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Functional fungi startup focuses on immune, brain, and gut health

Article-Functional fungi startup focuses on immune, brain, and gut health

© iStock/manassanant pamai Functional fungi startup focuses on immune, brain and gut health
US-based startup Sempera Organics is looking to create “differentiated solutions for brain, gut, and immunity” by continuing to expand its “growing genetics library” of functional mushrooms.

The company claims its “state-of-the-art” Silicon Valley facility uses “a smarter, more reliable, and planet-friendly way of growing mushrooms in our high-tech lab farm”.

Asked what makes Sempera’s approach different, CEO and founder Nirmal Nair told Vitafoods Insights: “Our approach is that of a bio-refinery which can create high-quality output at scale and impact health and nutrition. It's based on integration of solid-state and submerged fermentation technologies.”

The California-based supplier is also cultivating a “growing genetics library” of functional mushrooms, he explained.

“Beyond the various species of functional mushrooms, we are also procuring various strains of these species from around the world,” he said. “Each specimen we obtain is subject to a full battery of tests and DNA verification to identify high-quality verified cultures for use. We continue to grow this library, currently at over 150 culture specimens.”

Simplifying the supply chain for functional mushrooms

Sempera grows its mushrooms in its vertical “lab farm”, according to Nair, where bags of feedstock are injected with mycelium.

The resulting mushrooms – which include varieties such as lion’s mane, cordyceps sinensis and militaris, reishi, chaga, turkey tail, shiitake, maitake, almond mushroom, and king oyster – are dehydrated and processed on site, before being packaged for shipment to clients.

As well as raw materials, the startup formulates mushroom extracts and powdered blends targeting health needs such as immunity, recovery, mental clarity, anti-ageing, and gut health. These are micronised to heighten the bioavailability of the mushrooms.

Sempera’s customers are in the Americas presently, where Nair said the company sees demand “in both dietary supplements and functional ingredients for food and beverages”.

The facility and its products are certified organic, non-GMO, vegan, and “zero waste”, he said, while the company’s reduced supply chain accelerates production time and simplifies delivery for its clients.

Indeed, retaining oversight of one’s supply chain offers a real benefit in a category in which most ingredients are sourced from manufacturers in China, where they can be subject to inaccurate labelling due to the addition – intentional or otherwise – of lower-grade ingredients, non-target plants, and synthetic compounds.

Cognition, stress, immunity, and gut health to be top growth categories

Mushrooms and their derivates have long been known for their important health benefits and exhibit a range of pharmacological activities. This is reflected by their enormous popularity: the global functional mushroom market was valued at $31.71 billion in 2023, and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11.2% from 2024 to 2030, according to Grand View Research.

Demand for mushrooms has expanded into beauty and personal care, too. According to Mintel, adaptogenic botanicals – including medicinal mushrooms – are poised for a revival amid rising mental health rates and a shift towards neurocosmetics, which analysts have tipped as the top beauty and personal care trend for 2024.

Asked which health areas he saw as holding the greatest opportunity in the coming years, Nair said: Functional mushrooms have a positive impact on a wide variety of human health and wellness [areas]. The top areas are cognition, stress, immunity, and gut health.”

He added: “We see the demand for functional mushroom ingredients continuing to ramp up year over year… The market also needs differentiated solutions for brain, gut, and immunity.”

© iStock/GoamiFunctional fungi startup focuses on immune, brain and gut health

He highlighted a 2023 study in Nutrients on Sempera’s proprietary lion’s mane extract, which he said “showed benefit in healthy younger adults (18 to 45) in the area of cognitive performance as well as stress reduction”.

However, it should be noted that while the study authors said the findings “tentatively suggest that Hericium erinaceus may improve speed of performance and reduce subjective stress in healthy, young adults”, they added: “Given the small sample size, these findings should be interpreted with caution. Further investigation in larger sample sizes is crucial; however, the findings of this trial offer a promising avenue of interest.”

Nair said: “We are working on clinically trialled mushroom ingredients so that our customers can have a formulation and marketing edge over competitors.