Russian entrepreneur, Naum Babaev, the founder of the Russian dairy company, Rusmolco, and joint owner of the Damate group, a large agricultural holding, set up Entoprotech five years ago, with the initial idea of using Black Soldier Fly (BSF) to manage turkey manure.
Entoprotech now operates a small, industrial scale facility in central Russia producing defatted BSF-derived insect meal, insect fat and frass. However, its HQ and its R&D operations are in Israel, with Entoprotech looking to develop newer, more high-margin products, and collaborating with Israeli academics in this regard.
Sasha Babitsky, CEO, Entoprotech, told us: “There is so much to discover and to learn about BSF. We are just scratching this surface, and, because of that, we decided not to define ourselves as AgTech or cleantech, biotech or foodtech, as we are kind of sitting on the crossroads of all of those. Furthermore, we were looking for a market to set up where we could get access to R&D talent and [support for innovation and Israel answered all our needs in that respect].”
Indeed, Israel has the reputation of a start-up nation. The country recognizes innovation as a major driver of productivity, economic growth and development, and it has one of the highest levels of gross expenditure on R&D of OECD countries.
“So far, our decision to establish our HQ and R&D center there has paid off. We are involved in a range of collaborative activities with academic institutions, with businesses around us, with the biotech industry. With a very limited team – an R&D team of six in Israel and a similar number of scientists in Russia - we are able to run a variety of different projects,” said Babitsky.
The vision for Entoprotech is to build large-scale facilities that are able to process 150 tons of food waste per day, making a real impact on the environment, and, evidently, being economical viable and producing a significant amount of insect meal and fat, said the CEO
“The goal is to go global; we are currently intensely analyzing food waste streams in the US and Europe. One of the biggest challenges for our industry is to learn about and fully understand food waste streams, as a stable supply of food waste for insect rearing is critical. In each location where we are exploring a potential facility set-up we are looking for a local partner so we can get access to the local knowledge and resources,” continued Babitsky.
Food waste is a global issue. “We see ourselves as an R&D centric company, and we think we are going to be a very attractive alternative for dealing with food waste and turning it into valuable products. BSF is also a very exciting creature in regard to antibiotic alternatives, as it contains antimicrobial components.”
The Russian plant is processing 15 tons of food waste per day, and producing four BSF sourced products. “It is breaking even, despite its small size.”
There are, of course, many companies producing similar insect derived products.
“But the challenge is to be better, more efficient, and cheaper, though with a good quality product. Half of the effort of our R&D department is on process improvements and ensuring the universality of operations. We are paying a lot of attention to the shortening of life cycles, and we just had a breakthrough on energy efficiency; through a series of experiments, we have managed to dramatically reduce the energy needed in the process of reading BSF.
“The other half of the R&D effort is focused on advanced products. We are working with a group from Hebrew University on anti-inflammatory features of BSF, for example.”
He also said having the Damate Group behind the insect producer brings the innovator a wealth of experience in livestock rearing, sizable agricultural and industrial operations roll out, and large-scale protein production.
“We are currently looking to raise capital, we see a lot of money flowing into the sector, and while we have not officially started the process, we have already been approached by quite a few investors, and, as such, we have managed to get commitments of funding of around US$5m out of the US$20m we are planning to raise,” confirmed Babitsky.
The plan is to build two plants in the near future, he said, a facility in Israel within the next year, and, perhaps, an additional plant in Russia, or a facility in southern Europe.