Aspire Food Group, a team of five MBA students from McGill, won the Hult Prize student competition for social good on Sept. 23. The social entrepreneurship award will aid developing the business, aiming to provide nutritious food to slum dwellers.
The award was presented to the students by former US President Bill Clinton following a successful presentation to the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York City last Monday evening. The competition challenge this year was to tackle global hunger and panel members included Clinton, Erathrin Cousin, CEO of the World Food Program and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus.
The five students from the Desautels Faculty of Management are Mohammed Ashour, Shobhita Soor, Jesse Pearlstein, Zev Thompson and Gabe Mott. Their team was one of over 10,000 worldwide teams that entered the competition. This year’s challenge was to create a social enterprise to provide food to undernourished communities, particularly for the 200 million people living in urban slums.
The winning project involves the production, process and promotion of insects for human consumption. The insects are farmed and ground into a fine powder then incorporated into locally-available flour, creating what the students term "power flour". Mohammed Ashour explained to CBC News that this was “essentially flour that is fortified with protein and iron obtained from locally appropriate insects.”
The students had noted that protein and iron were in short supply in diets of many people from developing nations and available at high levels in insects. They explained that crickets have a higher protein content by weight than beef.
Insects are eaten by 2.5billion people worldwide and protein-enhanced foods could become a valuable addition to many diets as world population increases. The students say they would be farming insects based on local culinary preferences, for example grasshoppers in Mexico or palm weevils in Ghana. The powdered insects would be mixed with locally-made flours such as cassava, wheat or corn. Local trials and taste tests had already been successfully conducted in some markets. They had offered tortillas made with just corn flour, with the addition of 10 percent cricket flour and with 30 percent cricket flour. Ashour said: “Amazingly enough, we got raving reviews for the latter two… so it turns out that people either find it to be tasting neutral or even better than products that are made with traditional corn flour.”
The students hope their business will have helped 20 million urban slum dwellers by the year 2018.
As in many businesses, the winning team already face a bitter dispute with a former team member who claims he was intellectually robbed. Jakub Dzamba says the team originally used his slides and presentation when they won the competition semifinals. He said: "They ended up taking credit for my work and didn't compensate me in any way." A group of Desautels' academics has already ruled in his favor and ordered the team to pay him $5,300 for the work he did. The winning team, however, say that their final presentation for the Hult Prize did not contain references to Dzamba's initial proposal for a portable cricket farm. Dzamba first started working on proposals to use insects for food at the University of Toronto in 2009.