News & Articles

Build or Buy?: The crucial question for scaling cultivated meat

September 15, 2023
  • Build vs. Buy, the software development decision framework, could help unlock scale-up bottlenecks in the cultivated meat industry
  • As cultivated meat companies scale, they need media to deliver more at ever lower cost and so, as a result, media R&D and sourcing become pinch-points in the business roadmap
  • Whether to build a team or partner with a specialist - this is the choice, a question of business scope vs speed to market
  • Partnering with a specialist in growth media can turn bottlenecks into breakthroughs that accelerate scale-up and de-risk the business

What is ‘Build vs. Buy’?

‘Build vs. Buy’ frames key decision questions around new capabilities. It has typically been applied to software.

Let’s take the example of cloud-based data analytics tools.

Up to ten years ago, companies often created in-house solutions in the data value chain, for example:

  • extracting raw data from systems
  • calculating metrics
  • updating reports
  • distributing reports

In contrast, today there is an ecosystem of tools that help companies go faster and do more without having to invest resources to develop in-house solutions.

‘Buying’ rather than ‘building’ now allows them to focus on what is core to their business, and with data, that is often the insight rather than the engineering behind it.

Media development for cultivated meat is on the same journey.

Even five years ago, much of it had to be done in-house.

Now, a category of suppliers is emerging, with stronger capabilities to lower costs, raise productivity and get better results through:

  • ingredient innovation
  • optimisation platforms
  • production systems

Successful partnerships can bring products to market quickly and allow companies to focus on their distinctive areas of competitive advantage and differentiation.

So, the key questions for cultivated meat companies are how and who to partner with, to tackle the challenges of media development on the journey from laboratory to market.

How & who to partner with? The four questions to ask:

Media development presents build vs. buy decisions regarding R&D capability. This new reality raises four questions a cultivated meat company needs to ask itself:

  • What is our core?
  • Which risks are we taking with the ‘build’ route?
  • Which trade-offs are we making with the ‘buy’ route?
  • What makes the right partner for our cultivated meat company?

Stripped back, the core technology of a cultivated meat business is a mix of bioreactors, cells, media, and the bioprocess that knit them together.

So, first ask: what is our core?

This means, which distinctive resources and capabilities mean we’ll be a market leader?

Are we sufficiently focused on these differentiators or are we trying to cover many bases?

Anything outside of your differentiator focus is a non-core enabler to scale and, therefore, a candidate for ‘buying’ rather than ‘building’. This is particularly true when there’s a high development cost in non-core areas.

Which brings us to the next question…

Second: Which risks are we taking with the build route?

‘Building’ is a bet that you will have access to the right resources and capacity, given the required development time and unavoidable costs. Additionally, you also expect that the opportunity cost caused by distraction from core activities is worth the benefits of developing in-house.

Using the example of growth media, consider: which bets are we making in putting media optimisation within the scope of the business?

Third: Which trade-offs are we making with the ‘buy’ route?

‘Buying’ also has trade-offs.

On the one hand, it could mean less control and flexibility. On the other,  more confidence and speed from a specialist’s depth of capability, readily scalable capacity and (ideally) track record.

As media optimisation starts to incorporate machine learning and ultra-high-throughput platforms, the bar of “good enough” rises while the speed gap widens between the Build and Buy options.

Consider, which trade-offs would make ‘buying’ a no-brainer?

Finally: What makes the right partner for our cultivated meat company?

There’s more to a partnership than the promise of a project outcome.

Technical competence is table stakes.

A partner in media development also needs your confidence in how they’ll keep your commercially sensitive resources secure.

You also need to believe in their responsiveness, capacity to go beyond transactional services and ability to play the long game to help you scale.

Consider, which partners think long-term and from every angle?

Whether Build or Buy, media development in cultivated meat has to cover four bases

We’ve done it ourselves and we’ve spoken with over 60 cultivated meat companies around the world about serum-free media development. We’ve found there are four bases to cover:

1. Reducing input costs

Bringing down input costs so the end product can reach parity with conventional meat.

2. Reaching the required ingredient quality

Using food-grade, animal-free ingredients that are sustainably sourced and processed in a food-safe facility, all aligned with regulatory requirements.

3. Optimising production efficiency

Optimising formulations to improve bioprocess performance (e.g. proliferation rate, cell density or differentiation efficiency).

4. Ensuring feedstock scalability

Ensuring supply meets future production plans without disruption to production schedules.

As cultivated meat companies progress from lab to market, the bar rises to make media that’s cheaper and more efficient.

Working with a partner that has invested in ingredient innovation, formulation optimisation, and sourcing will help your company avoid the roadblocks that can stall your progress.

Doing ‘build’ well means betting on the ecosystem by building deep and lasting partnerships in the right areas, with media development being a prime case for most cultivated meat businesses.

About Multus

We see Multus and our products as the foundation of the growing cellular agriculture sector.

Our vision is to be the key enablers of the affordable at-scale production of real animal products using cells instead of animals.

One way we like to accelerate our own learning is by looking outside our industry to see how similar types of problems have been handled elsewhere. For this reason, we became interested in the Build vs. Buy framework.

If you’d like to speak with our team about your long-term assumptions and/or plans for your growth media roadmap, send us an e-mail to

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