Katharina Unger, founder and CEO of Livin Farms, has developed modular industrial-scale insect rearing factories that transform organic waste into functional proteins and fertilizers. Today, Unger and her team announced a $5.8M Series A round, led by venture investor Peter Luerssen, the CEO of Luerssen Yachts.
Unger started Livin Farms (HAX 07) after uncovering a key insight: insects have the largest biomass of terrestrial animals, and if properly cultivated, could be used to break down both meat and plant-based waste, while still retaining many of their key proteins and amino acids. In 2013 she launched Livin Farms with a vision for a circular economy that empowered consumers to recycle kitchen scraps using the power of mealworms. Her team’s first product, Hive, was targeted at consumer’s kitchens; users placed the small insect farm on their countertops and then discarded food scraps into the Hive for larva to eat. After a few weeks of growth, consumers could remove and consume the larger and more nutritious mealworms.
Unger grew up in the Austrian countryside and always had direct contact with the food she was harvesting and consuming. Her vision with Livin Farms was to bring consumers closer to the food production process, similar to her experience growing up. “Mealworms are the food of today and the food of the future,” she says.
But Unger’s vision didn’t stop with the consumer. In 2019, while seeking to make an even bigger impact on food waste, Livin Farms pivoted into the industrial market with Hive Pro, a modular plug and play factory that automates waste processing on site for customers. Hive Pro empowers waste management companies and large scale food producers to upcycle organic waste and by-products into valuable proteins, fats, and fertilizers.
In their new large scale industrial system, black soldier fly larvae are fed food waste, and robotic arms move fertilizer trays and help rear the insects, which are then processed into protein powder after growth. The entire process, from insect rearing to robotic handling and product processing, is fully automated and takes a matter of weeks. Through their ‘Farming as a Service’ (FaaS) model, Hive Pros are remotely monitored and restocked with insect seedlings after the life cycle has been completed.
Hive Pro is also uniquely designed to be independent, meaning any factory can add it to their production line and generate new revenue streams by recycling otherwise discarded waste into valuable protein to be sold. Unger’s team has recently opened a 1,400m² pilot site for interested customers in Vienna, where she’s received a large amount of interest from potential customers.
“With our proprietary technology and biological know-how, our customers turn substantial losses on organic waste into highly attractive, additional income. At the same time, our customers contribute massively to fixing the broken food system and therefore saving the planet,” Unger explained.
Livin Farms has previously secured a seed investment round, grants and subsidies from Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG), Austrian Promotional Bank (AWS) and the European Innovation Council (EIC) under the European “Green Deal,” totaling more than EUR 4M.