Ÿnsect, the French insect farming startup, has raised $125 million in Series C funding in the largest early-stage agtech funding deal on record in Europe. This takes the company’s total fundraising to over $160 million since it was founded in 2011.
Ÿnsect farms mealworms to produce ingredients for fish feed, pet food, and crop fertilizers in an effort to capture some of the $500 billion animal feed market. The startup is one of 50 insect farming groups that have collectively raised $480 million to-date, according to the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF), an EU-based association for the industry. In 2018, members of the association produced 6,000 tonnes of insects in 20 countries.
Insect farming, long an industry in developing nations for human consumption, has picked up pace in developed nations in recent years as a sustainable source of protein, particularly for the livestock industries.
Aquaculture, for example, still relies mostly on fishmeal, which is made up of wild-caught fish representing over 25% of global fishing and contributing to declining wild fish stock globally.
Ÿnsect is also offering a premium product to its customers, providing health benefits that translate into improved animal growth performance and boosted immune systems, according to Antoine Hubert, cofounder and CEO of Ÿnsect.
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“Farmers can essentially produce more with less with our premium feed ingredients,” he told AgFunderNews adding that the company’s organic fertilizer product is also yielding great results for plant growth across types from grains to vine crops.
While Ÿnsect’s products will represent a core component animal feed, they are one ingredient and not a complete solution at this point, meaning that existing feed sources will still be used, Hubert added. However, he imagines a future where Ÿnsect’s mealworm products could be combined with other types of insects with other beneficial nutritional profiles and sustainable sourcing methods.
The investment round was led by Astanor Ventures, a new food and agriculture impact investment fund based in London. The majority of Ÿnsect’s existing investors including Bpifrance Ecotechnologies, managed on behalf of the French Strategic Investment Plan, Demeter, Quadia, and Singapore’s Vis Vires New Protein Ventures are participating in this latest round, alongside Bpifrance Large Venture, Talis Capital (UK), Idinvest Partners, Crédit Agricole Brie Picardie, Caisse d’Epargne Hauts-de-France and Picardie Investissement (France), Finasucre and Compagnie du Bois Sauvage (Belgium), Happiness Capital (Hong Kong) and a Singaporean family office as new investors.
World’s Largest Insect Farm
Ÿnsect will use the funding to construct what it says will be the largest insect farm in the world, based in Amiens in northern France with the first phase able to produce 20,000 tonnes of insect protein a year.
The company already has a demo facility producing its three main products — ŸnMeal andŸnOil, feed ingredients for pet food as well as several seafood species including shrimp, salmon, trout, and sea-bass, and ŸnFrass, a premium fertilizer for a variety of crop types.
And the company says it has $70 million of aggregated orders to fulfill, which it will start to fulfill at the pilot facility that has the capacity to produce hundreds of tonnes.
The Amiens factory is expandable beyond the initial 20,000 tonnes, according to Hubert as it is situated on a large reserve area in an industrial park with all the necessary supplies and facilities including energy and wastewater treatment. And Ÿnsect is also surveying options to expand to North America, particularly the Midwest of the US, after partnering with a real estate group JLL that’s currently scouting locations.
What’s the Technology?
After two years of operating the pilot facility, and over five years researching the business before that, Ÿnsect has refined its farming and extraction processes using state of the art technology and resulting in 25 patents. The factory uses a combination of sensor technology, automation, data analysis and predictive modeling to measure and respond to temperature, insects’ growth curve, and weight, and Co2 emissions.
“We are very much like a vertical farming business in how we operate, and we have the same issues around the HVAC systems we use to control the environment,” said Hubert. “We’ve developed a deep knowledge and process in this area that could be useful for other sectors at a high level. We have very complex systems for temperature, moisture control; conveyor systems to feed and harvest the insects as well as collect the frass and mature for our fertilizer product and remove the dead with various separation technologies.”
The extraction technologies are very similar to those used in oilseed crushing with some innovation in how to handle the products and separate out the protein.
Unlike many of the large groups in the vertical produce farming industry, Ÿnsect has partnered with existing tech companies to build its systems, and it has long term contracts with groups such as Total, which is big in HVAC systems.
Why the Tenebrio Molitor Beetle?
Ÿnsect decided to rear the Tenebrio Molitor beetle not only for its premium nutritional value in animal feed compared to other insects but for its potential to achieve industrial-scaled production. As non-flying insects, they are easier to contain, and they consume natural crop-based by-products, free of unpleasant odors or contaminants. It’s also “a gregarious, non-flying, communal insect that prefers to stay close to its colony for added warmth,” and it’s nocturnal, saving on lighting costs, according to Ynsect.
Nutrition-wise, Ÿnsect undertook several research projects to determine the efficacy of its products and discovered increases to the overall body weight of shrimp while being fed Ynsect products and a reduced amount of fishmeal. ŸnMeal also improved the feed efficiency and weight gain in seabass.
Other well-funded insect farming startups are rearing other types of insects such as AgriProtein, the UK-South African venture that’s farming black soldier fly and has raised over $130 million to-date. AgriProtein focuses on using food waste to feed its insects. Canada’s Enterra Feed is also growing black soldier fly for animal feed and says it is building the world’s largest insect farm, while EnviroFlight, the Midwestern company that was acquired by Intrexon, says it has the biggest black soldier fly factory in the US. The race is on!