Matías Muchnick, CEO of NotCo: “The idea was always to become the Trojan horse of the mass consumption industry”

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Replicate the flavor of turtle. That was the challenge set by the NotCo team, the artificial intelligence company that started in 2015 with NotMayo and positioned itself in the vegan food market in different markets in America with products such as NotBurger, NotIcecream, NotChicken. and NotMilk. In the documentary NotTurtle, released this Wednesday on YouTube, the firm shows how through artificial intelligence it managed to replicate the recipe for green sea turtle soup, a dish considered exclusive in several cultures and that has this species Under threat. “The main cause of the loss of species on the planet is the food industry. That's how this idea came about, which was pretty crazy. And it seemed to us like a why not (Why not, the company's motto),” Matías Muchnick (Santiago de Chile, 35 years old), founder and CEO of Notco, tells EL PAÍS. “There is a fear spread throughout humanity about the effects of artificial intelligence (AI). But I also think it's because we haven't shown how powerful it can be to do incredible positive things,» adds the young executive. Muchnick has been living in New York for almost four years, where NotCo's global offices are located today. but its main laboratory is still installed in Santiago, in Macul, a middle-class commune where the story of NotCo –The Not Company- began nine years ago with the help of Muchnick, the doctor in Computer Science, Karim Pichara, and the doctor in Biotechnology, Pablo Zamora (who left the firm and is today the president of Fundación Chile, a public-private entity that promotes innovation as a driver of sustainable development in Chile). It is in Macul where the company has been building an important part of its product portfolio, also where scientists investigate how the human body processes the food it consumes – they built a machine that simulates a human stomach to analyze that –, how the tongue and the brain assimilate different flavors and also the emotional relationships that these they generate in people. They can do all this thanks to Giuseppe, the AI ​​created and patented by the company. It is an algorithm that learns the infinite combinations of different types of plants to replicate animal products and improve their flavor. It was this technology that discovered, for example, that mixing cabbage and pineapple could generate a milk-like product. Today it is the base of NotMilk. In these nine years Giuseppe has grown. Today it already has special modules that allow not only to analyze the synthesis of plants, but also to create flavors that human beings do not yet know or that they do not know that they might like.

Jeff Bezos and the unicorn

NotCo's growth was explosive. After launching NotMayo, his first product, came NotMilk, NotBurger, and many more. Today they have 10 products in which they managed to replicate a product “taking the animal out of the equation,” as Muchnick explains. But the big leap came in March 2019 when Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon and the richest man in the world according to Bloomberg, set his sights on the company and entered the property as part of the $30 million investment round. that raised the firm. From there came international expansion and growth. They entered Argentina, Brazil, the United States, Mexico, Colombia and Canada, made alliances with brands such as Burger King, Papa Johns, Starbucks, Shake Shack and Dunkin Donuts and in their next investment round, in July 2021, they managed to raise 235 million of dollars from investors such as tennis player Roger Federer, Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton and months later from Marcos Galperín, the founder and CEO of Mercado Libre. The firm, which on that date had been in business for five years, was valued at 1.5 billion dollars and entered the select group of companies considered unicorns, as companies that achieve a valuation of more than 1 billion are called in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. dollars. That's what they were doing when the mass consumption multinational Kraft Heinz contacted them. They wanted to use their technology to create plant-based versions of their products. In February 2022, both companies announced the creation of a new firm, The Kraft Heinz Not Company LLC, which today operates as a parallel company. The alliance whetted the appetite of other food companies around the world. In September 2023, the Chilean firm announced a collaboration with the subsidiary of M&M's and Snickers, Mars Wrigley, to create innovations for its products. “We are building a portfolio of chocolate that you can die for. Apart from having the flavor of milk chocolate, it has sugar reduction characteristics. It's like generating the same sensory experience with less sugar,” Muchnick says. Based on these advances, NotCo is entering a new stage. “Technology can be disruptive not only in removing the animal from the equation, which has always been accidentally what we do by default, but now with all the research we have done, with the millions of dollars we have invested in technology and with all The data we have generated, we are able to do many more things for the food industry and also for other industries, beauty, personal care or home. Today we are starting projects with companies that are not food,” he anticipates. “That is the dream. NotCo always had this idea of ​​becoming the Trojan horse of the mass consumption industry,” says the Chilean enthusiastically.

The gum that reduces hangovers

In between, NotCo continues to explore new product possibilities “outside the box.” Along these lines they are working on two new developments. One suggests that Giuseppe creates new flavors that do not exist until now. «One of the beautiful things about artificial intelligence has to do with these hallucinations that he has where he looks for an unknown space and tells you 'look, this may interest a human being.' And you don't know why,” he says. “We began to realize that there are many emotional relationships with certain flavors or particular molecules that have to do, for example, with breast milk. “People try it and it takes them back to an illusion from their childhood,” he says. The other thing, he advances, has to do with experiments to solve “neglected pains in the mass consumption industry, like hangovers.” Along these lines, the NotCo teams have understood that what is truly toxic to the body is not alcohol, but rather its transformation into acetaldehyde. “How could we interrupt that transformation? We found a technology that is probiotics that we can put in an unexpected matrix such as, for example, a piece of gum, which you eat before drinking alcohol and the next day you wake up with 80% less hangover. How would it change the world? It is something that technology is capable of proposing today,” he says. Another way to continue growing is to generate alliances with other technology companies. They are negotiating, he says, but cannot name names, with the aim of turning NotCo into “the innovation garage of the mass consumption industry.” To do that, they aim to package some modules of their Giuseppe algorithm and sell that technology as software services. “With this, NotCo is fully entering the SaaS business (software service, a cloud-based model that offers applications to end users over the Internet). That is our next step,” he says. Like any successful start-up, NotCo has received offers to buy them, but they have not wanted to move forward with that possibility. “We have never wanted to sell. The truth is that we believe that NotCo is going to be a $10 million company in the next five years. We know it and there is a construction to get to where we want to get,” he says with conviction. He is also not obsessed with going public. “The technology market is super difficult for an IPO (Initial Public Offering of shares, for its acronym in English). We don't have pressure from investors to do it and personally, I don't know if I want to be the CEO of a public company,» confesses the Chilean, before cutting off the video call and leaving for his next meeting in his hectic life as an entrepreneur. Subscribe here to the EL PAÍS Chile newsletter and receive all the key information on current events in the country.