What do a finance professional, mechanical engineer and operations and sales guru have in common? An innovative new business, that’s what. Philippe Poirier, Paul Shenouda and Mathieu Poirier started their business, Hexa Foods, a Montreal-based company that develops, manufactures and sells eco-friendly and radically sustainable pet foods made with edible insects. Their first brand, BugBites, is a line of premium dog treats made with cricket protein and natural and recognizable ingredients, without preservatives or artificial flavours.
But why did the three young entrepreneurs decide to create dog treats from edible insects of all things? Firstly, they wanted to bring awareness to the field of entomophagy. “Edible insects open up new possibilities regarding health benefits for dogs, which already eat them naturally,” Phil explained.
Secondly, Phil, Paul and Mat have a common passion in food and are dedicated to helping to reduce the impact of the food system on the environment. After reading a UN study on the prospects of integrating insects into our food system for ourselves and our animals, they saw an opportunity. According to the study this was the best solution to solve global hunger and reduce the environmental footprint of our food production. The three business gurus realized that many people may not be ready to eat insects themselves quite yet, but their pets were already feasting on them in their own backyard, so the idea for BugBites was a no-brainer.
Insects use fewer resources to produce the same amount or protein. “Crickets need 2,000 times less water, ten times less feed, and emit 100 times less greenhouse gas then beef for one pound of meat,” Phil explained. “They are extremely effective in transforming resources into a rich, complete and healthy protein. By using natural and wholesome ingredients in insect farming, we can help reduce the negative impact of the food system on the environment.” Much like humans, many pets have difficulty digesting highly processed foods and a can be allergic or intolerant to traditional proteins and grains.
Going from full-time careers as an investment banking analyst (Phil), mechanical engineer (Paul), and sales and operations professional (Mat), into the risky but exciting world of entrepreneurship, was not easy. But, the partners were driven by a shared desire to do things better and challenge the status quo. “When we believe something needs to be changed, we have a hard time waiting for someone else to do it,” he said. “We like to see five to ten years in the future and try to build that future.” The partners get a thrill out of being part of a small group that tackles big challenges and enjoy having their limits pushed constantly.
One of the biggest challenges for Hexa Foods has so far been changing the mindset of traditional consumers who stick to what they know, and encouraging them to try something new and innovative. On top of introducing an innovative product to the world, they are also trying to be innovative in their distribution, customer acquisition, engagement and product development. “We have had to maintain a delicate balance between bringing radical innovation to this traditional industry and making sure that our clients and partners understand and are comfortable, and somewhat familiar, with our approach,” Phil explained.
Hexa Foods were selected to participate in the Spin Master Innovation Fund, a program run by Spin Master Ltd. and Futurpreneur Canada that gives young entrepreneurs with innovative ideas up to $50K in financing and access to specialized training and resources.
According to Phil, participating in the Spin Master Innovation Fund had many positive effects on their business. It gave them their first opportunity to pitch their business to others. It also helped increase the level of credibility of the business – giving them a competitive boost in the market. Finally, the financing they received through the program enabled them to move from research and development to production and helped them secure a spot on the shelves of the largest pet supplies chain in Quebec, Mondou.
As Phil, Paul and Mat continue working to change the way people think about the food they feed their pets (and themselves), the trio share this advice with aspiring entrepreneurs:
“Be confident in your ability to learn. Once you are convinced of the relevance of your idea, establish a couple of initial milestones to be achieved, but do not confuse them with having all the answers. You will get more and more confident as you move forward without having all the knowledge you think you need. People will embrace the fact that you want to learn and help you if you are proactive. Don’t wait for every piece of the puzzle to be in place before making the leap. Keep identifying knowledge gaps that you know are necessary for you and actively learn and talk to people that will help you close that gap. Find people that share the same passion and vision as you do, and get them on board. Clarify your strategy as you go, and execute it.”
Written By: Lauren Marinigh, Social Media & Content Creation Coordinator, Futurpreneur Canada