Hedgehog – Growing Robotic (Eating) Mushrooms

A little off topic but we presume the tech could be applied to pharma as well so it makes a good little read on the Easter weekend.

When a classmate at Stanford connected Jamie Balsillie and Wilson Ruotolo, it was a classic founder meet-cute: Balsillie was pursuing his MBA with aspirations of revolutionizing the agtech industry, while Ruotolo was busy engineering robotic hands in a lab across campus. 

With their complementary skill sets and shared passions, the two co-founders dreamed up Hedgehog, a startup aimed at changing the way mushrooms are grown and harvested.

The company, founded in February 2022, has raised more than $4m so far and is backed by Y Combinator.

Balsillie and Ruotolo believe mushrooms have the potential to change how we eat: They are protein-rich and nutritious (making them a strong plant-based alternative to meat), can be grown sustainably using very little water and power, and have the ability to recycle food waste.

But farming infrastructure is not currently advanced enough to grow and harvest mushrooms effectively. While portobello and button mushrooms are grown cheaply in large farm beds, gourmet mushrooms — any mushrooms outside of the button mushroom species — take large amounts of labor to produce.

“We saw an opportunity to collapse labor, increase yields, and produce mushrooms at dramatically lower costs,” says Balsillie. “By doing that, we can take very premium gourmet mushrooms and have them in every Walmart and Kroger, affordable to anyone who wants them.”

Gourmet mushrooms have to be grown in individual bags or bottles as opposed to large beds, and they require large amounts of specialized human labor and delicate handling. And human laborers mean higher expenses.

Hedgehog is betting its tech will be able to grow and harvest gourmet mushrooms for one-third of the cost of traditional farming, while also increasing harvest yields to produce more crops, which means using the same amount of resources for far more output.

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