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SIX interviews Kathryn Redford on the unique challenges of being a startup business... selling bugs

Author: Kathryn Redford
Published Date: 11 July 2013

Ofbug is a startup food business, with a twist: Ofbug farms organic insects for use in a variety of products, but mainly as a sustainable, affordable protein component in livestock feed.

SIX speaks with Ofbug founder Kathryn Redford on the inspirations and challenges of setting up a sustainable food business at the social and political vanguard.

What inspired you to start OfBug?

I worked at an animal refuge and helped breed insects for the reptiles. I never realised how nutritious and energy efficient insects are! I was convinced they could be more useful to us. My first idea was “Maggot Burgers”. The first business-savvy person I mentioned it to, said to me flat out, “It’s not possible to market that”. Still, I did casual market research which yielded no interest. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was young, and am concerned with the environmental impact of consuming meat. I figured, if I can’t convert people to consuming a more sustainable protein source, what about making current meat sources more sustainable? Soy and fish meal in feed can be nearly perfectly substituted with insects. I shared this idea with a few small-scale farmers and they were really excited. So I bought a white board! Seriously though, I just know we need to use insects as a commodity, I’m 110% convinced of that.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced starting up?

Startups are a challenge, full stop. The challenges unique to mine are less about the customer and more about meeting demand. This is a great problem to have, but it’s incredibly frustrating. I can only produce so much with the set-ups available to me. One farmer came to me wanting Ofbug so she could raise soy-free chickens, an idea which is gaining popularity, and I had to turn her down. Other challenges result from the industry being so new in North America. When I began there was no community for insects in food or being used in feed. Even now there are only a handful of people trying to breed insects on a large scale, so there’s not a lot of information available. Thanks to the UN FAO Insect Programme and Wageningen UR Livestock Research, that has changed quite a bit. To finally answer your question, the biggest challenge is more of a web of challenges that come with competing with soy. Soy is subsidised in the U.S., a lot of farmers couldn’t afford it if it weren’t. Soy is part of an existing system with lots of people and politics keeping it in place, regardless of how unsustainable it has become. It’s a situation that I, or any one person, are going to have a rough time having an influence upon.

Where do you want to be with OfBug by the end of 2016?

I want to have a production facility and want significant customers in the meat production industry. I want to be a leader in sustainable feed, and I want to use that to influence people to live healthier, and to support community agriculture. I also want to eliminate the existing, and erroneous, notion that insects are gross. Insects are important and fascinating, and can be very, very useful to us.

What resources do you need to get you there?

At this stage the main challenge is scaling up production. I need a facility and a facility-size process for producing on a large scale. I have some leads on a facility, but testing processes can be time consuming. I’ve had some interest from feed mills, so I want to be able to supply mills with Ofbug soon, which means I’d also need delivery trucks and drivers. It would be amazing to be able to afford some employee’s to help with these aspects.