Lucilla in Lipetsk

Good to hear about Russian entrepreneurs doing something cutting-edge and producing something immediately marketable:

Amid the satellites, virtual reality headsets, 3D printers and other hi-tech products on show at Skolkovo’s recent Startup Bazaar, the stand housing a cage of buzzing flies and jar of writhing maggots stood out. Also on the table were jars of dried and crushed maggots – and this, according to Novye Biotekhnologii, the company behind the stall, is the future of our food.

Not sure about our food (one of the owners adds larvae-sourced protein to his morning milkshake) but the medium-term objective is to substitute for some of the fish- and soy-derived protein in chicken and hog feed:

Some 14 per cent of the world’s ocean fish catch is fed to farm animals and growing demand for soya-based feed is driving deforestation and undermining staple food crop production in South America.

Plus, it’s got to be cheaper. Insects are rather good at converting their food – in the case of greenbottle flies, organic waste – into pure protein. The devil is in the details, as usual: it seems the owners have built all the equipment themselves, by trial and error. The larvae come from the good old greenbottle fly, Lucilia Caesar, and feed on dead chickens – there’s always some die-off even at the best-run farms. They can also feed on dung and droppings.

Skolkovo is merely providing an exhibition platform: there’s no mention of their role in financing the enterprise. The owners say they have invested about $850,000 in the project (500 million roubles), 70% contributed by the family and friends and 30% by banks and other investors. That should be enough to produce 120 tons per year of protein, which would be $200k in sales with a roughly 50% operating margin. Not bad – but the protein segment of the cattle feed market in Russia is at least 100,000 tons per year and growing. I’d consider investing if they went public.

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