For making a plant-based burger that is very close to meat--and gets closer each year.
Why It's Disruptive
Ethan Brown, the founder of Beyond Meat, is maniacally focused on getting protein out of plants--and into a form that will be indistinguishable from meat. To him, a plant-based "meat" is the key to better feeding the world's population and dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a large percentage of which are attributed to livestock. Brown won't say how much money he's raised to do this (investors include Bill Gates, General Mills, and Tyson Foods), but he's employing 25 food scientists, and more than 75 other staffers, to figure it out. "This is a global problem, and it requires massive resources," says Brown.
Beyond Meat already makes substitutes for ground beef and chicken fingers sold in 11,000 stores, including Target, Safeway, and Kroger. But last summer, it introduced its Beyond Burger--the company's plant-based answer to hamburgers--to rave reviews. Brown insists on selling the Beyond Burger in only the meat case of supermarkets, turning down chains that insist the Beyond Burger must be in the "meat alternatives" section. The Beyond Burger is in about 675 Whole Foods and Safeway locations, and 30 locations of a fast-food restaurant. "We're not going to be selling in the meat case for long," says Brown. "It's going to be the protein case."
The massive resources required include not only brainpower, but also a supply chain. "We're trying to build a feedstock portfolio, and the supply chain is amazingly immature," says Brown, which means, among other things, that Beyond Burgers run $5.99 for two four-ounce patties, more expensive than ground beef. The processes for getting protein out of plants are mostly designed to create animal feed. Brown would like to grow legumes for Beyond Meat in the same region that the products will eventually be sold in, but right now, he's getting supplies from Canada and France. --Kimberly Weisul
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the number of grocers and fast-food restaurants that carry Beyond Meat burgers. The story has been updated.
Provides options and products that overcome the taboos about menstruation and reproductive health.
For designing a $139,000 tiny home aimed at modern city dwellers.
Why It's Disruptive
As an environmental sciences professor at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Jeff Wilson lived for a year in a dumpster as part of project designed to rethink home design and sustainable living. It proved to be excellent training for his next act: co-founding Kasita, a company that makes a hip, $139,000 tiny home designed for modern urban dwellers. Wilson sees the 350-square-foot home--complete with clever storage nooks, a Sonos sound system, and washer and dryer--as a potential solution in cities such as San Francisco and New York that face a serious affordable housing crunch. The Kasitas can function as granny flats in a backyard, but his bigger vision is to stack them on top of each other in "racks" on small and oddly shaped city lots. Wilson says he's currently in discussions with San Francisco and other cities interested in the stacks.
To get maximum functionality and livability in such a tiny footprint, Wilson leaned more on industrial designers than architects for Kasita's design. The homes feature plenty of glass for natural light and high ceilings that help them feel more spacious. "My head quality person used to make a Cadillac a minute," Wilson says. That's relevant because he says Kasitas are designed to be manufactured more like cars and shipped on 18-wheelers. The first Kasitas is expected to start shipping in July and the company aims to make 10 by the end of 2017.
To make good on the promise that these can be affordable housing solutions, the company needs to lock down deals with major urban cities and wade through the requisite permitting red tape in each state. Then the challenge is whether Kasita can operate efficiently and stay ahead of the capital demands needed to manufacture the units quickly. And while there is certainly an allure to tiny homes and the simplicity they represent, it's unclear just how big the demand for them will be. --Lindsay Blakely
For leading the movement to grow food more sustainably with zero soil and very little water.
Why It's Disruptive
Farming requires vast swaths of land and 70 percent of the country's freshwater supply, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. AeroFarms is eliminating the former and using very little of the latter by bringing the farms indoors. The plants' roots are embedded in a patented reusable cloth material and sprayed with nutrient-rich mist--letting AeroFarms use 95 percent less water than is used on traditional farms. The aeroponic farms, which the company owns and operates, can be built in places where land isn't optimal for growing or clean water is at a premium. The startup has nine full-scale operations, and it currently grows crops on four continents.
AeroFarms collects hundreds of thousands of data points at each farm, and can tweak temperature and humidity to optimize yield. The company uses lighting that can be adjusted easily to control for taste, texture, color, and nutrition. The result is a facility that produces 130 times more crop per square foot than the average field farm. And the company's newest facility, in Newark, New Jersey, will be the world's largest indoor farm by output.
Critics say that the electricity needed to power indoor farms is not only expensive but also produces a massive carbon footprint, making them less environmentally friendly than they at first seem. While AeroFarms brought in the former CTO of Energy Focus, an LED lighting company, to design a custom energy-efficient lighting system, the company still needs to economies of scale to make the whole operation profitable. --Kevin J. Ryan
Blue River Technology
For building smart farming machines that massively reduce the amount of chemicals required to grow food.
Why It's Disruptive
Blue River Technology has spent five years figuring out how best to apply cutting-edge computing "vision" to the realm of agriculture. The company makes machines that let farmers target individual plants with herbicides, which eliminates the need to spray whole fields all at once, reduces the spread on chemicals, and helps maximize seed yield. Blue River says that its devices are capable of reducing by up to 90 percent the chemicals farmers use, and that they are currently operating on 10 percent of the lettuce grown in the U.S.
Blue River likens its go-to-market strategy to Tesla's method of focusing on the high end of the market first. The company is starting with high-value, high-maintenance crops like lettuce and cotton; by 2018 the team plans to address the "mass market" of corn, soybeans, and wheat. The analogy doesn't stop there—Blue River also uses some of the same tech inside self-driving cars, especially when it comes to processing images so that the company's machines can "see" plants.
As a venture-funded startup, Blue River Technology will need to scale quickly. Expanding its customer base, which involves teaching new customers how to use Blue River's robots effectively, will take time. Plus, it's significantly more difficult and costly to build custom hardware, which has to be just right when it's launched, than it is to roll out software that can be tweaked and updated continually. --Sonya Mann