Startup journeys are rarely linear. It often takes many iterations to get something from a mere idea to a market-ready product. And sometimes, a business idea can change entirely during the discovery process. For Olympia Yarger, it led from wanting to launch a sustainable poultry farming business to developing modular maggot robots for food waste management through her Canberra-based startup Goterra.
“When I started, I was just looking for a sustainable protein feed for a poultry enterprise. And that’s how I found insects. Initially, I switched my focus to farming those instead of poultry to avoid the trap of doing too many things at once,” says Olympia. “But then I realised that the supply chains around feeding animals (or humans for that matter) are broken in their current state.”
Australia’s agricultural sector depends on carrying heavy road and rail freight over vast distances to feed farm animals. This adds to the sector’s overall environmental footprint and is also a major money drain. Feed makes up 70% of production costs for farmers and the cost of feed is relative to its transportation requirements. And Olympia didn’t want to replicate the model for her insect farming business by carrying food waste across the country to feed insects that would then, in turn, feed other farming animals in the supply chain.
Taking the leap: from insect farming to food waste management robots
“If we had used the same intensive farming model to farm insects as in the intensive farming of any protein, we would have also replicated the same problems. That’s why we switched gears to fix the logistical challenges around feeding protein and combine it with proximity to the waste streams for the insects,” says Olympia. “And once we figured that out, it was like ‘hold on a second: this is a food waste management business, not a protein business’.”