A little help from some ento-preneurs

Last week I was invited to give a talk for Fish on Toast, Southampton University’s Entrepreneurial society.

The purpose was to introduce business planning by using the Business Model Canvas, which I have been taught on myself. It was also a good opportunity to talk to students about all of the opportunities that are available at the university: business coaching, training sessions, Excel placements, consultancy placements and the Take Off competition (which I have won twice). Not to mention the USSP Catalyst Centre, a business incubation program where The Bug Shack was accepted for business coaching.



Some of the hand outs at Fish on Toast

I gave a short presentation to sell the idea of insects as the future of food and farming:

  • They are very nutritious, being high in protein, whilst also providing calcium, iron and all essential amino acids (crickets).
  • They appeal to people who are welfare conscious, as insects do not require as much space as cattle or poultry (which are often intensively farmed, in poor conditions).
  • There are numerous environmental benefits, including minimal land use, low carbon emissions, low water and a great feed conversion ratio (you need ten times more feed to get a kilogram of beef than you do for a kilogram of crickets, plus less of the cricket is wasted).
  • Insects may also prove cost effective, since the savings in land, water and feed may also equate to lest cost in resources!
  • I made the argument that insects aren’t really disgusting, since we already eat prawns that eat carcasses at the bottom of the sea; we already eat ugly, leggy lobsters; we already eat burgers and chicken nuggets that contain unknown parts of animals (rather than being made of steak like we might imagine)! I persuaded the crowd that people will eat anything if they will eat turkey dinosaurs and doner kebabs.
  • I told my audience that 80% of the world’s nations already eat insects, that insect products are predicted to be in the supermarkets within ten years; articles about edible insects pop up in the news every day, including The Guardian and the BBC (in fact, some people are getting fed up with edible insects being covered too often in the media)!

I think I succeeded in selling the idea to my students. I then asked them to think about who they would sell to, what they would sell and how they would provide value for the customer. I asked them to work out how they would sell the product and how it could be marketed. They were asked to consider who would be the suppliers and who might be key partners. The students were given the option of (hypothetically) buying low cost products (dried insects) versus high cost (fresh insects) and how this would affect the price.

The young entrepreneurs got to work filling in a business model canvas, in groups of 3. After a very short 40 minutes, they presented their plan to the judges from Fish on Toast, and myself.

Ideas included:

  • Specialist restaurants and shops
  • Protein shakes and bars, for people on the go or people who love the gym
  • Pet food
  • Insect flour for specialist markets

As a group, we also thought that celebrity endorsements were a great idea (one suggested Ant and Dec!), YouTube and Facebook were great ways to gain publicity and interest. Creative names and thoughtful marketing were ways of making a unique product. Some students said they would make use of specialist skills by researchers at the university, to create a competitive edge and superior product.

One of the students was annoyed by the task, as he said I had neglected the fact that people don’t want to eat insects, which he said that was the biggest problem. I quite often talk to people about this issue, and my response is always that ‘you would be surprised about how many people are willing to try’.

To prove it, I asked for a show of hands at the end of the session: out of the 40 people in the room, ‘who wouldn’t try insects’? Four people put their hands up, 3 of whom were vegetarian. When asked ‘who isn’t sure about whether they would try insects’? One person put their hand up.

As always, I left the event feeling convinced that it won’t be long until edible insects are commonplace in the UK.