The First Insect Producer in SouthEast Europe | Future Agro Challenge

The First Insect Producer in SouthEast Europe

The way proteins are produced is unsustainable and inefficient – it harms the environment, depletes Earth’s natural resources, and cannot meet the ever-growing demand fueled by population growth.  With a growing population, dependent on proteins as a food source, Nasekomo solves this problem by producing and selling insect proteins to animal feed producers. The production of insect protein is scalable, does not require vast amounts of arable land, and does not deplete other natural resources such as wild fish or water. Furthermore, we feed our insects with agro-industry co-products, which are upscaled into valuable proteins. We are uniquely positioned as the first and currently only insect producer in the South-east European region, and plan to expand our footprint to other geographies, thus scaling through technology and science our solution and its positive impact on our environment.

The insect rearing industry is very young, and as such it has still a lot of evolving to do. In the near future all players will focus on making their production scalable and automating a lot of the processes that are very labor-intensive at present. Also, while currently all insect-rearing companies implement an integrated model, we expect this to change in the future. Today, the full process of insect-rearing – from breeding and rearing of the insects through producing the end product and delivering it to end-customers – is done by the insect-rearing companies. However, further down the line, the insect-rearing value chain will replicate those of other animal industries. At that time, different players will specialize in different activities.

After creating and exiting several successful companies, we wanted to shift our focus on building a company that will help with our planet’s sustainability challenges. We started looking into what options are out there, and finally zeroed in on insect-rearing.  We started with a few thousand larvae we ordered online, and then had to figure out how to breed them. The whole “operation” was very experimental in nature where we learned as we went along. However, only a few months after those first larvae were delivered to us, we already had in place our first demo factory and the first employees.  “I don’t consider this a job. It is something that I can do to give back to society and also help future generations. I thoroughly enjoy what I do, especially the element of discovery and continuous learning that is invariably present at any new industry, says Yana Balnikova, PMO Program Director of Naskeomo.

Our USP is our business model that focuses on supplying high value-added products, services, and licensed technology to the insect industry.  We look at success from 2 different sides: On the one hand, since we are a for-profit organization, we are looking at our financial results. Our target is to capture 1.5% of the 2030 EU total addressable market, which is currently projected at 8.5 billion euros. We have already started out toward that goal, and since April this year we are already generating revenue coming from the EU market.

On the other hand, Nasekomo is in existence because we would like to solve the food and sustainability challenges humanity faces. For this reason, we are also looking at our sustainability as a measurement for success. On a high-level, we have identified several of the United Nations Global Sustainability Goals that are relevant to us, and are working towards achieving those. On a more granular level, we have identified the relevant specific criteria we would like to measure our success in terms of sustainability, e.g. CO2 emissions, water, and land usage, fossil fuel usage. We are now in the process of establishing the methodology to measure those.

We tackle the global food challenge not only through our flagship product – the insect protein, but also through our other current products. We produce insect oil as well – again for animal feed. Insect oil is proven to be very beneficial for the health of animals, specifically piglets.  We also produce and sell a high-quality organic fertilizer, which is an excellent substitute for chemical fertilizers. The fertilizer has 6 times shorter maturation period as compared to animal manure, and is richer in nitrogen, which makes it very valuable. The insect fertilizer is not only an organic low-carbon-footprint fertilizer but it also prevents the impoverishment of soil by re-injecting in the ground various micro-elements taken for the local agricultural coproduction that we leverage (unlike “classic” NPK chemical fertilizers). Also, unlike chemical fertilizers, it does not use any fossil fuels.

We face the challenges that any startup has to face – access to human and financial capital.  In the short term, Nasekomo needs funding to scale up our production and reach industrial capacities. There is currently a funding round led by a local VC to support that growth. In the long term, we are looking for funding to realize our aggressive growth. We would like to partner with long-term oriented impact investors.

In terms of human capital, we were struggling at the beginning to find the needed experts. However, in 2019 the team has grown exponentially and reached 20+ people, including entomologists, R&D, biology, industrialization, manufacturing, IT, and agtech experts. So, we could say that we have been successful in growing our team with the right people.

On top of the above 2 challenges, we also face the lack of knowledge and/or skepticism about our industry. Insect-rearing is in its nascent years and we still have to do a lot of educating in order to convince our audience of the great potential this industry has.

And last but not least – a challenge is the lack of industrial-scale technology to facilitate our production. Due to the novelty and specificity of the industry, no equipment is available that we could simply plug into our operations. Thus, we have had to develop our own prototypes, one of which is already with a filed patent application, while 2 others are currently being installed and will allow us to increase our current production capacity by 25 times as early as January 2020.

As such, we joined the FAC Global Competition for several reasons:

  • We wanted to meet other players in the agtech environment – startups, investors, and experts, and become part of that network at an international level. FAC was the best venue that this could happen.
  • We also wanted to get an informal validation and/or feedback on our business model and future plans. The feedback and targeted questions from the FAC Global Competition judges, as well as the audience were invaluable in that respect.
  • The competition also offered ample opportunity to learn from each other and get new ideas, which was another reason we joined.
  • And last but not least, we wanted to get exposure to potential investors.

Becoming part of the FAC Global Network made us more visible in the agtech world – both to potential investors and future partners. Being recognized as one of the better solutions in the sphere also added a level of credibility to our startup. Furthermore, we definitely learned a lot and were inspired by the other startups