- Founders: Aria Samimi and Leon Schipper
- Founded in: Wageningen, The Netherlands
- Employees: 10
- Money raised: -
- Ultimate goal: Showing the world that insects have much more potential than you might think.
When we think of innovation, the first things that often comes to mind are complex computers and robots. But nature can also serve as a source of inspiration for finding solutions that we face every day. InsectSense builds innovative technologies that are based on insects. “We use the honey bee to detect disease in plants, animals and humans,” founder Aria Samimi explains. He spoke to Innovation Origins about how the company is faring.
“Insects have been around on Earth longer than any other species. The reason they have been able to survive for so long is because they can adapt extremely well to their environment and develop new abilities. So, why shouldn’t we use their help to solve problems?
For instance, at InsectSense we make grateful use of honey bees. They possess a talent that humans do not – an incredible sense of smell. To give you an idea, they have such a strong sense of smell that you can compare it to being able to find a drop of water in 20 Olympic swimming pools. No human or existing technology can rival that.”
How does your bee-inspired innovation actually work?
“We are in the process of developing a biosensor: BeeSense. It serves as a kind of detection system: A screening tool to detect disease in people, animals and plants. Honey bees are able to detect metabolic changes in plants. If a plant becomes sick, then bees notice that. Ultimately, our system can help farmers detect diseases in crops at a very early stage, which will lead to viruses and diseases being prevented from spreading. Because this is a low tech solution, our innovation is easy to use and can be easily put into practice in developing countries.”
You can hold our small device in your hand or set it on a workbench. One way to understand it is to imagine a shoebox that the bees are inside of. We are able to monitor their behavior and translate that into numbers. Experiments only take a few hours and after we have finished doing them, the bees are released back into the wild.”
Do you use any other insects besides honey bees?
“We are also working on a new product: the LumiNose. This is a small device equipped with a biochip that works with the scent receptors of different insects. Our chip, in conjunction with machine learning, is capable of detecting various types of diseases. And if a disease is found, the severity of the condition also becomes clear. For example, based on a breath analysis, we would be able to tell if someone has breast cancer and what stage the disease is in. Ultimately, the chip can help doctors determine which medication will work best.”
How far are you in terms of the development of these two innovations?
“When it comes to BeeSense, we are in the process of conducting a number of pilots as well as getting our product validated. We are working with partners from the agrifood sector to do all of this. I’m expecting that we will be able to enter the market next year. As far as LumiNose is concerned, we are still in the initial phase. A few more years of research and development will be needed before this particular product is ready for the market. We plan to start several pilot schemes next year to develop the technology further.”
What challenges are you running into?
“Like any other start-up, we are also looking for funding. Moreover, given that we build platform technologies (technology with multiple applications), it is sometimes difficult to identify which market we should focus on first. Right now, with BeeSense, we are primarily active in the agrifood sector. But who knows, maybe another market will eventually suit us better. We need to start looking at exactly how we want to grow in the near future. What’s more, after developing our technology for the agrifood sector, we would be delighted if BeeSense could also save lives in developing countries by providing rapid screening for human diseases.”
What do you hope to have accomplished in five years’ time?
“We have grown massively within just two years. As a start-up, we have to dream big, but start small. I hope our growth will continue and that in five years’ time, we will have a branch in another country and have added a number of other technologies to our portfolio. All insect-based, of course. Because that’s what I love so much about this company: That we can show the world that insects have a lot more potential than you might think.”
Insectsense has been nominated with LumiNose for the AtlasInvest Entrepreneurship Grant from Wageningen University & Research. The winner will be announced during F&A Next by Marcel van Poecke. F&A Next is an international event organized by Wageningen University and Research, Rabobank, Anterra Capital, and StartLife. The event connects food and agriculture startups to investors, serving as a springboard to greater innovation.