“What if I told you in the next five minutes Americans will throw away over 300 tons of edible food?” Lincoln Academy senior Dylan Squiers exclaimed, dramatically opening Optimeal’s pitch for the LaunchX global demo day in Boston.
Dylan traveled to Boston with fellow seniors Dawson French and Eli Barter and their advisor, LA English teacher Seth Anderson, to participate in LaunchX, an event that put 20 teams of high school entrepreneurs in front of a panel of judges to pitch their startups. The teams were competing for $10,000 in scholarships and a chance to advance to the MIT Launch Global Demo Day on April 28th.
“What’s even more devastating is that in the same five minutes ninety people will die due to malnourishment, an ailment that affects one in every nine people,” Dylan continued.
Optimeal co-founders Dawson French and Dylan Squiers made the trip because they think they’ve “struck gold” with their startup Optimeal, a company that offers affordable in-home insect farms for pet owners and entomophagists (people who eat insects).
“Initially we were looking for a better solution to grow protein. By 2050 the demand for protein is expected to double, and current solutions are too resource-costly to be sustainable. For example, 30% of all land in the US is dedicated to raising and feeding livestock. Raising livestock also accounts for 60% of all freshwater use and is responsible for emitting 38% of all greenhouse gases. So we wanted to develop a way for people to grow their own protein at home, this is when we discovered insects.”
“We figured we could design farms that could house a variety of flightless insects, like mealworms or superworms. After prototyping and testing farms, we realised we could sustain the mealworms on our food scraps, and knowing that more than 40% of all produce grown in the US gets thrown away, we knew this was a huge selling point, and a great opening to our pitch.”
During their pitch they gave a demonstration of their product and highlighted the market and their financial projections. “One in ten households owns an exotic pet, and the only current solutions for feeding those pets is to either buy insects at a pet store, which can cost upwards of $500 annually, or build your own insect farm at home, which requires the proper tools as well as hours of work, not only to construct but to maintain,” Dylan explained.
Dawson concluded the pitch with this promise: “we are the only company that offers affordable in-home insect farms. Our farms cost only $50 and save pet owners time and money. In fact, if in the next year we sold farms to just 1% of exotic pet households in the US we would generate over two and a half million in profit and our customers would save an average of $300 a year–all while putting their food scraps to good use.”
After the pitch, judges were allowed to ask questions for 3 minutes. They asked about distribution, future plans, and material costs. Dawson and Dylan answered every question with authority.
“We felt really good about our performance,” Dylan said. A few more teams made their pitches, and after a quick lunch break and deliberation the results were in.
“We were surprised to see the awards given weren’t ordinal ranks; 1st, 2nd, 3rd, but instead categorical, like ‘Most Engaging Presentation,’ ‘Most innovative,’ and ‘Winner.’” said Dawson.
The event organizer announced the runners-up, saying “the award for most engaging presentation goes to… drumroll please… “Optimeal!”.
“Of course we wanted to win, but it still felt amazing to go down to Boston and be recognized for all our hard work; we made a lot of valuable connections and had a lot of fun,” said Dawson.
The company may not have (yet) been invited to the MIT Launch global demo day, but this is far from the end for Optimeal. Dawson and Dylan are planning to continue the company after they graduate from Lincoln Academy in June. “We have big plans for Optimeal. We are certain insects will be the food of the future; the west coast is already adapting crickets into their diets. Remember people once called lobster ‘the cockroach of the sea’… we’re pioneering Maine’s newest cuisine, mealworms!”
The duo will be co-hosting a charity fundraiser event with Skidompha library called “Chess for Children” on Friday, April 13th from 3-5pm at Skidompha library. Their goal is to raise $1,000 to donate 10 Optimeal Essential Nutrients Farms to aid malnourished children in Zanzibar. For more check out their website: Optimeal.org.