As we get ready to judge our semi-finalists for the 2018 Sustainable Brands Innovation Open, we wanted to check in with last year’s competitors to learn about the impacts they continue to have on the business world. Here, we catch up with our 2017 winner, Detroit Ento.
Detroit Ento is a sustainable urban protein startup producing locally reared insects for food, feed and pharma. The company’s focus is not only on the power of bugs to improve our food system, but also turning attention to the environment and the socio-economic conditions that keep individuals impoverished. To this end, Detroit Ento maintains a long-term focus and commitment toward hiring and building ag-tech and manufacturing skills development for Detroiters, so that the next generation can be adequately equipped to take on the diverse challenges of food production and population growth.
We caught up with co-founder Anthony Hatinger to learn more about the company’s evolution since winning our competition last year.
How has Detroit Ento grown since SB'17 Detroit?
Anthony Hatinger: Since SB'17, Detroit Ento has been working hard to redefine three key components of our business model; 1. Improving the sophistication and efficiency of our production plans, 2. Enhancing our experiential marketing and branding toolkit, and 3. Increasing our international influence. We are working closely with local developers with underutilized warehouse property in Detroit's urban core that would house our entire operation under one roof, while also allowing us to establish much-needed prototyping space for our innovation labs and training programs. We are searching for investors and financial partners to help raise our seed investment round in the coming months, and expect to recommence operations by summer’s end.
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In the meantime, we have continued to provide unique experiential branding and educational events to increase consumer awareness and adoption around insect eating, and the edible insect industry as a whole. At the beginning of 2017, we worked with Magna Automotive on their Main Event - a kick off to the Detroit Auto Show, where we served a three-course insect and foraged dinner to over 1,000 auto executives and designers. In mid-May, we traveled to Washington D.C. alongside the Kresge Foundation, Jumpstart, the New Economy Initiative and JPMorgan Chase, to give a fireside chat on small business in Detroit, hosted by the Brookings Institute. In June, we completed a summer STEM culinary immersion program with Detroit Public Schools and the Flying Classroom, to teach vocational students more about insect farming and recipe development. Together, the burgeoning student chefs and their instructors created multiple cricket-fortified baked goods and snacks that fed 1,000 DPS middle- and high-schoolers, administrators and the superintendent.
As a result of our exposure at SB'17, we have been very fortunate to have been invited to speak and participate in international summits and sustainability conferences, to help share our story and uplift our vision to the world. We embarked upon a 10-day global leadership summit throughout France and the UK with the Horatio Alger Association, learning about real-world social entrepreneurship through the frameworks of dignity and conflict transformation. In late fall, we traveled to Seoul, SK to speak at the inaugural Latitude conference on the circular economy, where we presented ideas and use cases on the power of insects and their growing role in closed-loop agricultural systems. We also connected with international design firms, regenerative bio-materials experts, local insect farmers, retailers and process manufacturers to learn more about supply chain logistics and iterative design thinking principles that help spread awareness and facilitate interaction around future eco-insect modalities. In the winter of 2017, we were accepted into the inaugural cohort of gBeta Detroit, a 6-week pre-accelerator program of Wisconsin-based accelerator Gener8tor, which culminated in a multi-day, multi-investor pitch event; and demo day, where we made great connections to many Midwestern angel networks and economic development specialists. Around the same time, we were also officially accepted into business incubation with Techtown Detroit, a regional smart zone, and internationally connected economic development hub. Techtown has been helping us refine our business model, connecting us to industry professionals and advisers, and helping us structure crucial developmental aspects of our future growth plans. We were also recently nominated to participate in Pearlfisher's 25th anniversary publication: Challengers and Icons.
This spring, we worked with Food Science seniors at Michigan State University as a part of their Capstone Product Development course. The students researched, designed and prototyped innovative finished goods and processes utilizing our cricket protein, and transforming it into delicious, nutritious CPG concepts. We are proud of what the students have created and look forward to partnering with them in the near future to help bring their creations to life. We have been in conversations with multinational food/beverage companies to assess their needs, and to begin piloting innovative product research and potential collaborations.
What challenges have you faced over the past year?
AE: By far, our main challenge has been gaining access to capital to launch our business. We have had several dozen at-bats with regional, strategic and international investment groups alike, and we will continue to push forward until we find our tribe who understands the complexities of breaking into innovative new spaces.
Though difficult, we have been fortunate to be able to continue learning how to learn and adapt our own modes and models to be more in alignment with the spirit of collaboration, and to remain steadfast in our approach to being a socially driven enterprise.
What was valuable about attending SB'17 Detroit and winning SBIO'17?
AE: Attending SB'17 and winning SBIO helped us to broaden our perspective view into the world of sustainable business development, and introduced us to a plethora of new ideas and frameworks that we have begun integrating into our everyday practices to become a more eco-centric organization as a whole. There was also tremendous value in the international network connectivity and exposure that came from SBIO and SB'17, holistically. It was refreshing to tribe up with other individuals and organizations that viewed the world in a similar fashion to how we did; to connect with and show support for other environmental sojourners is important in this current climate, as we must bridge the divide and bolster our strengths.
How have you modified your business model since SB'17?
AE: We have been working with local finished product goods manufacturers and nonprofits to begin recipe and programmatic development for a line of co-manufactured snack foods that would be made by Detroit high-schoolers; helping to support local job creation and increase exposure to alternative proteins and their potential for ingredient integration. We have been in conversation with regional universities and research groups to begin prototyping new proprietary products and processes for the ag/bio engineering space. The students would also have opportunities to shadow various aspects of our operation, gaining knowledge and know-how, acting as our initial cohort of collaborative interns, that will eventually lead to a fully fledged urban ag training program focused on cooperative ownership.
What is your vision moving forward?
AE: Our vision is to continue to uplift the possibilities of utilizing bugs for a better world. We believe that insects are one of the most beneficial biomasses on the planet and have the potential to radically transform our everyday lived experience. We can envisage a future where insects are major contributors to the foods, fibers and foundations necessary to everyday thriving, and together we can dream up a place where we can all contribute our greatest good towards the advancement of all peoples while still eliminating wastes, and enriching our natural environment and ourselves.
SB'18 is themed "Redesigning the Good Life": How is Detroit Ento redesigning the good life?
AE: Detroit Ento is working hard to redesign our own understanding of what a people-powered, purpose-forward food future looks like. We care deeply about our innate, soulful connection to the planet, and to one another, and how to become better stewards of our interdependent existence for future generations. Our unique approach to urban farming, rust belt revitalization, and collaborative enterprise development will lead to new opportunities for the forgotten and disenfranchised, and embolden new possibilities of cooperative wealth and ownership amongst our members. We like to think of our current environmental situation as a puzzle, not a problem; meaning that the pieces are already here, that we as people inherently know how to solve our own puzzles; we all have something to contribute, and we are all more capable and connected than we could ever imagine. We will continue to build these ideals into our people, our products and our processes.