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Student CEO Fights Hunger With Crickets

By Kelsey Collins

The College has been identified as one of 15 Colleges Fighting World Hunger by Best College Online, a website that ranks colleges and universities in various categories. The ranking highlights Bumu, or Bug Munch, a company founded by Alex Bea ’12 that produces energy bars made from crickets.

Since its founding a year ago, Bea’s company has evolved to become Jiminy, an energy bar company that funds cricket farming systems that empower mothers to provide themselves and their children with much-needed iron and protein.  The bars themselves are made out of crushed cricket powder, as well as a combination of chocolate, peanut butter and honey.

Bea first got the idea for his company last winter in his MiddCORE class. MiddCORE requires each student participant to pitch “the next big idea” in a competition that is the culmination of the month-long winter term course. While trying to come up with a “big idea,” Bea asked his friends for help.

“The most interesting thing I heard back was from my friend Max [Bacharach ’13.5],” said Bea. “He told me that grasshoppers are super high in protein. So I went back to my dorm room that night and sat on my bed and thought, ‘Why don’t we just farm them, if they’re high in protein?’”

Since last January, the company has expanded. In addition to Bea, its members now include Bacharach, Sebastian Schell ’14.5 and Bjorn Peterson ’15.5.  Bacharach is in charge of developing the cricket farm, Schell has been working to perfect the recipe and Peterson manages the brand and oversees advertising.

The company continues to attract attention for its efforts to solve global malnutrition and hunger. Last spring the company placed in the Top 40 in the Dell Social Innovation Challenge, a global social entrepreneurship competition with over 1,700 entries. The team subsequently was awarded a $3,000 grant by the Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship, one of five grant recipients among 22 applicants.

“Above all, we are looking for things that are scale-able and applicable,” said Professor of Economics and Director of Center for Social Entrepreneurship Jon Isham of the criteria used in selecting grant recipients. “The world needs sources of protein, so that’s what we all liked. Protein is important, we need inexpensive protein and this is a source that is proven and with a little help can taste pretty good.”

While eating bugs may seem unconventional — if not unappetizing — to some Americans, the Jiminy team is doing its best to overcome what the team refers to as a “stigma” against eating insects.

“Crickets make sense,” said Bea of his main ingredient. “I’m a math and economics major, it’s sort of like a math equation — well, it’s a lot more than that — but when you’re solving a problem, you have to say, ‘What’s another way to write this?’ You just have to separate yourself from the idea of ‘it’s a bug.’

“There are many different ways to look at this problem, and this solution made sense nutritionally and supply-wise,” he added.

Marketing a cricket-based energy bar to American consumers has had its challenges, but the team seems confident of their abilities to overcome that setback.

“Marketing this bar is incredibly challenging,” acknowledged Peterson, who is in charge of the bar’s design, marketing and brand management.

“The trick is getting people to cross this line,” he added. “But it’s a line that’s been crossed before with food products. We eat Jell-O, which is made from horse feet. We eat hot dogs, and who knows what animal or combination of animals is in those. So why not crickets?”

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