Vegan pet food brand Wild Earth secured a $550,000 investment from Mark Cuban on tonight’s “Shark Tank” appearance.
The Dallas Mavericks owner who stars in the ABC hit show where companies pitch a team of serial investors, said he made the investment for two key reasons: his belief in technological solutions to modernity’s challenges, and his concerns for environmental sustainability.
The Bay Area pet food brand is spearheaded by pioneers in cellular agriculture, including chief science officer Ron Shigeta, Ph.D., chief executive officer Ryan Bethencourt, and Dr. Ernie Ward, known as “America’s Pet Advocate.”
Cuban joins Felicis Ventures, Mars Petcare, VegInvest, Stray Dog Capital, Founders Fund, Blue Horizon, and Thiel Capital in supporting the pet start-up, which has already raised $4 million. Cuban will take a ten percent stake in the company for his “Shark Tank” investment.
“There’s an enormous potential market for lower-cost, sustainable protein to feed the growing worldwide pet population and Wild Earth is now the alpha dog in this space,” Cuban said.
The company is working with a little-known ingredient called koji. A type of fungus revered in Asian cooking, koji (Aspergillus oryzae) is a protein-rich food source loaded with amino acids essential for canine health, according to Wild Earth. The brand is looking at ways to reduce the carbon footprint of the giant pet food industry, with the goal of being able to sustainably feed more than a billion pets by 2050.
The company’s Protein Dog Snacks contain no animal ingredients, antibiotics or growth hormones. They’re also free from artificial ingredients including colors, preservatives, flavors, additives, and fillers.
“The Sharks were understandably tough on me, and questioned the need to create healthier and more sustainable products for our pets, but Mark, the biggest Shark of them all, understood our mission and the massive opportunity best,” said Bethencourt. “Mark and his team’s impact has already been huge — since their investment, we’ve successfully launched our first three products and gone nationwide both online and in retail.”
Bethencourt was accompanied on the show by two rescue beagles, Frederick and Josephine. The dogs, who are fans of the treats, were rescued by Gary Smith and Kezia Jauron, the team behind Evolotus PR, which works with Wild Earth.
Frederick was rescued from an animal testing lab in Spain after spending his first five years of life in the lab in a cage. Josephine’s story is less clear but Smith says he believes she was sold from a cosmetics lab to the meat trade where she was on the way to the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in 2017 before being rescued.
“Josephine and Frederick were proud to be ‘spokesbeagles’ for Wild Earth and enjoyed eating many treats, getting love from the ‘Shark Tank’ crew backstage, and their fun golf cart rides on the lot,” Smith told LIVEKINDLY.
“Even though they had difficult lives before being rescued, they both love Ryan. They must know he’s a hero for animals.”
The episode is available on demand at ABC.go.com for a limited time.