Alliance Manchester Business School - AMBS
Article By
Mohammad El Hajj

Mohammad El Hajj

Co-founder and CEO of Bright Biotech

Bright Future

It's about harnessing the inherent advantages of plants, says Mohammad El Hajj.

Co-founder and CEO of Manchester start-up Bright Biotech, Mohammad El Hajj, is creating innovative solutions to tackle the environmental cost of meat production.

Throughout his career, molecular biologist Mohammad has been driven by translating scientific research into tackling real world problems. In particular, as an undergraduate in his home country of Lebanon, he was fascinated by the practical benefits of plant biotechnology, and after graduating was keen to continue his studies at a university that would marry his passion for biotech and enterprise.

Biotechnology and enterprise

Manchester University was one of the few universities in the world that offered such a programme, and in 2011 he enrolled on the MSc Biotechnology and Enterprise programme.

On receiving a distinction and an Outstanding Achievement Award for exceptional performance, and a President's Doctoral Scholar Award, he stayed at the university to complete a PhD in Biotechnology and Enterprise which included taking business and enterprise modules at AMBS.

Protein applications

The emphasis of his PhD was 'chloroplast biotechnology', a powerful tool for plant genetic engineering whereby plants are modified to produce high-quality and affordable proteins for medical and food applications.

As Mohammad explains: "It is about harnessing the inherent advantages of plants which can be grown on a large scale, thereby offering scalability for the rapid production of substantial quantities of proteins.

"Plant-based production is also intrinsically safer than using bacteria or mammalian cells due to its reduced risk of contamination with pathogens that can pose a threat to human health."

During his PhD, Mohammad began building business models and writing business plans to commercialise the technology, as part of the business and enterprise modules offered by the Masood Entrepreneurship Centre (MEC) at AMBS.

"I was really keen to see how far I could take the proof of concept and the technology, and MEC played a key role. Staff not only helped me advance and showcase my business plan, endorsing it to support a Start-up Visa application, but also helped me with my own personal development."

Cultivated meat

As the business model was further developed and Mohammad started talking to investors, it became clear that his research in chloroplast biotechnology was best suited to providing 'growth factors' for the cultivated meat industry.

Cultivated meat is genuine animal meat that is produced by cultivating animal cells directly, eliminating the need to raise and farm animals for food, and thereby reducing the environmental and social impacts of meat production. Growth factors are the necessary proteins that promote cell differentiation, growth and proliferation and which are needed in the production of cultivated meat.

Despite being used at very low concentrations, growth factors make up more than half of the marginal cost of cultivated meat and can cost several million pounds for just one gram, representing a significant barrier to the production of cultivated meat at scale.

As the cultivated meat industry continues to evolve, our high yield, lower-cost approach without the need for expensive infrastructure, can really make a lasting impact on the future of protein production.

Company launch

By 2021, Mohammad was ready to launch Bright Biotech with the specific aim of helping reduce the price of growth factors and thereby help grow the cultivated meat industry.

As he adds: Our plant-based technology provides growth factors at the necessary quantity, quality, and cost, aligning with the industry's scaling needs. As the cultivated meat industry continues to evolve, our high yield, lower-cost approach without the need for expensive infrastructure, can really make a lasting impact on the future of protein production.

A key moment in the company's journey came later in 2021 when it received pre-seed investment from US VC firm Big Idea Ventures, which then introduced Bright Biotech to other investors. In 2022 the company went on to raise $3.2 million in a funding round led by FoodLabs and other investors including Big Idea Ventures, CPT Capital, the FoodHack syndicate and business angels.

Mohammad says the funding has been transformational, enabling the company to employ a growing team of experienced scientists and production experts, as well as build a state-of-the-art lab space at Manchester Science Park which will allow Bright Biotech to produce hundreds of milligrams of growth factors at lab scale.

A group of Bright Future employees sat for a group photograph


As Mohammad adds:  “This is now a really exciting time for us as our team grows and we further develop our technology over the coming years. It has taken more than a decade to reach this point and we are in this for the long-term. Our ultimate goal within the next ten years is to be the best at empowering sustainable industries, including cultivated meat and medicine, with superior products from our plant technology.”

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