Start-up accelerators can be a successful way to help new companies get off the ground, and at the Georgia Tech, there is a unique accelerator program exclusively for students. Called CREATE-X, the program sits inside the academic side of the university and is easily accessible by students desiring to turn a big idea into a business.
The program is divided into three phases -- learn, make and launch -- and allows students get to explore entrepreneurship through the ultimate experiential learning mode, including launching their own start-ups with seed funding, legal assistance and intensive coaching.
Getting its start four years ago, CREATE-X today has more than 2,000 student participants and 75 faculty member mentors. It even has some ties back to the agriculture and food sector. We caught up with one such company, Grubbly Farms, a chicken feed company that was created to up-cycle pre-consumer food waste to produce a sustainable and healthy source of protein for animals via the utilization of insects.
Grubbly Farms co-founders Patrick Pittaluga and Sean Warner got the idea for their company from an article they read a few years ago. Their first focus was the human market, but they quickly determined that the animal feed sector was be the better option.
Warner and Pittaluga, both Georgia Tech students as well as cousins, partnered up and bought 700 black soldier fly grubs. They kept them in their laundry room with a plan to make “bug burgers” using the grubs.
When a few friends tested their first burger product, they said they very quickly figured out they needed another way to use the black soldier fly grubs, and that is how Grubbly Farms came to be. Today, it caters to the tastes of backyard and pet chickens instead of people.
Grubbly Farms sells what it terms “nutritious snacks” for chickens. It calls these snacks, Grubblies. Pittaluga said as many as 2 million people own chickens as pets, and it is a growing market.
Next year, Pittaluga said they have plans to enter the dog treat market. The company also is working to develop a fully formulated, organic poultry feed.
Black soldier fly grubs become Grubblies through a simple process: They are fed pre-consumer food waste from bakeries, breweries and restaurants in the area. The grubs are then dehydrated and packaged as chicken feed. Grubblies is the only chicken snack completely farm grown in the U.S., Pittaluga said. Similar products are being imported from overseas, and that does make some consumers a bit uncomfortable when it comes to product quality.
Warner and Pittaluga were accepted into CREATE-X Startup Launch in 2015. Pittaluga was majoring in business management with a focus on supply chain management, and Warner majored in construction at Georgia Tech.
“CREATE-X gave us the confidence to forgo job offers and pursue Grubbly Farms full time,” Warner said.
The customer discovery process the program offered helped them understand what their product would be and how it would resonate with the customer.
During their summer in Startup Launch, they interviewed about 400 people, ranging from large chicken farm owners and individual chicken owners to restaurants and reptile owners. Pittaluga and Warner said that helped them understand what everyone in their supply chain needed, but most of all, they learned what chicken owners were looking for in their feed: good nutrition, sustainability and made in the U.S.
Grubbly Farms recently completed a $1.5 million seed round of funding and has sold more than 80,000 lb. of feed over the past two years. The founders are in the process of starting a second round of funding. Initially their plans were to buildout a 18,000-sq.-ft. facility in south Atlanta, Ga., but they have recently contracted with EnviroFlight LLC, a company that is working to open the first U.S.-based dried black soldier fly production facility in Kentucky. EnviroFlight is a joint venture between Intrexon Corp. and Darling Ingredients Inc. The new facility is projected to open in the fourth quarter of 2018 and will have a capacity for black soldier fly larvae of up to 3,200 metric tons per year.
As part of its arrangement with EnviroFlight, Grubbly Farms will develop and market new products to various sectors.
Most recently, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration recommended amending the Association of American Feed Control Officials' ingredient definition of dried black soldier fly larvae to include feeding to poultry. The recommended amendment expands the potential for this ingredient as a more sustainable source of protein and enables a nutritious, natural feed ingredient for poultry diets, EnviroFlight said.