Interview with Irina Vetere, ByEnto cofounder
Hi Irina, last time we talked you told me about the idea of Byento for producing insect-based feed. What’s changed in these two years?
Hello Lorenzo. The initiative to use insects as feed was born during the first years of the new millennium, thanks to the studies and the promotion of FAO. Francesco decided to transform this project into a firm, riding a wave of the European activities which started to produce insects for food and feed and basing on his thesis in entomology for the Sacred Heart University.
So he asked me to kick off with him, beginning a new entrepreneurial activity for the production of feed and also pet food based on insects.
What’s happened next?
As economist, I realized that the model couldn’t work, even if it was really sustainable from an environmental point of view. Others producers have already invested in developing automatized processes in order to achieve new scale economies and to be competitive into an industry such as the feed production one. We were too late.
So, I wondered “why don’t consider a market which has higher marginality and requires less quantity?” Therefore I’ve thought the chemistry world, to offer not just the row material, dried or ground, but the single molecules contained into insects.
At that time, did you know your target?
Actually, we didn’t. It was just an intuition and we didn’t have any idea about the market. During the way, we got in touch with the cosmetics industry, but still, we didn’t know the characteristic of the product.
Participating to the numerous competitions, suddenly (in the bath!) I reminded the words of Francesco: “Insects are the kings of the Planet. They were born millions years ago and they live everywhere” so I thought that they must have developed a defensive system also able to protect our skin. The rest came naturally: not only the skin, but our entire organism. Thus, the idea of dietary supplement and drug became to come true!
What did you did immediately later?
Then, we did a lot of research which confirmed these other intuitions.
So, Francesco is the technician and you are the creative!
No, come on! I prefer saying that we are both entrepreneurs, at least, we try to do it! Each one of us gives own skills and know-how. For this reason I am managing this line of business and Francesco is managing the line of feed.
Do you mean that you didn’t set aside the feed?
Nope. Our breeding model consider the construction of a network of breeding units which will be managed by the farmers who are interested in entering into the supply chain, cutting down the cost and reducing the risk, and with the objective to differentiate the substrate basing on the function of our products.
In this way, we want to valorize the agricultural sector and to create an important social impact, even into the developing countries. We can reply the model on the production of feed, which, in this specific case, wont’ be addressed to the big feed industry, but to niches of market, as small biological breeding of animals.
Each unit will be able to progressively grow its dimensions and in the future, we will be able to penetrate the feed industry with a successful expertise and a diffused network.
Byento offers insect-based products for both human and animal consume. What will the consumer say about it?
A fundamental aspect is that these two lines has to be clearly separated, of course they can create synergies in terms of know-how, but they follow different processes, presenting different needs in terms of technology and development. We are projecting to constitute in the next period two distinct entities in order to address the resources efficiently, from a financial and commercial point of view.
So now, what is the state of art?
We have identified some composts through the analysis on our insects which have confirmed the data of the literature and also leaded to new values and some proteins which can be used as benchmark for the quality control of the production: we can develop a patent for an innovative kit which checks the presence of the proteins defining the state of health of the insects. These proteins can also be used as ingredients for the development of a pharmaceutical product as antimicrobial. We have developed protocols for the extraction of the fatties and the proteins. We have defined actions of the composts contained into the insects for cosmetical and nutraceutical purposes, we are now confirming them with biological tests.
Last but not least, we have transferred our pilot plan to Ventimiglia, into a 800 mq greenhouse.
And the next objective?
We are waiting for the results of the functional tests in order to fine tune the process of the industrial transformation. Then, we will need the certifications for the commercialization of the skin care product and the dietary supplement. So, the first objective is fundraising! The funds will be addressed to these last developments and for the launch of the products.
On the other hand, we need to create a base of production, ready to satisfy the demand at the first period of selling, for this reason we are looking for farmers interested into taking part of the breeding network of Byento.
Within next spring we will launch a platform as online training which permit to have the first turnover and to supply the know-how for the start of the breeding units.
Do you want to say something to your colleagues?
Just one thing: network!
We are so lucky to be part of a “blue ocean” world. We have so many products which we can develop, creating synergies and complementary. Our real competitors are outside, our competitors are on the final markets and just collaborating we can really make the difference for our consumers and for our Planet.