Her dream to help environment takes off with insect farm
This nature lover's relationship with black soldier flies took off from her dream to contribute to the environment.
Miss Chua Kai-Ning, 26, did not let her lack of business background stop her from co-founding Insectta, the first urban insect farm in Singapore.
"If you want to make a change, especially in something that has never been done before, what options do you have but to be the first to do it?" said Miss Chua, who graduated from the National University of Singapore with a degree in English language and linguistics.
Black soldier flies are useful in many ways. For one, the larvae make excellent feed for pets and livestock. They are high in protein and antimicrobial compounds.
Miss Chua found out about them online. She had wondered how Singapore could benefit from them. And that was how Insectta came about in 2018.
One of its co-founders, Mr Phua Jun Wei, is the chief technology officer, whose life sciences background "was instrumental in pivoting Insectta's business direction from making animal feed to making biomaterials", said Miss Chua, who is the chief marketing officer.
But as the start-up was the first here, the risks they had to take were magnified since they had no models to follow nor any case studies to improve from.
"As insect-derived technology is so foreign, the biggest challenge was trying to shift the societal and cultural mindsets surrounding it," said Miss Chua.
She uses her communication skills to educate the public and investors. They have since gained more traction through the media.
At Insectta, the larvae eat food waste sourced from food manufacturers and return it into the economy as biomaterials, such as chitosan and melanin, through pupae shells the flies leave behind.
These biomaterials are therefore more sustainably sourced, and the extraction processes are also more environmentally friendly.
The Insectta team is now looking to use melanin obtained from the black soldier flies to make organic semiconductors.
This could help to open up the way to power electronics with organic materials instead of metals that are pollutive to mine.
Miss Chua said: "The food waste valorisation abilities of the black soldier fly help us reimagine it as a resource that can help power our electronics and provide materials for our pharmaceuticals."