Talash Huijbers, the founder of Insectipro, is a believer that food guides our lives, day in and day out. Talash identified a critical insight about farming: most farmers fall under the bracket of low-income families. She founded Insectipro in November 2018 to create agricultural and financial sustainability for farmers.
Talash studied International Food and Agribusiness in Holland at the HAS University of Applied Sciences and gathered knowledge before founding Insectipro in nations such as Ecuador, Nepal, Belgium, and Holland.
The Quest to Fight World Hunger
She began her quest to fight world hunger by researching on alternative animal feed, leading her to fish meal: which possessed nutritional value and water sustainability as water could be re-usable. However, the quest had come to an untimely end, realising that fish meal was expensive and would do more harm than good for the farmer.
Insects emerged as the chosen medium that Insectipro would use to alleviate the poverty farmers experienced. They experimented with Black Soldier Flies for animal feed and Crickets for human consumption.
Talash already carried out her research, using European countries as a benchmark for insects consumption. Crickets are used in Pizza and Pasta while Black Soldier Flies components are used to make fertilisers.
The Power of the Product
With the help of a neighbour, Talash was able to purchase ten piglets that would serve to test and conclude that Black Soldier Flies were a revolutionary animal feed. She did this by dividing the ten piglets into groups of five with regular animal feed and a 20%, 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% animal feed replacement with the protein component of the Black Soldier Fly.
Her finding: The piglets fed with a higher concentration of Black Soldier Fly protein were faster, more mature in over four months which would be half the time to mature a pig with regular animal feed.
This finding would later prove right with the vegetables, with a regular potato only producing 22 Tubers and an Insectipro Potato (with Black Soldier Fly Infused Protein) would have 92 tubers.
Marketing the Product
Insectipro uses experiential marketing where they offer to do the testing directly on a farmers land; once the farmers see it, they do become the first customer. Experiential marketing has proven to be useful for the company so far.
A Thriving and Youthful enterprise
What started as a graduate with a dream, became a company that employed 55 individuals, an anticipating to produce four tonnes of animal feed per month. The company has bred one of the most massive cricket and Black Soldier Fly Colonies in East Africa.
Unlike countless companies where senior management constitutes timely seasoned professionals, youth is a strategic strength for Insectipro with senior management having a mean age of twenty years with three twenty-five-year olds and one thirty-two-year-old. The young age of the company provides a fun, fast-paced and ambitious environment. The company is currently growing to Ethiopia and Rwanda.
“I believe we can do much more than grow insects; any form that is sustainable that is future-oriented is important to me.”
Financing the Business
Having grown up on her parent’s farm in Limuru, Talash was able to experiment using their family land, which became the official headquarters of Insectipro. She was able to fundraise internally from family for the daily operations and saved up costs by developing their machines internally instead of importing.
Insectipro has the unique challenge of experiencing high demand with a limited supply. They are barely able to supply one feed mill. Insectipro strives to experiment with various insects as essential components in medicinal products for prenatal care for women and skincare products but being a pioneer in the niche, waiting for authorities approval slows down the process as provisions are ambiguous.
Getting National and Global Attention
Gathering attention from the highest office in the country, Talash recalls receiving a call at 9 a.m. on a Sunday that the H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta would be stopping by the Limuru farm, for five hours. He too was interested to see first-hand the innovation that could potentially impact Kenya’s food security.
Agriculture experts, Dutch Vice Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, Ms Marjolijn Sonnema, and the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary of Agriculture, Mr Mwangi Kiunjuri were able to witness Insectipro’s work.
Insectipro gained attention globally, were selected for the Solve – MIT’s Sustainable Food Systems Solver Class of 2020, where they won a grant that will enable them to delve deeper into research and development in 2021.
Out of the Farm, into The Business
Talash joined the GrowthAfrica accelerator’s programme Resolve in our 2020 cohort, in need to match the business with the agricultural prowess they were acquiring.
“GrowthAfrica seemed more business focussed, and that is what we needed at that time.”
While at the programme, Talash was able to understand customer characteristics, value architecture, communication, developing business competencies and people management.
“I have learnt the 5 Ps- Perseverance, Persistence, Patience, Passion and Pivoting.”
The programme also gave Insectipro with structural support by providing worksheets that currently used in Insectipro sprinting session.
“I loved the Brain Trusts. To see how other people think, a lot of people have the same growing pains and challenges. Interacting with other businesses has been the best part of this programme.”
Insectipro intends to diversify their insect base with Meal Worms and Grasshoppers which provide Folic Acid for prenatal care in 2021. They plan to disrupt the agricultural sector in Kenya and beyond.