Washington-based startup expanding production of mealworms

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/urf
© GettyImages/urf

Related tags: Insect, novel protein, mealworm

US insect protein producer, Beta Hatch, is moving to a new location this summer in order to set up a new flagship production facility and ensure the company’s long-term growth.

The Washington-based startup has been focusing on developing and expanding the production of mealworms to provide an alternative source of protein for use in animal feed.

The company has been generating funding in a series A financing round as part of its plan to move the operation’s headquarters to a new flagship facility in the Wenatchee region of Washington state.

Beta Hatch received $135,000 in funding and prizes during the Flywheel Investment Conference, which will help support the company’s move and scale up efforts, said Virginia Emery, Beta Hatch founder.

“We’re really excited for the next phase of our growth, which is to build our flagship commercial facility,”​ she added.

The upcoming facility will be the first hub in the company’s intended “hub and spoke”​ expansion plans, she told us. Eventually, the site will be focused on egg production and act as Beta Hatch’s first supply chain hatchery.

Financial support and upcoming move

“The Flywheel conference, which was in Wenatchee, is a venture conference that is three years old and brings together investors from the local area,”​ said Emery. “The intention of the conference has always been to promote an ecosystem of startups and investors and innovators in the area … we were excited to win the investment prize and the support of the community.” 

The region where the facility will be located has an agricultural focus and provides a market for the insect-generated frass or fertilizer produced during the insect rearing process, she said.

“It’s a great place for indoor agriculture and it has the least expensive energy in the country."

Previously, the company raised $4.8m through grants​ and investments to support its development and expansion efforts, according to company information.

“The Flywheel win was a bit of a cherry on top of our existing plans,”​ Emery added.

Developing a ‘hub and spoke’ system

The company currently has a production facility in the Seattle area, but the flagship facility is expected to increase Beta Hatch’s insect production by about 30 times, said Emery.

The amount of insect-based protein generated could grow from about a ton a week to closer to a ton day.

“It’s a pretty big jump – we’re going to be producing several tons on a weekly basis, so from a capacity standpoint it’s a fairly sizable scale-up,” ​she said. “However, it’s just the beginning of the supply chain.”

“The first facility is 30,000 square feet and we’re going to be producing the full life cycle at that location, and eventually focus on production and creating product; however, the intention of the facility is that we can convert it over to egg production as we build out our network of producers,” ​she added.  

The site is intended to act as a hub – meaning it will transition to a hatchery space as additional insect production ranches are established, she said.

“At the hub, we’ll focus on production of the eggs, they go through the full life cycle [and] it’s where the core of our technology lives – the spokes in the system, these ranches are where we’ll produce the product,” ​Emery said. “We’re working on a model where we can work with contract farmers similar to how the poultry industry works.”

The amount of insects produced at the hub facility will vary depending on the “ratio of egg production to product production,”​ she said. “That facility is intended to be the first hub, the first hatchery in the system, and we’re hoping it can support several hundred tons, we’re forecasting as much as 900 tons a month that it could support as a hatchery,”​ she added.

“We could be bringing our first ranch online as early as next year we’re working to continue to expand our capacity as quickly as we can,”​ she said.

Prior to building out the intended hub and spoke system the flagship facility has to be completed, Emery said.

The company is in the process of designing and building it now with the goal of moving this summer and starting production early next year.

In addition to the new flagship, the current facility also will continue its operation, she said. That site will help support the ramp-up efforts at the flagship when it opens.

Flagship overview and long-term planning

The upcoming facility is intended to be slightly smaller than what some companies in the insect production industry have constructed, said Emery.

“We’re really trying to find the right scale of production that makes sense from the financing standpoint and the operating standpoint to keep things as scalable as possible,” ​she added.

Initially, the insect protein generated is being used in the poultry sector, she said.

“As we start to produce more volume of product we’re going to be looking to have the product be focused on some larger producers,” ​she added.

“The mission of the business is to make an impact in food, so we’ve looked at organic poultry [and] the aquaculture market has a lot of opportunity,” ​she said. “Basically, any animal that needs protein could be fed with our ingredients – we’re trying to find the right fit in those markets.”

Looking forward, Beta Hatch’s plan is to have sites and operating farms across the US, as part of a larger insect production industry she said. “We’d like to see a mature and healthy insect production ecosystem that includes having regional hatcheries that are producing eggs and ranchers producing product,”​ she added.

“I see insects being a part of every animal diet that we use commercially within the next five to seven years,” ​Emery said. “I think that’s very reasonable.”

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