A lot of amazing ideas have come out of the Sawyer Business School’s “Crowdfunding the Venture” class. Protein coffee. Office yoga. Documentary films.
Currently in its fourth year, the course has launched more than 25 student-conceived, student-run business ventures on crowdfunding sites Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Many have been very successful at reaching their fundraising goals and have even gone on to become self-sustaining businesses. There’s Warm-Up: A High Protein Coffee, started by James Testa, BSBA ’17, which now sells on Amazon. And Buddha Bus, launched by Sara Maloney, BSBA ’18, which provides onsite yoga classes to offices and schools. And “Beyond Borders,” a documentary by JJ Moran, BA ’17, and Dave Apostolides, BA ’18, that examines the global impacts of American politics.
This year’s crowdfunding venture has taken off in a slightly different direction. Or maybe “crawled off” is a better way to put it. Michael Servais, Class of 2020, and other members of the class recently launched GrubTerra, which turns food waste into chicken feed. It’s an incredibly simple idea: Servais feeds restaurant leftovers to black soldier fly grubs. Once they grow big and fat, the grubs (once harvested) can be dried and used as high-protein feed for chickens. In its first four days on Indiegogo, GrubTerra raised 50 percent of its $10,000 goal.
Servais came into the class with the goal of building a green enterprise.
“The whole time I wanted my business to be based around helping the environment,” he says. “Yet it also had to be profitable.”
Online, Servais learned that black solider fly pupae are incredibly efficient food decomposers that can also be used as food themselves (even for humans). He then got in contact with someone who raises the grubs and learned the basics. From there, Servais set up his own bug incubator. In his basement.
“At first I had to get an OK from my roommates and neighbors,” Servais says. “With the first batch of bugs, I poured them into a bin of old food. The next day I came down and all the food was gone. You could see that they had grown in size overnight. After that it was a lot of trial and error.”
It took about a year, but Servais has finally figured out how to keep it self-sustaining. Then he brought the idea to the “Crowdfunding the Venture” class.
Every retail startup has its challenges: Funding. Marketing. Packaging. Even the best ideas present a myriad of obstacles along the way.
“One of the biggest challenges in any crowdfunding venture is getting the word out about your product on a shoestring budget,” says Professor Chaim Letwin, director of Entrepreneurship Programs and co-teacher of the crowdfunding course. “Many teams struggle with this. So you have to be innovative, and no idea is too crazy. That’s why Michael bought a chicken suit for the launch video and for future promotions.”
Once they’re fully grown, the grubs self-harvest by crawling out of the bins. Servais collects them, washes them, kills them, and dehydrates them. Once they’re below the 10 percent hydration threshold, they’re ready to sell. The best part? Every pound of dried grubs produced means 20 pounds of food waste have been converted instead of going to landfill.
And what do his constituents think of this strange treat? “Chickens love it,” says Servais. (That’s according to his network of “chicken influencers,” which has been helping Servais get the word out.)
As the Indiegogo campaign continues to be successful, Servais and his team from the crowdfunding class will use the seed money to produce new packaging, move the incubators to a new space, and start scaling the operation. Another goal is to use the Indiegogo success as proof of concept to apply to the prestigious MassChallenge incubator. In the meantime, Servais is glad to have the support of his crowdfunding class.
“My team has been great. But sometimes I ask my roommates, ‘What am I doing with my life?’” smiles Servais. “But I have to look at the big scheme: In five years it’s not going to be in my basement. It’s going to be in an industrial space growing these things on a huge scale.”