Growing up, Jonny had an up close and personal perspective on agriculture from raising livestock on his family's farm in Australia. But with a changing world and a growing human population, his interests later turned to a potential sustainable solution: insect-based proteins that could be used for livestock or human consumption. To learn more from cultures that have used these ingredients for centuries, Jonny traveled to a few East and Southeast Asian countries to see how current innovators are breaking new ground with insect proteins. This is his Inspiration Grant story.
What started my inspiration into insect-based proteins? The genesis of it was back home in the family farm and whether or not we could have our own insect farm to raise insects to then feed to the livestock, essentially right next door. On the more macro level as well, it was then thinking about into the future where we have a growing population, what are some really innovative, unique ways that different entrepreneurs are trying to change consumer preferences to get humans eating more insects? And then also, how innovators are looking at incorporating insect protein into animal livestock feed. So it was really that kind of parallel source of inquiry. In any small way, if we can become more self-sustainable, I think that's a really powerful message.
Probably one of the most interesting parts of my trip was walking into a shop in Tokyo called TAKEO. They sell basically all different types of insect products and they actually manufacture these themselves, and it's also a cafe. Whilst you peruse the shelves and look at cricket snacks, giant water bug snacks, you can also sit there and have a black soldier fly cola or some cricket ice cream.
I kind of very unassumingly walked in, and one of the food scientists came out and he gave me a bit of a tour of the shop and explained what they were doing. There was one man in particular who was in the corner of the room and I kind of recognized his face, but didn't really know who he was. The gentleman that I was talking to actually pointed to a book and said, Oh, that man over there wrote this book. It's his recipe book. And I was like, That's really interesting. Could it be this man who is basically the preeminent expert of insects in Japan? It turns out it was, and this guy I'd been trying to track down for a long time now to get in touch with him before I was coming across to Japan, but couldn't. It was probably my second day I walked into a shop and he was sitting right there.
Even better yet, there were a number of people who then walked through the door and they had a meeting with this food scientist and the rest of the people at TAKEO. I kind of made myself scarce, but then asked permission and was able to sit in on the meeting. The person who'd come to meet with TAKEO was one of the preeminent experts at the World Bank looking at edible insects. It was just this collection of world leading experts in the space, all in this one room, and we probably sat there for three to four hours just going through what they're doing at TAKEO and the insect scene in Japan, what they're doing with taste profiles, what insects they find most interesting. I consider myself super lucky to have been there, but, you know, sometimes you just gotta put yourself out there and luck comes to find you. I knew from that point that it was gonna be a great trip.
I was talking to the team at Gryllus, it's interesting how they think about their target segments. Are these the nutritionally minded people who are looking at better sources or more effective sources of protein? Is it people thinking about sustainability and their own carbon footprint on the world? Is this a more sustainable source of protein for people? Or is it an adventurous, fun snack that people can get involved with? Or is it just a good tasting product? I don't think anyone's really figured it out quite yet. I definitely think they're probably angling more towards it being a more nutritional snack item or food item and weighing heavily on that, but at the same time, not leaving behind the fact that they can also market themselves as a more sustainable producer.
My involvement going forward in this space, that's something I'm still trying to figure out. Whether or not it is something like working with the World Bank, or setting up my own factory and actually building out my own partnership with the surrounding community. I think that's a really interesting model that I'd like to think more about. I kind of went into this program very open-minded and very keen to explore an area that I've been interested in for a long time now. I just really don't wanna let this go. I think it's got me even more enthused for the space. I'm really excited.
Any new kind of ingredients that we add into our diet, it doesn't necessarily need to replicate whatever is existing within our diet. I think we should be open to change and using these ingredients in different ways and almost expanding our diet set. And that doesn't mean not eating meat. It doesn't mean not eating fish. It just means maybe eating fish or meat less. But really thinking about how we can incorporate insects into our diet, whether it be because it tastes good, whether it be it's more sustainable, or more nutritious. Sometimes we get a bit of an icky feel about insects, but that's just totally within us. If we can drop that icky feel, we can actually see these as a great source of protein that can help solve for a lot of the problems that we're facing around the world.
The Levy Inspiration Grant Program is made possible through the generous support of Larry and Carol Levy and is managed by the Entrepreneurship program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. To learn more about the Levy Inspiration Grant Program and other ways we support student entrepreneurs, visit our website at kellogg.northwestern.edu.