Not long after our 2017 edition wrapped last October at Pioneer Works, Morgan, Isha and I put our heads down once more to begin planning our 2018 event. This time around, we decided to hold the conference in Boston — a city that we’ve been spending more time in lately, and that we have really been growing to love! We had been offered the MIT Media Lab as a venue and were beyond excited to host the vibrant local academic and biotech communities in such a beautiful space.
With less than a year to go, we started to put the programming together — not an easy feat, given how important it is for us to include new topics, speakers, and perspectives every year, but definitely one that we were well-equipped to take on. Our audience is becoming increasingly large and diverse, and we wanted to make sure not only that there was something for everyone, but that the content was fresh, accessible, and provocative: technical talks for the scientists, more perspectives from the farming community and meat industry, insights from the worlds of fermentation and algae, an industry overview for investors, and discussions about hot topics like openness, IP, and the future regulation of foods produced via cellular agriculture.
We designed our exhibition hall to be filled to the brim with opportunities to meet and interact with new and familiar cellular agriculture (and cell ag adjacent) startups, researchers, and sensory experiences. It turns out that this year has been a particularly active one for new startups, and they were very well represented at New Harvest 2018. New cellular agriculture companies like Because Animals, Higher Steaks, Kiran Meats, New Age Meats, and Seafuture Sustainable Biotech joined relative old-timers Geltor, Finless Foods, Ecovative, nonfood, and Ginkgo Bioworks.
Instrument startups SunP Biotech and Incuvers presented their animal cell culture-compatible bioprinters and incubators alongside research posters on topics including vascularization, a vast array of scaffolding materials, production of chocolate from cultured Theobroma cacao cells, and the regulatory outlook for cellular agriculture. International Flavors & Fragrances returned with a chicken-flavored chewing gum(!), and attendees also got to snack on Arctic Apples’ new and proudly GMO ApBitz product with a side of Soylent.
It’s very difficult to pick just one highlight out of such a memorable weekend, but I have to say that getting to work with our volunteers (some of whom had helped out in 2016 and 2017 too!) was a real treat. It was so cool to get to meet some of our newer community members, and to get updates on what a few of the veterans have been up to — both in and outside of cell ag — as the years have gone by. We’re very grateful to have such a dedicated, hard-working group of volunteers who are eager to lend us their impressive array of skills. Back in 2016, I joked that the backend view of putting the first conference on felt kind of like planning a wedding. Now that we’ve been at it for a few years, it’s starting to feel a little bit more like a family reunion!
This year I also shared a special moment of reflection with an attendee named Aryé, who has been active in cellular agriculture for quite a long time. We had first met at the 2015 cultured beef conference in Maastricht, when he was a medical student and I was a law student. At the time, we were simply two curious observers who weren’t totally sure to what depth we might get involved in the field after we finished school. Neither of us had any idea that just a few years later, Aryé would go on to start his own cultured meat company (Wild Type!) and that we would one day be reminiscing about that first encounter at a packed cellular agriculture conference at the MIT Media Lab. It really makes you think about all the possibilities that were put in motion and are now unfolding after this year’s meetup!
Since we all parted ways after the wrap party on the 21st, New Harvest has been absolutely flooded with messages of gratitude and congratulations from attendees, speakers, exhibitors, and even those who participated via livestream (shoutout to Alex and Cyrus of the Cultured Meat and Future Food podcast for making that possible!). Lots of you have called our 2018 conference our best one yet… and as much as I loved 2016 and 2017, I have to not-so-secretly agree!
As one can imagine, planning and executing on the conference each year takes a lot of work. Amazingly, it is still primarily myself, Morgan, and Isha who are responsible for putting it together — and this year we were lucky enough to have the help of our superstar summer intern, Michela, in the lead-up as well. Knowing that our efforts are appreciated and enjoyed so much by the community is incredibly meaningful and energizing as we start to think about how to knock it even further out of the park the next time around.
Many thanks to all of those who had a hand in making this year’s conference the incredible success that it was: our sponsors (IFF, Stray Dog Capital, VegInvest, Soylent, The Shuttleworth Foundation, and Rebel Bio) for their generous financial support; Claudia Robaina, Jess Sousa, and Bill Lombardi at the MIT Media Lab; each and every one of our speakers and exhibitors; Meera Zassenhaus, our Sli.do operator for three years running; all of our fabulous volunteers; Arctic Apples and Lagunitas for providing us with goodies; our media partner, Antenna Group; all of our attendees for contributing to the wonderfully collegial vibe; and Morgan and Michela for being such a joy to work with.
Looking forward to next year!!