Off the top of your head, how many bugs would you say that you’ve eaten? How many of those were on purpose? If you said zero (I am going to assume you said zero. Just playing the odds, here), then there’s someone I’d like to introduce you to.
“This is where I get really excited because there’s over 2,000 varieties of insects eaten all over the world. There’s this whole undiscovered food group we can tap in to.” Says Laura D’Asaro.
Laura gets excited about a lot of things regarding bugs. Which tracks, since she’s one of the co-founders of Chirps, along with Rose Wang and Meryl Breidbart. And Chirps is a company that makes food using cricket powder, with their main offering currently being their cricket chip.
You may be asking: What is a cricket chip? How do you make one? Why would someone even do that? Great questions. Well to answer as succinctly as possible… they’re chips made from cricket protein, it was very hard to manufacture, but worth it, because they’re here to save the world. Or at least help.
The process of getting their chips on to store shelves has been a long and arduous one. Even after working with a chef and formulating a producible recipe, it’s maybe not a surprise that large manufacturers weren’t all jumping at the opportunity to make a small run of chips for a startup. And when you add in the extra wrinkle of using bug protein as a main ingredient, it doesn’t require an excess of imagination to determine why so many would pass. In fact, Rose and Laura had to call 400 individual chip manufacturers before they found one willing to produce their cricket chips.
They called so many people that Google alone wasn’t enough to hunt down a willing partner. They used old yellow pages and industry books filled with contact information for various manufacturers and commercial kitchens as well. But the biggest tip they could offer to find the right manufacturer was to just ask the people who would know.
“If they couldn’t work with us, the next ask would be, ‘who else do you know in your network who could help us?’ And I think that’s one of the best questions to ask.” Says Rose.
The road didn’t get any easier from there. Investors had pretty much the same reaction to eating bugs as the manufacturers did, and Chirps had a hard time getting funding from anywhere. They ended up having to earn the money on their own through pitch competitions, but that ended up being a blessing in disguise. Yes, they won a bunch of equity-free money, but what was better than that was: they got to test their message. Because if you’re going to ask people to eat bugs, you better have a REAL strong message.
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