Antoine Hubert never expected to become a chief executive. Certainly not back in the days when he was bass guitarist in the experimental heavy metal band Stale Fish, which mixed traditional French accordion music with tortured guitar riffs.
When Hubert chose agronomy over music as a career, setting up a company was far from his mind. Inspired by the way he had seen New Zealand farms use worms for composting food waste, Hubert became an environmental activist, developing a science education game and visiting schools to evangelise about the importance of insects in the food chain.
“Sometimes you are just talking to five people. It is really long and exhausting work, and you don’t see any concrete impact. You are not going to change people’s habits with one or two games. Education is a very long-term thing,” he says.
“We started discussing setting up a company, maybe a restaurant serving insects. But we are not really cooks. So we thought we should go upstream and farm insects, create a market for them.”
This was the start of Ynsect, the French company that is building factories that will farm mealworm beetle larvae at industrial scale, for use in animal feed and as fertiliser.
Ynsect borrows a lot of techniques used in vertical farms that produce leafy greens. Robots feed the stacked trays of mealworm larvae and rotate them around the factory as they go through their two-to-three month growth cycle, until they are finally dipped into boiling water to kill and sterilise them.