Without question, one of the most interesting agtech startups to emerge in Ireland over recent years has been Hexafly.
Based outside Navan, Co Meath, Hexafly was founded in 2016 by Alvan Hunt and John Lynam and the company is at the very forefront of the bioeconomy movement in Ireland.
In simple terms, Hexafly has developed a technology to breed black soldier flies in a controlled environment.
From these insects, the company is able to extract multiple product streams, including a high protein animal feed, a natural bio-oil that can be used in personal care products or cosmetics, a natural poultry feed and a natural organic fertiliser.
The system that Hexafly uses to extract these products is based on the natural life-cycle of the black soldier fly, which lasts for about two and a half weeks.
Insects have the highest protein efficiency in the world, which means associated greenhouse gas emissions are 90% lower when compared with other traditional forms of protein production.
Hexafly’s animal feed product contains 56% protein and is targeted at the pet and fish food market.
However, the company is hoping that changes to EU legislation on novel foods will allow for the consumption of insect based-proteins in the future, which would potentially open up a major new market.
The fertiliser by-product produced by Hexafly is a slow releasing natural fertiliser that is certified organic. It contains about 3% nitrogen and is also rich in chitin, a natural polymer.
Hexafly has positioned itself as the very essence of sustainability and a prime example of the circular economy in action. As a result, the company was awarded the Sustainability Award at the 2020 Innovation Arena.
Since bursting on to the scene four years ago, the company has gained plenty of investor attention and raised €4.4m in funding to date.
The company says it has recently secured a further €4.2m in funding, which will allow it to finance some important capital projects as it scales up to meet growing demand.
Most of the capital raised to-date has been invested in bespoke machines to increase the company’s production capacity at its 15,000ft2 facility outside Navan.
Right now, Hexafly has the capacity to produce in the region of 15-20t of insect protein meal and about 30t of fertiliser.
Even with the investment in capacity over recent years, the team at Hexafly say they are still unable to meet the total demand for insect meal from pet food companies.
The founders of Hexafly say they are hoping to raise an additional €20m via a combination of investment funding and debt over the coming years, in order to help grow the business.
Top of their wishlist is the construction of a purpose-built production facility that will give the company real manufacturing scale.
Hexafly’s current customer base in mostly in the UK and Europe, but the company has its eyes on breaking into the US market, which will require a lot more capacity.
If Hexafly continues on its current trajectory, the company has the potential to become one of Ireland’s most successful ag-tech startups and achieve real scale with a product that has very promising potential.