My favorite quote is: “I only know I know nothing” – Socrates (Nieves) My favorite city is: Berkeley, California (Michelle)
Nieves Martínez-Marshall & Michelle Lu
Transforming animal-free meat into a culinary delicacy
THE AMBITION TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Nieves Martínez-Marshall and Michelle Lu both believe it’s vital to live life with a purpose. For them, that meant working in labs with the goal of influencing positive change in society, no matter how small. At 19, Michelle’s first experience working in a lab was “everything I wanted it to be.” For Nieves, her desire to be a scientific researcher was born from a lifelong fascination with biology “because it’s the most important thing in the world – everything is based on molecules.”
Their shared passion has led them to co-found Novel Farms, a FoodTech company producing whole cuts of premium cultivated meat. Using groundbreaking technology that recreates the texture, marbling, and taste of meat, their product is sustainable, slaughter-free, environmentally friendly, and antibiotic and pathogen-free. With current industrial meat production unsustainable and a major contributing factor to climate change, they believe cell-based meat will provide the protein needed to feed a growing world population.
Nieves and Michelle met as postdoctoral scientists at the University of California at Berkeley, often running into each other at seminars and conferences. When Nieves sought a challenge outside the lab, she volunteered at an entrepreneurship program and gravitated to science-based startups. This led to her working on producing vegan collagen, which she wanted to use to create cultivated meat. “I pitched the idea to Michelle, and we both thought it was the project of a lifetime.” Together, they came up with an innovative and highly efficient scaffolding technology that would form the structure of the meat.
TRUSTING THE PROCESS. With the idea for Novel Farms born at the start of the pandemic, the pair couldn’t access a lab to prove their theory. “I remember Nieves was already mourning the death of the company before it had even started,” Michelle says. Soon after, they got accepted to the accelerator Big Ideas Ventures and, within a month of labs reopening, had validated their idea. Reflecting on the seminal moment, Michelle says: “In 17 years in the lab, this was the first time a theory had worked out on an experiment the very first time.”
Novel Farms’ launch product is pork, both conventional and Iberico - the latter described by Nieves as “the Lamborghini of porks.” Born and raised in Spain, she recalls wanting to be a “lab rat” from a young age. “My dad was a bartender, and my mom was a cleaner. I saw education as my way to escape having to work long hours and dealing with the public! I didn’t consider myself extremely smart, but I realized nothing’s impossible if you’re willing to work hard.” While launching Novel Farms, Nieves took classes at Berkeley Law to gain a deeper understanding of business, finance, and innovation.
Meanwhile, Michelle describes her upbringing as “typically Asian-American.” Her Japanese immigrant parents valued education as a gateway to opportunity, “but they also embraced the value of America’s culture of individuality. They didn’t have much money, but they encouraged me to explore opportunities as much as I wanted and have always been extremely supportive.”
Nieves and Michelle don’t anticipate getting their pork into consumers’ hands until 2025. Still, after significant investment, their focus is to build a diverse and inclusive team – something they have been adamant about as female founders and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Nieves explains: “Not only are we making a solution to mitigate climate change, but also top of my list is being an example of someone who can lead a company.
“When I’m exhausted, I remind myself of the need to keep going, not only because we have a great solution, but the opportunity to open up the space for others - to make bigger changes as soon as possible.”