September 24, 2013 4:41 pm
Updated: September 24, 2013 8:56 pm

McGill students win $1M prize for edible bug harvest plan

Video: McGill students recognized for developing an idea that could combat food insecurity using insects. Global National’s Mike Armstrong reports. 

MONTREAL – A team of MBA students from McGill University are returning home from New York City with a $1-million prize to help develop a promising project.

Presented by the former U.S. president Bill Clinton, the Hult Prize is given to support innovative start-up ideas by young “social entrepreneurs.”

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This year’s challenge was to create a social enterprise that would secure food for undernourished communities, especially for the 200 million people who live in the world’s urban slums.

“If I said to somebody 60 days ago that I love this prize and I’m going to give it this year to someone who wants to grow, process and sell edible insects, that could actually empower rather than devour,” said Clinton. “Some people would have laughed.”

But that’s just what he did.

On Monday night, the $1-million prize was awarded to five students from McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management, who were up against teams from Dubai, London, San Francisco, Shanghai and South Africa.

Described by the jury as “innovative” and thinking “outside the box,” Mohammed Ashour, Gabe Mott, Jesse Pearlstein, Shobhita Soor and Zev Thompson pitched a remarkable idea: insect food production.

McGill University wins the $1 million Hult Prize for their social enterprise Aspire Food to grow and sell edible insects, as announced on the first day of President Bill Clinton’s annual CGI meeting in New York on Sept. 23, 2013.

(John Minchillo/AP Images for Hult Prize

The prize money would be used as seed funding for Aspire Food Group, which will produce bug-based food products like insect-fortified flour.

“Although there is enough food produced in the world, it’s difficult getting the right types of food and nutritious food to the people that need it most in the world,” said Shobhita Soor in a promotional video for the project.

Many may not realize that over 2.1 billion people eat insects on a regular basis.

“The concept of  farming insects for food is relatively new,” noted a paper on edible insects published by the United Nations.

“In temperate zones, insect farming is performed largely by family-run enterprises that rear insects such as mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers in large quantities, mainly as pets or for zoos. Some of these firms have only recently been able to commercialize insects as food and feed, and the part of their production intended for direct human consumption is still minimal.”

Florentino Azpetia, chef at Girasoles restaurant in Mexico City, prepares a grasshopper taco (taco de chapulines), a typical Mexican delicacy, in the restaurant’s kitchen.

JORGE UZON/AFP/Getty Images

Hoping to take advantage of this emerging market, as well as the fact that often insect production is seasonal, the team has created a plan that they hope will feed – and empower – urban slum communities.

Members of the team travelled to Mexico to meet farmers who hand-harvest grasshoppers, and to see first-hand the enormous demand for the insects in the country.

Watch: The team in Thailand, Kenya and Mexico gaining insights into slum conditions

Their idea is to provide “farming units” that would help producers to harvest a wide variety of species throughout the year and offer slum dwellers access to an efficient and sustainable source of protein.

After the local farmers harvest the insects, the start-up would then buy the bugs, process them, and sell them to local distributors for delivery in the slums.

The McGill team is hoping that the prize money will help them to reach over 20 million people living in urban slums by 2018.

The annual prize offered by The Hult Prize Foundation is open to teams of four or five students from colleges and universities around the world.

WATCH: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton presents award to McGill students

© Shaw Media, 2013

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