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Entomics is August's Featured Business of the Month

Mon, 08 August 2016

Matt McLaren won a Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award in September 2015 and was a finalist for the 2015 Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Matt, and his three co-founders, initially came up with their business idea during a ‘Sustainability Challenge’ whilst they were students at the University of Cambridge.
 
After graduation the team decided to turn their idea into a business. Entomics is closing the loop on food waste by using insects to transform waste food into sustainable sources of 'fuel' for plants, animals and vehicles using insects. 
 
Each year in the UK, we waste 15 million tonnes of food, which mostly ends up as landfill. This leads to increased carbon emissions, high disposal costs for consumers and a missed opportunity. Entomics is creating a Smarter Future by turning food waste into sustainable agricultural inputs, using a green, low cost biological catalyst.
 
What was the inspiration behind Entomics?
The core idea behind Entomics draws inspiration from nature around the way that organic matter is broken down. We looked at the types of organisms – insects, algae, bacteria – that are responsible for converting food waste into ‘energy’, and identified the Black Soldier Fly as a conversion catalyst with significant potential from both a biological and commercial scalability perspective.

How did you get into entrepreneurship? Did you always want to go into business for yourself?
Before Entomics, I never imagined myself as an entrepreneur. In fact, I had primarily worked in large banks and consulting firms. But during my studies at the University of Cambridge, I realised that entrepreneurship is simply about normal people who are action-focused. A few friends and I ended up tinkering with this project in the evenings and on the weekends, and we realized that there was a real opportunity to pursue this full-time.

How did the business fare in its early days and how is it doing now?
It was tough getting the idea off the ground in the beginning, as we needed space and equipment to start experimenting. But now, we've formed a great relationship with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), and are based at their Hasse Fen Innovation Hub near Cambridge. We’ve also been able to forge strong partnerships with food waste providers and potential end-customers for our products.

What challenges did you face when setting up your business?
There isn’t a ‘how-to’ guide around a lot of the things we’re doing, so getting used to the dynamic and chaotic world of startups was an interesting challenge. We needed to coordinate multiple people with different backgrounds onto interdependent tasks, so we quickly learned to become more organised and communicate more effectively with each other. And even though we were keen to make things happen immediately, we realized that a lot of other organisations aren’t always willing or able to move quickly. Incumbent technologies and ways of working can be a powerful force for inaction, which was a constant challenge, particularly when we first started out.
 
What is your biggest (or proudest) achievement with the business?
I’m most proud of the fact that the entire co-founder team is still together and intact, and that we’ve gotten over most of the early startup ‘pitfalls’ without too much drama. Ultimately, the business is a product of the people within it, and everyone is still fully committed to making this a success. It makes it easier to come to work each day when everyone has the same mindset, and is supporting one another.

You won a Shell LiveWIRE Award back in 2015, how have things changed for you since then?
Winning the Shell LiveWIRE Award has allowed us to turn our idea into an actual business. The funds allowed us to rent out greenhouse and laboratory facilities at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), and we have purchased vehicles, machinery and lab equipment to scale up our process. The Shell brand has also provided a level of credibility around our customer interactions, and enabled us to get access to key senior stakeholders who have real decision-making authority. In that sense, it has accelerated our trajectory around growing the business, getting traction in the market and attracting potential future investors.

What’s next for Entomics?
We are currently focused on optimising our scaled-up prototype, and are hoping to expand again in early 2017. We are also conducting several important product trials with academic and commercial partners from all around the world, and establishing technological feasibility around several of our key engineering solutions.

Entrepreneurs drive innovation. How do you think this can be used to help create a smarter future?
A truly smarter future requires the coordination of both the private and public sector, and entrepreneurs have an important role to play around driving the new ideas and technologies that will have significant positive effects on society. It’s important that startups keep providing this early ‘spark’, while also understanding the proper scientific and regulatory frameworks to ensure these technologies reach commercial scalability and have a real effect on society and the environment.

What role do you think entrepreneurs will play in the transition to a low-carbon society?
The low-carbon society requires a fresh approach, and entrepreneurs are in a good position to challenge some of our traditional thinking around energy generation and consumption. Unlike large incumbents, who may be looking to defend existing technologies or market shares in carbon-intensive industries, entrepreneurs have more freedom to push a positive change agenda, and increase the speed of the transition by proposing commercially viable alternatives.

What advice would you give to aspiring young entrepreneurs?
I would just say to go out and give it a shot. Especially for young entrepreneurs, there isn’t a whole lot to lose, and even if things don’t work out, the learning experience will be massive. Also, don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone. Try and understand, even at a basic level, all aspects of your business, from the technology to the marketing to the finance. Having the full ‘picture’ helps to build confidence, fuel creativity, and make better decisions.

Got a Smart Idea for a Business?
Do you have a smart business idea that will provide a solution to the world’s future transport, food, energy, or natural resource challenges, or make our urban environments cleaner and more sustainable places to work and live in? If so you can apply online now for funding!

 

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