Meet the stewards of Singapore’s green scene. In the face of a climate crisis whose repercussions are felt even in tiny Singapore, these environmental heroes are stepping up to lead change in the field of conservation and sustainability.
Ricky Lin makes plant-based protein, but he wants you to know he is not in the business of mimicking meat. Instead, the 38-year-old CEO and founder of Life3 Biotech is adamant about his product being a standalone, nutrient-rich alternative.
His company’s main offering of Veego can be cooked in numerous ways, and in diverse Asian recipes. Trust this man to know his food – after all, he grew up in a family of hawkers. Food has always been one of his passions, and this melded with a more health-conscious approach as he grew up and participated in competitive sports.
His concerns about food security took root when the National University of Singapore (NUS) scholar joined the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and led operations and strategic planning for key supplies in food and nutrition to enhance soldier performance. “I was exposed to real eminent threats. Plant-based protein is the only source of food Singapore can do. It’s a possible way we can solve concerns about food resilience.”
For Ricky, food security goes hand in hand with global issues at play: “With the current climate issues, we have strong reasoning to justify that Life3 can contribute to a more sustainable environment.”
Securing a future
The science graduate grimaces as he recalls the painful process of starting the company. At the time, plant-based proteins had not entered the mainstream. His parents even asked him why he was creating another vegetarian mock meat business when those had been around for thousands of years. He adds: “Imagine trying to do this area of research work five years ago. People hardly understood and that includes my own parents. Getting them to buy into my story wasn’t easy. Trying to find investors and partners was very difficult.”
Now, Ricky observes that the landscape has vastly changed, with more acceptance of plant-based proteins in the mainstream and higher awareness of good nutrition. “My parents are now my guinea pigs. The journey is now a more fruitful one. We can finally see the silver lining.”
That silver lining is gleaming. This year, Life3 Biotech’s pilot facility will be completed, spelling rapid scaling up on production and a gradual regional expansion. And it is working with government partners such as Enterprise Singapore, Singapore Food Agency (SFA) and Land Transport Authority. “These are very exciting milestones for a local start- up, especially as we are in a space we can’t really call Silicon Valley. We are happy to be chosen to represent Singapore as the first plant-based producer in this part of the world.”
A recent headline-making announcement was that of the backing of famed investor Jim Rogers. Ricky also reveals that his company will see an exciting new addition of a well-known figure in the food world.
Tech it to the next level
“We are not just a food manufacturer. We are a real technology driver,” asserts Ricky. Life3 Biotech has three pillars: agri-tech, biotech and food tech. “The biotech division looks at the research and development perspective of our work; the agritech division cultivates and grows our own protein source sustainably here; the food tech culminates all these different sciences and ingredients to turn them into food.”
An example is the firm’s micro-algae production, which turns the organism into a high protein source using a large-scale bioreactor. “When people think of micro-algae, they think of the grimy, slimy and undesirable. What we do is culture this single-cell protein in a safe environment to create a greater and versatile protein. It’s an efficient crop.”
One process it uses is electro-spinning to replicate the fibrillary texture of conventional meat, by producing nano-sized protein strands. “We are looking at how we are able to layer a skin-like product – not to mimic animal meat – but to offer a thin and crunchy texture when it is grilled.”
Ricky, however, hesitates to refer to other plant-based protein makers as competitors. “We are all advocates that offer different things to customers. At Life3, we offer a nutrient-dense protein, or what we call a superfood. Different folks, different strokes but I disagree with some brands on certain things. A lot of artificial flavourings and food colourings are used in some meat alternatives. I don’t think that makes sense as consumers would think it’s better to eat the real thing. I’d rather position our product to be something that is all-inclusive.”
Veego is sold in its raw form. It is unseasoned and compatible with all cuisines and cooking formats. Preservative-, colouring- and flavouring- free, it is high in protein and fibre.
Innovation aside, Ricky is proud of how Life3 Biotech is a Singapore- first company. “You don’t see foreign food start-ups working with local schools,” he says.
In 2019, it linked up with National Junior College and SFA to establish an agriculture-technology facility. Its micro-algae production is the result of a partnership with Temasek Polytechnic’s Centre for Urban Sustainability, where a facility was set up for research purposes, with participating students from schools and research institutes.
Life3 Biotech has also recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Faculty of Engineering at NUS to incorporate electro-spinning technology into its food tech. “There’s a big talent pool in Singapore but we fail to understand that we can come together.
“In a way, Life3 is the advocate of our own social movement activation,” says Ricky, beaming when he says his company wants to inspire the next generation of leaders. “The ‘3’ in Life3 represents the tree of life that we can nourish.”
(Image of Ricky Lin: Fashion Direction: Johnny Khoo | Art Direction: Audrey Chan | Photography: Joel Low | Fashion Styling: Jacquie Ang | Hair: Jimmy Yap/Kimistry, using Dyson | Make-up: Wee Ming, using Chanel | Photography Assistance: Eddie Teo)
This story first appeared in the October 2021 issue of Prestige Singapore.