Now Reading
Cardiologist Turned Entrepreneur:  Dr. Uma Valeti, Founder, CEO of UPSIDE Foods, Makes Meat Healthier to Save Lives

Cardiologist Turned Entrepreneur:  Dr. Uma Valeti, Founder, CEO of UPSIDE Foods, Makes Meat Healthier to Save Lives

  • The Indian American ventured into the industry to do better with how foods come to the table, to have a lower impact on the environment and make foods more healthier.

As more and more states in the U.S. are looking to ban or restrict the sale of cultivated meat and seafood, Dr. Uma Valeti is making it his mission to stress the advantages of growing meat, poultry, and seafood out of cells, without the need to raise and slaughter animals.

The Indian American cardiologist is the founder of California-based UPSIDE Foods, described by Wired as “among the best-funded startups in the cultivated meat industry.” It is also one of only two firms that is cleared to sell its product in the country. The sale of “cell-cultivated” or “cell-cultured” meat was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2023. The other company selling similar products is another California company, Good Meat.

Valeti  became concerned about food-borne illnesses from eating meat and contamination issues in slaughterhouses, according to Golden Research Engine. As a cardiologist, he wanted to improve people’s health. “I got into cardiology because I wanted to positively impact human health,” he said. In 2005, during his practice in interventional cardiology at Mayo Clinic, he worked on repairing muscle tissue of the heart with stem cells. That’s when realized “stem cells can be used to grow animal muscle tissue or meat as well.”

He founded UPSIDE Foods in 2016 as Memphis Meats. It is funded by billionaire investors including Richard Branson and Bill Gates.

Last week, Valeti hosted an event in Miami, Florida. “This is delicious meat,” he told the guests at the reception hosted just before the state’s ban on the sale of cultivated meat takes effect this month, according to the Associated Press. “And we just fundamentally believe that people should have a choice to choose what they want to put on their plate.”

At UPSIDE, “cultivated products are grown in steel tanks using cells from a living animal, a fertilized egg, or a storage bank,” according to the company’s website. “The cells are fed with special blends of water, sugar, fats, and vitamins. Once they’ve grown, they’re formed into cutlets, nuggets, and other shapes.”

He also told his guests that Florida officials never reached out to his company before Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the ban into law in May. “It’s pretty clear to us that the governor and the government have been misinformed,” Valeti said, per the AP. “And all we’re asking for is a chance to have a direct conversation and say, ‘this is proven science, this is proven safety.’”

Alabama has also implemented the ban, the AP noted, adding that “other states and federal lawmakers also are looking to restrict it, arguing the product could hurt farmers and pose a safety risk to the public.”

However, despite Valeti’s outreach efforts to mainstream his company’s products, he’s had to cut its workforce in the wake of the ongoing bans and “significant downturn in venture capital funding,” Wired reported today (July 1). In an email sent to employees, he wrote that 26 people would leave the company and that executive and leadership teams would be restructured. “Our focus must now narrow to a tighter set of priorities that pave the way for our product launches in the next two years,” the Wited reported, citing the email. “We need to deliver on the work that remains, especially on critical milestones that are yet to be hit or are delayed.” He also mentioned that the company was pausing its “large-scale tissue program.” In the email, Valeti also called out the difficulties currently facing his industry. “Uncertainty related to political, regulatory, and macroeconomic headwinds requires us to be even more deliberate and conscious with our focus and resources,” he wrote, per Wired.

Valeti sees his move from medicine to manufactured meat as a continuum. “I’m able to save many more lives than I would if I continued practicing as a cardiologist, he told Food Dive magazine. “The opportunity and the potential was really hard to ignore,” he said, adding that he kept thinking somebody else could do it or would do it.” He admitted to encouraging a lot of people to do it, but he couldn’t get anyone else to quit their very promising career and take a chance on something that was still in the realm of science fiction. So he took the leap of faith. “I didn’t want to look back 20 years from now and say, ‘Hey, I should have done it.’”

See Also

His core inspiration to start UPSIDE Foods was his desire to do better with how foods come to the table. He loves being a physician, he said, “but to be able to provide an opportunity to have a lower impact on the environment and also be able to make foods healthier than they are right now.”

He was driven by three important reasons to start the cultivated meat company. “One is kindness to fellow life, number two is the opportunity to decrease the enormous and unquestionable environmental impact from growing animals, and the third one is what if we can make meat healthier.” He described these as “a powerful draw” that enabled him “to walk away from my position and the profession I love — cardiology. It’s literally at the front lines, saving lives of patients that are in cardiac arrest or heart attacks. “

Valeti grew up in rural India “My parents come from a very humble background; we were a farming family,” he said to Food Dive. “My mom was the first person in her family who went to college, to learn physics and graduate,” he said. He also recalled building their “own home from the ground up — laying that foundation brick by brick.”

He attended medical school at the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) in Pondicherry. After residencies at Wayne State and SUNY Buffalo, he completed three fellowships at the Mayo Clinic where he completed Cardiology, Interventional Cardiology, and Advanced Cardiovascular Imaging training. 

He teaches Cardiovascular Medicine at Stanford University. In 2019, he was named a “Global Thinker of the Decade” by Foreign Policy magazine.

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure
View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© 2020 American Kahani LLC. All rights reserved.

The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
Scroll To Top