Take a shipping container, add a portion of AI and a boatload of black soldier flies, fold up a small mountain of food waste, sprinkle $16 million in investments led by Balderton Capital, and engage the Michelin reviewers, because om nom, you’ve got a delicious dish called Better Origin. The company uses what it calls “mini-farms” that turn expired fruits and vegetables into tasty chunks that can be used as animal feed.
“I am an engineer and have just left the oil and gas industry. I started a master’s degree in sustainable engineering in Cambridge, hoping to get involved in something like that. I always thought I would dedicate my life to something. I prefer to do something that is meaningful, impactful and can bring change. That year I took part in many competitions about entrepreneurship, especially about sustainability. There I met my co-founder, who is a biologist. They gave us a problem to solve: food waste and came up with smarter ways to deal with it,” said Fotis Fotiadis, CEO and co-founder of Better Origin. “We started that five years ago. Things have evolved a lot and with the purpose and whole mission of the company. I believe our generation will have to solve one of the biggest challenges, ‘how can we produce food to feed the population in a sustainable and safe way?’ One of the biggest problems in achieving this is globalization. And by that I mean that we have such a global food chain that is structurally broken because it is not sustainable.”
The company points out that in a supermarket, you can pick just about any product you want, and very little is produced locally.
“Even the things that we think are local are not,” Fotiadis laments. “The vast majority of the seed that is fed to the chickens comes from South America. That creates two major problems: you have to transport things over very long distances, which is very harmful to the environment.”
Against the backdrop of a world where US President Biden suggests we are dealing with food shortages as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is becoming very clear that the food supply is not as resilient as it should be. Better Origin believes it has at least part of the solution.
“We make the food supply chain local, and for that we need a new ingredient. Our belief is that the use of food waste is this new ingredient. Food waste is everywhere; it is local and has many hidden nutrients in it. Our technology can absorb any kind of waste and convert it into food,” explains Fotiadis. “We have built automated factories in sea containers. You put food waste at one end and you feed that to insects. The insects grow and you feed those insects to animals. Because these systems are located in sea containers, they can be deployed in all kinds of parts of the supply chain.”
In a nutshell, the company’s premise is to move animal feed production to the farms that consume the food. This lowers feed costs and lowers emissions, while increasing productivity for the farmer. The $16 million funding round was led by UK veteran investors Balderton Capital and will be used to help the company grow the team and scale internationally. Existing investors Fly Ventures and Metavallon VC also participated.
Through decentralized AI-powered insect mini-farms, Better Origin extracts local food waste from supermarkets and converts it into high-quality, sustainable animal feed. The containerized insect farms mimic the conditions found in nature, where food is eaten by insects and upcycled into essential nutrients for other animals to grow. Using AI and automation to create the optimal environment for this cycle to thrive, Better Origin produces black soldier fly larvae that can be fed to the farm’s animals. Cameras, computer vision and sensors monitor the conditions within each mini farm to ensure they are optimal for production.
In December, Better Origin signed a deal to supply 10 mini insect farms to feed chickens to British supermarket giant Morrisons’ egg farms. The company estimates it is on track to produce 5,700 tons of CO. to save2 emissions per year.
“Fotis, Miha [Pipan, CSO] and the Better Origin team are working to fundamentally change our broken food chain for the benefit of all,” said Suranga Chandratilake, general partner at Balderton Capital. “Climate change, the pandemic, political tensions and our growing population have shown time and again how vulnerable our current systems are. They have also shown how agriculture is currently exacerbating the challenges we face and that solutions so far have not led to the total change we need. Better Origin presents a new approach and we believe it can have a transformative effect on food and agricultural systems.”
The company currently has five mini farms in operation, but plans to grow rapidly in the coming year.
“Hopefully if one thing goes according to plan, we should have 20 in the next few months,” suggests Fotiadis, outlining the company’s growth ambitions.