Synthetic biology will propel city ahead

money-glitz | Staff reporter 8 Nov 2021

Billionaire Li Ka-shing's private investment firm Horizons Ventures will work with local firms to continue supporting the synthetic biology industry, as it believes this science will be the next big technological innovation and could help reindustrialize Hong Kong.

Established in 2002, Horizons Ventures been investing in synthetic biology since 2013, and is especially focused on extraction technology, says co-founder Solina Chau Hoi-shuen.

Chau says Horizons has invested in biodegradable or compostable packaging and animal-free leather - products that can be scaled up to production levels for the commercial market.

If there's no scale, there's no impact, she explains.

In September, Horizons invested in the Series A funding of London-based startup Notpla, a company that uses seaweed and other plants to create edible packaging for food and drinks, which will biodegrade naturally in four to six weeks.

One of Notpla's edible and biodegradable products is called Ooho, a bubble-like sachet made from seaweed which can be used for water or other drinks at sporting events or music festivals.

Ooho was handed to runners at the 2019 London Marathon instead of plastic bottles.

Notpla also has other alternatives to plastics, such as a seaweed-lined box which can be used instead of plastic containers or plastic-lined board boxes in the takeaway sector.

Horizons has also invested in Erthos, a firm which produces single-use plastics that are 100 percent compostable. Chau says Horizons will promote Erthos's products to many companies to enable fully compostable tableware to be used in fast-food restaurants next year.

Modern Meadow, in which Horizons invested back in 2014, is known for its lab-grown leather without the use of animal hides.

The start-up will offer the first products to consumers globally in March next year, partnering with luxury handbag brand Senreve.

Perfect Day, a US-based dairy company that is also backed by Horizons, launched a range of vegan cakes last month made with its animal-free whey protein in place of eggs.

It also unveiled a vegan ice-cream mix called Ice Age! in Hong Kong in collaboration with Igloo Dessert Bar earlier this year, using its animal-free whey.

Hong Kong must reindustrialize itself as it is vital for the future of young people, says Chau, adding that Li has been a strong advocate for developing synthetic biology in Hong Kong since 2013.

Horizons has worked with local firms, as in the case of Ice Age!, and will continue to invite more local firms to co-operate in the synthetic biology sector and try to give Hong Kong companies unique competitiveness, Chau added.

Horizons is also placing its bets on hydrogen power, by backing ZeroAvia, a hydrogen-electric aircraft developer.

ZeroAvia has partnered with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries RJ Aviation Group - one of the world's largest companies for the maintenance, repair and overhaul of CRJ series aircraft - to develop fuel cell-powered regional jets, including retrofit solutions.

It has also joined hands with Alaska Airlines to develop a hydrogen powertrain for 76-seat zero-emission plane with a range of more than 500 miles.

Horizons participated in ZeroAvia's Series A funding in November 2020 and led a US$25 million (HK$194.54 million) round of fundraising in March this year.

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