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Edible Bug Farm is October's Featured Business of the Month

Fri, 14 October 2016

Adam Routledge won a Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award in November 2015 and was a finalist for the 2015 Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Edible Bug Farm was initially founded by Matt Anderson, when he was at university undertaking his PhD, with Adam Routledge joining the business soon after. 
 
Edible Bug Farm aims to be a leading expert and pioneer in the edible insect industry through the development of insect farming automation technology and data optimisation techniques. The farming methods the business are developing are designed specifically for automation, cost-efficiency, sustainability, and scalability. Their mission is to revolutionise insect farming, to offer an alternative solution to the imminent global food security crisis facing the world today. 
 
In its early days, Edible Bug Farm was an online resource dedicated to promoting the sustainability and environmental benefits of insects. They focused on writing articles about edible insects and the growing industry and shared them on their website and on social media, which helped them build brand awareness. As time progressed, the industry started to develop and Edible Bug Farm shifted more to the farming side of the industry. Adam and Matt are now also looking at other uses insects have in making our future more sustainable. 
 
Edible Bug Farm is helping to create a smarter future by developing efficient farming technologies for rearing edible insects. Edible insects are being touted as a sustainable alternative to traditional livestock in terms of their effect on our planet and their ability to convert feed to meat. However, traditional farming methods for edible insects are inherently inefficient in terms of the resources they use, in particular with feed, energy, space, and labour. Therefore, in order for insects to really be a sustainable alternative, new and improved farming methods are needed to make better use of the resources available and reduce the amount of waste, which is what Edible Bug Farm is focused on developing. 
 
Shell LiveWIRE sat down with Adam to catch up with him and to see what’s next for his award-winning business, Edible Bug Farm.

What was the inspiration behind Edible Bug Farm? How did you get into entrepreneurship? Did you always want to go into business for yourself?
Matt and I lived in Asia for a couple of years after we finished our undergraduate degrees where we taught English as a foreign language. We had always wanted to start a business together, but were unsure what to do. We got the opportunity to try a lot of different kinds of edible insects in Asia and were struck by how delicious many of them were. Whilst we were teaching, one of our friends started Tiny Farms, a progressive edible insect farming company in the US. Matt went to out there and found out more about the sustainability benefits of insects. When he returned he started Edible Bug Farm as an online resource dedicated to promoting their sustainability and environmental benefits. It was after he found out more about the UK market and the lack of a UK-based supplier that I came on board and we shifted to focusing on the farming side of the industry and incorporated Edible Bug Farm as a business.
 
What challenges did you face when setting up your business?
I think the main challenge we faced when setting up our business and what we are still facing today is the obvious: peoples’ perceptions of insects and their willingness to try eating insects. At the moment around 35% of people in the UK have tried or would be willing to try processed insect products. This means that 65% still won’t. This is important because even if insect farming technologies improve greatly and the price of insects falls to become competitive with traditional livestock, the fact that most UK consumers won’t eat insects will be the main challenge we have to overcome in order to make insects a ‘sustainable’ alternative to meat. We can reduce costs all we like but it still won’t matter if consumers won’t eat insects. The challenge won't necessarily be a financial one for us since the portion of the population that are willing to try insects is still a huge market, but from a sustainability standpoint, we will not be making as much of an impact as we would like to until this becomes more mainstream.
 
What is your proudest achievement with the business?
Our biggest achievement with our business is actually not directly to do with Edible Bug Farm, but to do with a Community Interest Company called Woven Network, which Matt and I helped to set up with other stakeholders in the UK insects as food and feed industry. Woven Network is the UK consortium for insects as food and feed. It is a network designed to connect researchers, businesses, and those with an interest in the industry, with the aim to facilitate its development. Woven Network is now developing a marketplace where customers can buy edible insect products and there are already a few products up on the site. At the moment insects are still a niche food product, but we hope over time as perceptions of insects change, more people will be willing to try them and they can become more mainstream. It is then that the industry can really develop.
 
You won a Shell LiveWIRE Award back in 2015, how have things changed for you since then?
Since winning our award, a lot has changed. We have used the funding to help develop our automation technologies and have taken a step closer to our ultimate aim of having an automated farming system. We also received increased attention from the award and have been featured in a number of media articles. We found the award to be very beneficial in terms of legitimising the potential of edible insects and the impact they may have one day in Western diets. Overall it has been a springboard to help turn a concept into a reality.
 
What’s next for Edible Bug Farm?
We are continuing the development of our farming technologies, but are now also looking into the other applications of insects. One area we are exploring is the potential for mealworms to break down polystyrene and how this could be used in recycling. There have been a few initial studies on this, but it's still early days really. I think over time, we will increasingly be seeing insects being used more varied applications.
 
Entrepreneurs drive innovation. How do you think this can be used to help create a smarter future?
Innovation is key in creating a smarter future. With our growing population, scarce land, food, energy, and water resources, we need to find new ways of living our modern lives. Entrepreneurs are key to this. They look at traditional methods and find better ways of doing things. This thinking is what we need to create a smarter future.
 
What role do you think entrepreneurs will play in the transition to a low carbon society?
I think entrepreneurs will be at the forefront of leading the transition to a low carbon society. I think we are increasingly seeing the importance of sustainability in our world today and how reducing our carbon footprint is crucial. There has been an increased interest in ‘green’ companies, and the potential they offer. I think entrepreneurs will continue looking for ways to better our use of resources to one-day help achieve a low-carbon society.
 
What advice would you give to aspiring young entrepreneurs?
I would advise young entrepreneurs to take their time and focus on what will make the most significant difference in 20 years’ time, instead of any get rich quick schemes, which seldom work. I would say to find something that you are passionate about and you think has potential. Focus on small goals, so that each day you take a step closer to achieving your overall business aims.
 
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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