Singapore yellow biotechnology company creates new hope for sustainable food production
Environmental Services | 12 Oct 2023
(This is a multi-part business profile series by IndSights Research, featuring inspiring business leaders from different industries in Singapore.)
Food waste is a serious issue around the world and Singapore is no exception. Driven by factors like climate change and geopolitical developments that pose threats to food production on a global scale, the need for a sustainable global food system has intensified over the years. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, global food systems are exerting a significant pressure on both human and planetary health. They consume 70 percent of the Earth’s water, contribute up to one-third of total greenhouse gas emissions produced by humans, and through agriculture, pose a threat to over 86 percent of the 28,000 endangered species in the world.
In Singapore, the impact of climatic shifts and supply disruptions can be distinctly felt by the city-state which imports more than 90 percent of its food. To address this, the Singapore Food Agency has committed to gain greater food resilience by setting a “30 by 30” goal, with the aim of producing 30 percent of local nutritional needs by 2030. However, with less than one percent of land designated for farming, Singapore must produce more with less resources. Faced with these challenges, the nation needs to reduce food waste while increasing food production in a sustainable way.
READ MORE: Insights into Singapore’s Food Services Industry in 2023 and beyond: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities
Where social consciousness meets food waste management
“I worry that my children may grow up in a world shaped by decisions made today. While I can’t revamp the food industry, I believe that I can play a role in making a difference.”
Driven by a strong sense of social consciousness, 33-year-old Singaporean entrepreneur Nathaniel Phua founded Ento Industries in 2020. Ento Industries is a yellow biotechnology firm and a subsidiary of local food waste management firm Tiong Lam Supplies. Nathaniel’s inspiration stemmed from witnessing the stark contrast between the significant food waste produced in Singapore and the persistent issue on global hunger, as highlighted by a United Nations report which projected that 300 million people worldwide may face food shortages by 2050.
In Singapore, food producers generally find it difficult to manage food waste due to the high cost of implementing waste management solutions. As a result, the city-state produced an estimated 813,000 tonnes of food waste, accounting for 12 percent of the total waste produced, while as many as 783 million people worldwide faced hunger in 2022.
However, picture a world where food waste is no longer a liability, but a valuable asset for food production. To bring this vision to reality, Nathaniel developed a method to valorise food waste using black soldier flies, an effective and affordable process which converts food waste and its byproducts into higher-value products that contribute to the food supply chain, such as feedstock for fish farms.
Additionally, although the number of local food farms in Singapore has increased with government funding, the supporting industries such as feed and fertiliser production companies have not kept pace. The shortage of these supporting industries could significantly hinder Singapore’s pursuit for food security. Fortunately, Ento Industries’ food waste management solution can help to address this challenge by enabling local food producers to reduce their reliance on imported animal feed and compost, strengthening Singapore’s food resilience.
“Ento Industries was first established to help solve an issue in the food industry and I think we have grown our capacity tremendously over the past few years. The current scale up of our facility is a testament to the effort that the team has made to help address the food waste problem in Singapore.”
Using insects to save the world
For context, black soldier flies are capable of consuming a large amount of waste without producing any harmful emission. In their larval stage, they can eat almost any organic matter, up to four times their body weight per day. The nutrient-rich excrement produced by a black soldier fly larvae can be used as fertiliser in agriculture to improve soil quality and crop yields, while the larvae itself can be harvested as a high-value animal feed. This makes black soldier flies a valuable tool for reducing food waste, improving food security, and creating a more sustainable food system in Singapore.
Here are the steps involved in Ento Industries’ food waste management process:
- Food wastes are collected from restaurants, supermarkets, and other businesses.
- The wastes are first treated and formulated into an optimal feed for black soldier flies.
- These wastes are then fed to multiple batches of black soldier flies.
- The black soldier flies break down the food wastes into a nutrient-rich liquid fertiliser.
- The larvae of these black soldier flies are harvested and processed into a high protein feed ingredient for pets and farm animals.
Leading the way in food waste management, one step at a time
“People are the company’s greatest resource and Ento Industries could not have become what it is today without the team that we have.”
When Ento Industries first began, Nathaniel had a clear understanding of the direction he wanted the company to take. As his team progressed, more ideas poured in, each sounding more attractive than the last. As a result, they became somewhat hazy about their initial intentions and started working on multiple projects at the same time. The team soon realised that even though the company seemed to be picking up traction, it was losing capital. Nathaniel felt that this experience helped him learn to remain laser focused on his main goals and be more discerning when developing the business and bringing in new projects.
Nathaniel also believes that humility is the key to success in entrepreneurship and sets aside time to engage with his team regularly.
