McGill team seeks to solve global food crisis one bug at a time
MONTREAL -- A team of McGill MBA students has turned farming insects into a viable business, earning themselves the prestigious Hult award and $1 million to help start a social business.
Bugs don’t whet your appetite? It’s time to look at them in a new light, said prizewinner Mohammed Ashour.
“If you take the example of grasshoppers, they have a comparable amount of protein, equivalent to beef, so 100 grams versus 100 grams,” said Ashour.
Called the Aspire team, they earned the award a month ago in hopes of turning their idea of insect farming into a viable business in urban slums.
“The issue most of these people have is they lack access to these insects. These insects are both seasonal and expensive, so what we're trying to do is provide sustainable year-round farming of insects,” said Ashour.
To iron out their business plan, the team travelled to three continents, in part to study the culture of bugs.
“The way that people approach food, the way people buy food, what motivates them to purchase the foods that they purchase?” said team member Shobhita Soor.
In Thailand, the Aspire team learned the most basic ways to farm insects. In Mexico, they learned about the grasshopper – and they taste tested everything along the way.
“I must have had 300 kilograms of assorted grasshoppers that day. Fortunately they were delicious so that was okay,” said Ashour.
To many Canadians, a plate of roasted crickets may not look appetizing, but to more than 2 billion people, bugs are a staple of their diets.
More than farming them, the Aspire team also hopes to create tasty snacks using ingredients such as cricket powder.
“We've worked on developing fortified flours, fortified crisps, that would really add nutrition to people's dietary profiles,” said Soor.
While they work on this project, the Aspire team is facing another challenge: A PhD student hired as a consultant before their first victory at the regionals claims the team used his intellectual property to win, and they owe him money.
The case is now before a mediator, therefore no one would comment.
In the meantime, Aspire’s target markets are currently Ghana and Mexico, but eventually, they hope the idea of eating bugs will catch on elsewhere.
“For example, we eat soy burgers now,” said Soor. “I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years, we're eating ant burgers. It's just this way of getting protein that is a lot better for the earth.”