“I’ve managed to get thousands of people to overcome the taboo linked to eating insects by tasting our healthy, sustainable food products.”
Born in Milan in 1988, Francesco graduated from the Politecnico di Milano with a Masters Degree in Communication Design. After two years working as an Information Designer, he moved to Turin where he worked as a Service Designer for a couple of years before starting his entrepreneurial journey.
“The main driver for me was to give shape to an idea I had in mind for a long time,” he says of this move. “This idea was to introduce insects as food, as they are a more sustainable protein source than meat. The only way to achieve this was to quit my previous job so that I had enough time and energy to fully dedicate myself to it.”
In January 2016, Francesco started his company Crické, which produces and sells healthy, eco-friendly and tasty insect-based food products. “We combine 100% natural ingredients with cricket powder – a great low-impact source of protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre,” he explains. “Crické's first producton the market is Cricket Crackers – high-protein, savoury bakes which contain 15% cricket powder. They appeal to customers seeking sustainable alternatives to meat, as well as foodies and fitness fans.”
Setting up this new venture was not without challenges, however, and Francesco and his two co-founders faced their biggest hurdle when they sought to set up their company in Italy. “As our product is seen as a ‘novel’ foodstuff, the EU legal framework did not allow us to set up a company in Italy, so we had to look for another market while waiting for Italian legislation to be updated,” he recalls. It was around the same time that he was introduced to MicroLab, Youth Business International’s member in Italy, in partnership with the Citi Foundation, which supports aspiring young entrepreneurs to pursue sustainable socio-economic development through access to training, mentoring and micro-credit. “A friend participated in one of MicroLab’s entrepreneurship training courses, Up To Youth,” says Francesco.
“I got in touch and was paired with a volunteer business mentor, who gave me very useful advice. Thanks to him, we ended up establishing our company in the UK and creating a non-profit organisation in Italy to promote new food alternatives. This has enabled us to start working on our products while also maintaining a presence in Italy, and getting feedback on our products from prospective customers there.”
Francesco says that the market they have entered is growing rapidly, thanks to customers’ desire for more sustainable and healthy alternatives to traditional foods containing animal protein. “People’s acceptance has been stronger than we expected,” he says. “They not only enjoy the products but also buy into the underlying ethos. We believe next year will be a turning point for our business. We have plans to extend our product range and strengthen our partnership with an African-based NGO. Our company motto is 'Eat crickets, change the world!'– and that’s what we intend to do!”
MicroLab is part of the Youth Business Europe programme, a regional initiative supported by the Citi Foundation to help young entrepreneurs to start or grow a business.