Startups

Zume co-founder goes from pizza to climate-friendly food with $2.7 million in funding

Comment

Before leaving SoftBank-backed Zume Pizza in November 2018, co-founder Julia Collins knew what her next move would be: climate-friendly food. Today, Collins is announcing Planet FWD’s $2.7 million seed round led by BBG Ventures with participation from Cleo Capital, Cowboy Ventures, Precursor Ventures, Kapor Capital and others.

What’s unique about this round, Collins told TechCrunch, is that 99.5% of the funds came from people of color and/or women. That was deliberate, she said. What’s also deliberate is the startup’s mission to combat climate change by building a climate-friendly food platform and snack brand.

“For me, the question has always been, how can we reform our food systems so that they work better for people and work better for the planet?” Collins said. “That’s been the thread that has connected all of my work in food. It’s always been how can we change the existing infrastructure and the ways of doing business so that we create better outcomes.”

In 2017, Collins learned she was about to become a parent — something she hadn’t expected. That’s what led to, what she describes as, a sudden shift in consciousness where she realized she would soon become responsible for another human being.

“When I learned I was going to be a parent, I decided I was going to become a climatarian,” Collins said. “So that meant not just being a vegetarian or living a plant-based lifestyle, but wanting to live a planet-based lifestyle. So I went from being a plant-based eater to a climatarian. So I started thinking about how I could make food choices that would have better outcomes for the climate.”

This is where the focus on regenerative agriculture comes in. Regenerative agriculture is a farming technique that aims to reverse the effects of climate change by capturing carbon in soil and aboveground biomass, which ultimately increases biodiversity, enriches soils and improves watersheds. But unlike organic foods, where those specific farms are relatively well-known and identified, that can’t be said for regenerative agriculture. This is where the food platform comes in.

“When it came to the regenerative food landscape, nothing had been codified or mapped yet,” Collins said. “And so, as I started to pull together the ingredients for my climate-friendly snacks, I amassed this really exhaustive library of all this information about these farms. And I thought that was really interesting because anybody who wants to create a climate-friendly food product needs a universal set of information that just wasn’t available. And here I was building it in a little spreadsheet. And so I looked up and I realized this is actually software that I’m building.”

It’s this software that is powering Planet FWD’s food production. The startup’s first product is a cracker, which launches later this year. The next product will likely be chips, Collins said.

“A lot of what we’re doing with this snack product is engaging consumers and trying out this climate-friendly positioning to see whether or not it actually resonates with people,” she said.

Ideally, Planet FWD will be able to show there’s consumer demand for climate-friendly products, Collins said. From there, she hopes that would encourage more farmers to implement these regenerative agriculture practices. At this point, it’s unclear how many farms are focused on regenerative agriculture, but Collins has so far identified hundreds of them.

Since leaving Zume, the robotic pizza company has struggled. Earlier this year, the company was forced to lay off 360 employees and shut down its pizza-making and delivery business. Now, the company is focused solely on food packaging.

“It was very, very hard for me to decide to step away,” Collins said about leaving Zume. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do professionally. I’ve had a year-and-a-half to make my peace and find distance from it, but it’s been difficult and painful to see. At some point, you have to look back and it’s hard to look back and know that I don’t have any control or influence around anything that’s happening now — either the way that it’s being messaged or the actual function of the company. I’m still an owner in the company, and I still have hope they’re going to get to a really good outcome. But I am powerless.”

Now and in the foreseeable future, Collins will be focused on climate-friendly foods and food production.

“All of us have to eat every day, but what if as a result of our eating, we were able to actually draw down carbon and reverse climate change. Much of what we talk about in terms of solutions are consume less and produce less but when it comes to food we all need to eat. What if, as a result of the way you ate, you could actually contribute to the solution.”

More TechCrunch

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares