.

Cellular agriculture will experience a slump. Look at what is happening to plant-based this year, where decreased sales and stock values are being blown out of proportion as a failure. This is going to happen to cellular agriculture as an inevitability of any tech development cycle. This moment matters because we must build the lasting foundations of this field before it happens. We must institutionalize cellular agriculture so that scientific progress will still be made when the tech is less popular and exciting as it is today.

I want the community to know that we believe this moment is so important for our work that we are reinvesting in our own organization, dipping into our reserves, so to speak, because this is the time when it matters most. 

I also hope this gives you confidence that your donation is not simply sustaining an organization through a tough market. It’s giving us the jet fuel we need to get to the next level.

I’m very happy to chat with anyone who’d like to better understand our thinking or our approach. These are big decisions informed by history, experience, and a finger to the wind. Your thoughts and reflections are always welcomed to guide our path forward. You can always reach me at the contact info below.

Thanks for joining us on this journey. What a wild ride!


Isha Datar
Executive Director, New Harvest | +1-780-236-5507

P.S. If you’ve like to see exactly where we plan to go over the next several years, check out our case for support.

P.P.S. If you’d like to co-invest in the future of food with us, donate today. All donations are currently being doubled. The moment is now!

About the Authors
Isha Datar is Executive Director at New Harvest