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On Friday night Bigcommerce client Chapul walked out of the Shark Tank with a $50,000 investment for 15 percent of his company from Mark Cuban. What’s extraordinary about this deal is the product — gourmet energy bars made with crickets. And I believe Cuban is a genius for getting in early on this movement. Food security is a pressing problem as the world population continues to increase. But fortunately innovative entrepreneurs like Chapul’s Pat Crowley are redefining the future of food.
Crickets are the new superfood
At SXSW, I attended a talk by Bitty Foods, a company that worked with Chapul to develop their own take on cricket treats. Long gone are the days of getting insects legs stuck between your teeth. Like Chapul, Bitty uses a fine protein flour made from roasted crickets to make chocolate chip cookies, pizza bases and more.
The idea of eating crickets made my stomach turn, but when I heard that the flour is 70 percent protein and of course gluten-free, the entrepreneur in me started paying attention. Another interesting fact is that insects are nearly 10 times more efficient on a feed-to-meat ratio than cattle and could help address the challenge of supplying protein-based foods to growing populations.
So I tried a Bitty chocolate chip cricket cookie. The last protein cookie I’d tried, given to me by a fitness fanatic friend, had been tasteless with a chalk-like consistency. I’d expected it would be comparable, but was surprised that Bitty’s treat tasted like a real cookie!
Lettuce is getting a data-rich makeover
I also learned about MIT CityFARM at SXSW. They use hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic technologies to build high-tech urban farm systems that address our growing food distribution challenges. Their goal is to provide city dwellers with access to better, fresher, sustainable food.
CityFARM leverages a high volume of data to grow food using minimal energy, space and water whilst producing maximum nutritional value. They believe that linking rural and urban agriculture is imperative to adequately meet the population’s food needs in the coming decades. In addition to mining big data from satellite imagery and other large datasets, they work with the Open Agriculture Initiative to provide a platform for sharing global agricultural research.
Caleb Harpur, founder and lead researcher at CityFARM, has eaten so many lettuces grown in a data-rich environment that he can now taste what nutrients they are rich or deficient in. He suggests there will be a day when “taste will no longer start on the chef’s table but in the growing process by naturally stressing the plant.”
Empowering consumers to be producers
While Chapul, Bitty and CityFARM are all full-blown startups, as the founder of Garden Genie I’m most excited about the opportunity for each one of us to become our own food producers. It is easier than ever to innovate what’s on our plates.
Harpur stressed that you don’t need a degree from MIT to give aeroponic growing a shot. There are numerous YouTube videos that will walk you through the growing process, showing you how to use common household items like a dehumidifier to start your own urban garden. If you don’t have dirt to plant in, this could be an option for growing your own fruits and vegetables, ensuring your produce is safe, healthy and free of pesticides.
I can also see the grow-your-own insect kits from companies like Tiny Farms complimenting the Garden Genie product line. We aim to empower people in every climate and environment to grow their own vegetables. You don’t need acres to grow great produce, and if you don’t have a yard big enough to graze cattle you could always raise a herd of crickets!
There is a great deal of agricultural data available in the world but a lack of companies using it effectively. Opportunities abound for entrepreneurs who can interpret that data and develop technologies or products that address food issues. And who knows, whilst you’re developing your own solutions you just might hook a shark like Mark Cuban.
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