Take a shipping container, add a helping of AI and a boat-load of black soldier flies, fold in a small mountain of food waste, sprinkle in $16 million of investment led by Balderton Capital, and call in the Michelin reviewers, because om nom, you’ve got yourself a delicious dish called Better Origin. The company is using what it calls “mini farms” that turn expiring fruit and veggies into tasty morsels that can be used as animal feed.
“I’m an engineer and I just left the oil and gas industry. I started a master’s degree in sustainable engineering at Cambridge, hoping that I’d get involved with something like this. I always thought that I was going to devote my life to something. I’d much rather do something that is meaningful and impactful and can bring change. That year, I was participating in a lot of competitions around entrepreneurship, specifically around sustainability. That’s where I met my co-founder, who is a biologist. They gave us a problem to solve: food waste and coming up with smarter ways of dealing with it,” says Fotis Fotiadis, CEO and co-founder of Better Origin. “We started working on this five years ago. Things have evolved a lot and with the purpose and the whole mission of the company. I believe that our generation will have to solve one of the biggest challenges as we come along, ‘how can we produce food to feed the population in a sustainable and secure way?’ One of the biggest problems to achieving that is globalization. And what I mean by that is that we have such a global food supply chain that structurally is broken, because it’s not sustainable.”
The company points out that you can pick pretty much any product you want in a supermarket, and there’s very little produced locally.
“Even the things we think are local aren’t,” Fotiadis laments. “The vast majority of the seed that gets fed to the chickens come from South America. So that causes two big problems: you need to ship things over very long distances, which is very damaging for the environment.”
Against the backdrop of a world where U.S. President Biden is suggesting that we’re facing food shortages due to the Russian invasion in Ukraine, it becomes very clear that food supply isn’t as resilient as it perhaps should be. Better Origin believes it has at least a part of the solution.
“We make the food supply chain local, and we need a new ingredient to do that. Our belief is that using food waste, is this new ingredient. Food waste occurs everywhere; it is local and there are a lot of hidden nutrients in there. Our technology can take any sort of waste and convert that into food,” explains Fotiadis. “We have built automated factories in shipping containers. You put food waste in one end and you feed that to insects. The insects grow and you feed those insects to animals. Because these systems are in shipping containers, they can be deployed in all sorts of parts of the supply chain.”
In a nutshell, the premise of the company is to move animal feed production onto the farms that consume the food. This reduces feed consumption costs and lowers emissions while boosting productivity for the farmer. The $16 million funding round was led by U.K. 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 takes local food waste from supermarkets and converts it into high-quality, sustainable animal feed. Its container insect farms recreate 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 flourish, Better Origin produces black soldier fly larvae which can be fed to the farm’s animals. Cameras, computer vision and sensors monitor the conditions within each mini-farm to make sure they are optimal for production.
In December, Better Origin signed a deal to supply 10 insect mini-farms to feed chickens at U.K. supermarket giant Morrisons’ egg farms. The company figures it is on track to save 5,700 tonnes of CO2 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 everyone,” said Suranga Chandratillake, general partner at Balderton Capital. “Climate change, the pandemic, political tensions and our growing population have demonstrated time and again how fragile our current systems are. They’ve also shown how farming currently exacerbates the challenges we face and solutions so far are not leading to the wholesale change we need. Better Origin presents a new approach and we believe it can have a transformational effect on food and farming systems.”
The company currently has five mini-farms up and running, but is planning to grow rapidly over the next year.
“I’m hoping that if one thing goes according to plan we should have 20 ordered in the next couple of months,” suggests Fotiadis, outlining the company’s growth ambitions.