It turns out, where there are flies, there’s brass. Better Origin is a startup that converts waste food into essential nutrients using insects fed to chickens inside a standard shipping container. It’s now raised a $3 million seed round led by Fly Ventures and solar entrepreneur Nick Boyle, while previous investor Metavallon VC is also participating. Its competitors include Protix, Agriprotein, InnovaFeed, Enterra and Entocycle.
Better Origin’s product is an “autonomous insect mini-farm.” Its X1 insect mini-farm is dropped on site. A farmer adds food waste — gathered from nearby factories or from the farm — into a hopper to feed the larvae of black soldier flies.
Two weeks later, the insects are fed directly to the chickens as an alternative to the soy feed they normally get. To add to the ease of use, everything inside the container is automated and remotely controlled by Better Origin’s engineers in Cambridge.
This process has a double effect. Not only does it take care of the food waste product as a by-product of farming practices, but it also drives down the use of soy, the growth of which is contributing to deforestation and habitat loss in countries like Brazil.
Plus, given the pandemic has exposed the fragility of the global food supply chain, the company says its solution is a way of decentralizing food and feed production, thus safeguarding the food supply chain and food security.
Better Origin says it is tackling a real problem, and it’s a fair assessment. Western economies waste around a third of all food produced annually, but, on average, the demands of a growing population means food production will need to increase by 70%. Food waste is also the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG) after the US and China.
Founder Fotis Fotiadis was working in the Oil & Gas industry when he decided he’d rather work in a sustainable, non-polluting field. After studying Sustainable Engineering at Cambridge University, and meeting co-founder Miha Pipan, the two set out to work on a sustainable startup.
The company, launched in May 2020, now has five commercial contracts, and plans to expand across the U.K.
Better Origin says its differentiation with competitors is the nature of its “decentralized” approach to insect farming, as a result of the way its units are, effectively, “drag-and-drop” into a farm. In some sense, it’s not dissimilar to adding a server to a server farm.
The business model will be to either lease or sell systems to farms, likely with a subscription model.