“As business owners, we tend to think that we know what is best for the company – which may not always be the case. Keeping an open mind always helps me to look at my business from a different perspective and spot issues that I never knew were present.”
As a company that engages in both yellow biotechnology and waste management, it was difficult to recruit qualified manpower due to the stigma that existed in the industry. Hence, Nathaniel worked with the various Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) to have their students join them as interns. This helped to break the stigma of working in the yellow biotechnology industry, as many interns extended their term with the company, and some even expressed their interest to become full-time staff.
To further mitigate the issue of manpower crunch, Nathaniel adopted various project management and business automation tools such as human resource and finance software to streamline operations.
“It can be a tough and arduous journey, but I think for me, it was the support from my peers and family that helped to keep me going. I have also been privileged enough to have had mentors to guide me at each stage of my journey, of whom the most notable was my late father-in-law who taught me the importance of building lasting relationships in business.”
Nathaniel also recommends that aspiring entrepreneurs and young leaders surround themselves with people who are in the same space or on a similar journey as them. It is important to seek out a mentor who is willing to guide them along their journey, and the insights gleaned from someone who has had a similar experience can prove to be invaluable, he explained.
Building trust and support
Ento Industries’ impressive contributions to food waste management in Singapore have been recognised and the company has received funding support from private investors in 2023, including undisclosed funds from ESG-focused private investors Tak Wai Chung and Te-Ling Nai. Chung is a co-founder of Xcelerate Group, a regional platform investing in and operating businesses in the governance, risk, and compliance sector, including sustainability, while Nai is experienced in growing and managing business operations both in startup environments and multinational organisations.
The company has also obtained other notable grants to support its development of new products and services. These grants include:
- EnterpriseSG Enterprise Development Grant in 2021: A government grant that provides funding for businesses to develop new products or services, expand their operations, or improve their productivity. Ento Industries received this grant in 2021 to help develop new products using black soldier flies.
- DBS Foundation Social Enterprise Grant in 2020: A grant that is awarded to social enterprises working to address social or environmental challenges. Ento Industries received this grant in 2020 to help kickstart its pilot facility and increase capabilities.
Collectively, the funding support from both government and private investors enabled Ento Industries to expand its operations and develop new technologies to further its mission of reducing food waste and enhancing food resiliency in Singapore, aligning with the city-state’s 30 by 30 goal.
READ MORE: Business resources and support
The future of Ento Industries
“I am excited about the potential of insect farming to help us solve some of the world’s most pressing problems, such as food waste and climate change. I believe that black soldier flies are a sustainable and scalable solution to these problems. I am committed to working with others to make insect farming a reality.”
Since its inception in 2020, Ento Industries has grown to become one of Singapore’s leading providers of food waste management solutions using black soldier flies. It has since upcycled more than 500 tonnes of food waste. Nathaniel believes that the food waste management industry is still in its early stages and that interest in sustainable businesses and nature-based solutions is growing. He is confident that competition will increase, and more businesses will enter the field.
Building on its success, Ento Industries is expanding its operations to meet the growing demand for sustainable food waste management solutions. The company recently rolled out its food waste transformation initiatives to key partners in the food manufacturing and food and beverage sectors. Nathaniel envisions increasing its capacity to service and partner with a larger number of clients in Singapore in the future. Additionally, Ento Industries is working with IHLs like Republic Polytechnic to explore the use of insect-derived feed ingredients as a sustainable replacement for the current ingredients in fish feed for aquaculture farming.
“I believe that the best anyone can do is to keep ourselves updated on the developments in the industry, while fostering strong collaborations with key industry partners.”
About this article
This is a multi-part business profile series by IndSights Research, featuring inspiring business leaders from different industries in Singapore. Each article offers insights into the strategies, obstacles, and achievements faced by various business leaders, offering practical takeaways for executives and entrepreneurs to draw from. Through this initiative, we hope to encourage business leaders to implement best practices in their companies to promote growth and development.
About IndSights Research
Established in 2018, IndSights Research is a not-for-profit industry research entity under RySense Limited, set up by the Ministry of Communications and Information. We are dedicated to better understand Singapore’s business landscape and challenges faced by companies across all industries.
Using robust approaches, we seek to provide reliable insights to shape government policies and initiatives for the benefit of the industry. We work closely with key stakeholders and business leaders to conduct surveys, focus group discussions, in-depth interviews, and engagement sessions. In addition to research insights, we also provide local businesses with valuable information and support through curated industry perspectives and other business resources.
This article is written by Cheng Ee Shan, Assistant Manager (Engagement), IndSights Research.