Written by Priya Sinha Cloutier

Meet Virginia Emery, Insect Entrepreneur.

Here’s what her bio says:

Canadian-born, Berkeley-bred, and Seattle made. Her life’s mission is to breed a bug that tastes like bacon. Virginia has a Ph.D. in Entomology from UC Berkeley and is passionate about bugs. She thinks a lot about agriculture, and how we are going to feed our growing human population. She is a self-professed Insect Entrepreneur.

Virginia is the founder and energy behind Beta Hatch. Beta Hatch grows insect protein for use in animal feed, and nutrient-balanced fertilizer is a by-product of the Beta Hatch process.

“Beta Hatch knows bugs better than anyone – we use our expertise in entomology to grow the most efficient and nutritious insects.” Beta Hatch’s mission is “to make the Pacific Northwest a leader in emerging insect farming.”



What her bio doesn’t say:

Virginia had planned her life to be an academic – a professor. Virginia’s inspiration to deviate from academia was her husband, who isn’t an insect entrepreneur but rather an ‘engineering entrepreneur’, a similar story to that of Susann Sigl. “Academia doesn’t teach entrepreneurship – that kind of thinking simply does not exist in academia.” Virginia credits her husband and the Bay Area environment where she got her Ph.D., with showing her the world of entrepreneurship.

I met Virginia about a year ago at CleanTech Open. I was judging pitches and Virginia was on the hot seat. I was impressed with her intelligence and passion. But, I must confess, I wondered whether her project was scalable and whether she would have access to anything but a small niche market. I ran into Virginia again this year. I was pleasantly surprised when she told me about her scaled bug ranch and, I jumped at the invitation to visit Beta Hatch. Yes, I ate bugs. And, Virginia just emailed me about a round of funding that has just successfully closed.

CONGRATULATIONS VIRGINIA!

What bugs Virginia? (pun intended)

She’s often asked if she is interested in starting a family. (By the way, for employers, that question is illegal under Federal Law.) Being pragmatic and smart, Virginia knows exactly how to manage this. It’s not for me to tell her strategy. Despite the challenges of being a female entrepreneur, Virginia is choosing not to focus on any differences that might arise in business because of gender bias. ‘It’s 2015- this should be a non-issue. I am also working hard to set policies as an employer that gives equal compensation, consideration, and advancement regardless of gender identity.”

Here are the kernels of wisdom Virginia gave to me:

Role Models Are Important.
The gender of the role model isn’t necessarily important. When Virginia was in academia, she didn’t have entrepreneurial role models. But, once she entered the entrepreneurial space she was hooked. Her network grows every month, and mentors, advisors, and role models are getting easier to find. When I met with Virginia, she was walking the walk and had brought with her an intern that she is mentoring.

Be Practical.
When Virginia told me about the inappropriate questions asked of her, I asked her how she kept her feelings in check. Her answer was simple and thoughtful: “I’m growing my business. I need to do that without burning bridges. I have appropriate answers for inappropriate questions that will, hopefully, get the asker to think about what he is asking, without realizing I have placed that kernel of thought.” Nice strategy.

Do What Comes Across Your Plate.
Another recurring them. Virginia has done everything from raise money to experimenting with engineering solutions with limited funding. Beta Hatch is a veritable laboratory for everything from bug feed to mechanical/electrical gadgets. “You just have to solve the problems in front of you.” “You will come to understand that you can do more than you think you can.”

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