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Thomas Farrugia (Beta Bugs)

Thomas Farrugia won a Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award in December 2018 for his business, Beta Bugs.

Business Description

Livestock production now contributes nearly 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions: even more than the transportation sector. Even though more people are opting for meat-free diets, the demand for animal-based protein is expected to double by 2050 because of the growing population and slow pace of diet change. This means that livestock require increasingly more feed, which is currently heavily reliant on soymeal and fishmeal: industries which cause deforestation and biodiversity loss.
Recognising the need to improve sustainability of meat, Thomas Farrugia founded Beta Bugs in 2017. The ag-biotechnology company produces high-performance insect breeds for the growing insects-as-feed sector. The company is currently focusing on improving strains of the black soldier fly (BSF) to provide commercial insect farmers with a superior and more productive cost-effective breed to produce larvae protein in animal feed.
Insects are 150+ times more space efficient than soy and can be reared locally on food waste, thereby strengthening supply chains that have a positive environmental impact.
Beta Bugs won the runners-up prize of £6,000 in the New Enterprise Competition of the University of Bristol. Earlier in 2018, Farrugia became a Royal Society of Edinburgh Unlocking Ambition Enterprise Fellow.
“As part of the Unlocking Ambition programme I received monthly training from experienced entrepreneurs on how to grow Beta Bugs even further,” explained Farrugia. “Through our exposure to the various initiatives, we have been able to build multiple relationships with insect farms, academics and industrial partners.” In fact, it was someone in Farrugia’s network who recommended Shell LiveWIRE to him.
The breeding programme Beta Bugs is developing both bio-tech and breeding approaches. The Shell LiveWIRE cash prize will accelerate high-throughput phenotyping operations, enabling Beta Bugs to select for the key traits that it integrates into its high-performance breeds. Winning the Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award is bringing several benefits. “We have noticed a shift in how our company is perceived, which is already having a positive impact on the conversations we are having around innovation funding applications,” said Farrugia.
Farrugia has a PhD in Chemistry, which is unrelated to the company he now heads up. That has not held him back, however. “I’ve learned that to be successful you don’t have to know the sector you’re working in inside out: but you do have to be willing to learn and understand how it works,” says Farrugia. To him, tenacity, persistence and the ability to spot an opportunity are key, but he has one more piece of advice for other entrepreneurs: “It’s amazing what you can learn from others and how willing people generally are to help. All you have to do is ask.”



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