Ideas can arrive in obscure and sometimes mundane situations, and often when we least expect it. Daisuke Arao unearthed his idea while putting out the compost. Now he’s working on a plan that helps to divert food waste from landfill while also enriching community garden environments.
Good ideas don’t always make great businesses though. So Daisuke used the Entrepreneurship micro-credential delivered by Tech Futures Lab at academyEX to refine his idea and hone in on the business proposition: insect-based bioconversion systems for communities. The business plan-on-a-page he created through the short course raised enough profile to land him an exhibit at the 2022 Field Days Innovation Hub.
Finding the entrepreneur within
We all have the potential to drive innovation and change. Some are suited better to doing that within organisations as an ‘intrapreneurial change maker.’ Others want to master their own destiny.
For Daisuke, his is an entrepreneurial spirit, built on a career that’s been about helping build better for people and creating resilience in their communities.
A qualified civil engineer, Daisuke completed his Bachelor in Civil Engineering at Nihon University in Japan. After working in the waste management sector in Tokyo, a young 20-something Daisuke decided he was ready to see the world. He made a leap to the NGO sector, joining the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) on a project in Kosovo. Over the next 20 years Daisuke lent his professional hands-on expertise to both the UN and UNICEF on rebuild projects in Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Malawi before consultancy roles at UNICEF in Denmark and New York, USA.
In those early years with UNOPS, Daisuke found a personal passion for environmental engineering after a project to build a toilet without water in Cambodia. Coming from Japan, working in a new environment that had few resources and limited sophistication challenged Daisuke to think outside the box. That experience prompted him to complete his Masters in Water and Environmental Engineering at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom.
Fast forward to 2022 and Daisuke had settled in Auckland New Zealand with his wife and two boys. One day, while adding to his home compost bin, he spotted something alien. Little did he know that encounter would be the moment he released his inner entrepreneur.
“At first, I was terrified! I didn't know what it was. So of course I googled it and learnt it's a really remarkable superhero - the black soldier fly. It’s a beneficial insect that’s making a buzz around the world. I found that they’re great at converting food waste into protein rich animal feed and their casting can be used as a fertiliser.”
Nature provides opportunity
From his experience working in disaster relief environments, teamed with his environmental engineering know-how, Daisuke knew that harnessing nature’s ready-made tools leads to low impact, positive environmental outcomes.
At first, Daisuke wasn’t sure how he could work with the black soldier flies, but he was captivated. He soon discovered there was a market for these larvae as a food for bearded dragons - so he began farming the larvae at home. His first attempt at selling the larvae on TradeMe was an instant hit - as soon as he pressed ‘list’, he’d sold it.
While his backyard business couldn’t sustain the demand (the larvae have voracious appetites), what he had learned in this first trial was that the black soldier fly larvae are incredible at upcycling food waste. Daisuke saw how the food scraps most of us throw away become high value, nitrogen rich fertiliser once ‘treated’ by these larvae.
It was time to take his idea to the next level. That’s when he found the Entrepreneurship micro-credential short course offered by Tech Futures Lab at academyEX.
Entrepreneurs don’t have to do it alone
It’s a common misconception that entrepreneurs need to walk alone. In fact it’s better to share, as ideas need sounding boards, debates and fresh perspectives. Joining a programme alongside other budding entrepreneurs was just what Daisuke needed to round out his black soldier fly larvae trials into a viable business concept.
Daisuke had learnt that the insect was being used on an industrial scale around the world to convert food waste into animal feed. What he wanted to do was something more local that would contribute to his own community. Something where he could experience real impact.
He approached Kelmarna Gardens, a community farm nestled amongst the urban environs of Ponsonby in Auckland. Gardeners there were aware of the beneficial insect and had noticed the farm’s chickens loved the larvae, but they had no experience in how to farm it for nutrient cycling.
Soon Daisuke had a small larva farm set up at Kelmarna Gardens, a sort of prototype system that converts on-farm food waste into rich compost for the gardens before then becoming a food source themselves for the chickens. He realised he loved spreading the message about the black soldier fly larvae. A social enterprise was brewing.
Converting a passion into a business
Joining the Entrepreneurship micro-credential was the key to unlocking Daisuke’s desire to go bigger, smartly.
“I knew building a prototype was a good way to show people how this bioconversion system works but I knew I also needed to work out how I could make this a business.”
Like most entrepreneurs, Daisuke is building his bioconversion business on the side while working full time. The Entrepreneurship micro-credential was a way to expedite his concept after hours in an incubator environment. With the programme run entirely online, he could still be at home with his kids and be available for those always-on parental duties. The weekly classes were dedicated opportunities to work on refining his pitch, his market and his unique selling proposition.
“The pitch exercises really helped me to get my idea into a tight format to communicate to people. Defining my target market has helped me form my offer as a service provider, distributing larvae, ideas, tools and resources for home and community gardens.”
The main output of the Entrepreneurship micro-credential is a Lean Canvas, a business plan-on-a-page that distils the many moving parts into one succinct plan. It proved useful almost immediately. Just days after he completed the course, Daisuke submitted it to the Field Days Innovation Hub as a proposal, and was accepted to exhibit. That exposure opportunity has helped Daisuke look beyond his prototype set up in Ponsonby and make connections with others in the agri sector.
As Daisuke continues to grow his bioconversion system into a social enterprise business, he has aspirations for the black soldier fly to become a national treasure.
“It would be amazing if black soldier fly larvae became a new Kiwi classic, you know like the feijoa, with roadside larvae stalls or kids selling larvae for fundraising projects for schools.”
Daisuke’s enterprising story demonstrates the trials and experiments entrepreneurs undertake while finding the right formula for a business. Using academyEX’s dedicated learning environment to hone and craft his idea now means Daisuke has clarity on his direction and is closer to building tighter, more resilient local communities.