Print Friendly and PDF

Bugs for lunch? Entrepreneurs say it’s a tasty idea

From: Detroit Free Press

By: John Gallagher 

Feb. 27, 2016

Perhaps the most startling moment at last week’s Detroit Policy Conference at MotorCity Casino came when local entrepreneur Anthony Hatinger asked the audience if anyone had eaten insects that day.

Hartinger is a cofounder of Detroit Ento, one of four local start-up firms that engaged in a pitch competition at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference. And despite a business idea that Hatinger admits strikes most listeners as bizarre, his Detroit Ento won the competition and the right to enter the finals at the Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference in May.

Detroit Ento is based on a simple premise — that insects can provide a vast amount of protein at a fraction of the cost and environmental burden that, say, raising cattle requires.

Starting last year with a colony of crickets raised in the Kalamazoo area, Hatinger and his partners Theo Kozerski and Farrin Forsberg raise crickets in the New Center area, freeze them, then grind them up into a powder that can be mixed with other ingredients to produce energy bars and other food products for human consumption.

“Our biggest hurdle definitely is psychological,” Hatinger said. “It’s getting over that hump. Usually people are repulsed by the idea but after that sinks in and people wrap their mind around it they may not do it but they can appreciate the idea.”

For the more culinary adventurous, Detroit Ento also produces frozen crickets to snack on. And from crickets as a protein source, Detroit Ento expects to develop worms and fly larva as protein sources that could used for pet food and livestock food.

The young company, started just last year, now needs to raise capital to expand its research and production.

Dennis Archer Jr., chairman of this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference and one of the judges last week that named Detroit Ento the winner of the pitch competition, said the firm won because it appeared to have the idea most likely to scale up as a growth opportunity.

“I think the consensus was these guys have something that’s groundbreaking, something that has an identifiable feeling on revenue growth,” Archer said. And given that Michigan can offer Ento many resources, from agricultural research at universities to warehousing, logistics and transportation options, “We just think it’s a good play for the state of Michigan and the region,” he added.

Detroit Ento is one of numerous small start-up firms that have launched in and around Detroit in recent years as the city’s economy evolves from a 20th-Century corporate model to a more entrepreneurial model. The pitch competition at the policy conference last week was just one of many such events and training programs for entrepreneurs created in Detroit to bolster the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Among those: There is the City of Detroit’s Motor City Match program, which matches property owners who need tenants with entrepreneurs who need space, business incubators like TechTown, and competitions like Hatch Detroit, NEIdeas, and Accelerate Michigan.

Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, told the policy conference audience that in Detroit’s 20th-Century corporate culture “bigger was always better.” But now, he said. “the future is based on being small, nimble, innovative. We are seeing the revival of an entrepreneurial spirit across the city, across the state.”

And he recalled how automotive pioneer Henry Ford was the leading entrepreneur of his day. “That spirit is now alive and well in Detroit,” he said. “Detroit has become now the world’s best 300-year-old start-up. We have the history, we have the patina, and now we have an entrepreneurial spirit.”