Starting your own business is a gamble at any age, but when you’re also bringing new concepts to market, it takes a courage to step off the ‘safe’ path. Absolutely Education speaks to two young food entrepreneurs who have done just that

The UK needs more entrepreneurs and food offers a rich seam of possibilities. But it’s also one of the toughest markets to enter. Take the journey of Uppingham alumna Freya Twigden, creator of the kombucha drink brand Fix8. While she describes her food innovation as a “happy accident”, it took rather more than her modest description would suggest to bring it to our shelves.

Freya moved on from Uppingham to study Politics at Edinburgh and envisaged she would head down a similar professional route to her peers and siblings. With her four-year degree pathway there was a year abroad. There was Georgetown, Washington on the menu (she describes that as dream spot for any Politics student), but she waivered when Shanghai was offered. Shanghai won and the Fix8 story started. “I had a lot of free time in Shanghai and became interested in Chinese medicine,” says Freya. She was introduced to a home-brewed version of kombucha – often described in the Far East as the tea of immortality – by her Chinese doctor and quickly became hooked.

“Now Fix8 is arriving in Waitrose stores – that’s a pretty good outcome from an under-the-desk experiment”

Returning to the UK, Freya couldn’t find anything approaching this drink she so loved and began to do her own research. While her friends were watching Netflix she was reading about fermentation. It became something of a joke as she always had things brewing under her desk. Indeed, it was a friend who first suggested she should really take her hobby further. Travel followed on from university and the research continued – including an informative spell working in a pickle shop in Berkeley, California.

Entrepreneur and Uppingham alumna Freya Twigden has brought an under-the-desk experiment with her favourite drink to market

Freya describes the Fix8 journey as “one foot in front of the other”, and also says she had no idea at the outset of the hard work involved in getting to mainstream market. “But I was passionate about the drink and that gave me the energy to move forward.” This story has a pretty amazing outcome for, after a fair bit of pivoting on business direction – launching in the chiller cabinet in glass bottles then switching to ambient cans, for example – Fix8 began to gain traction. It has expanded from independent delis and restaurants to Whole Foods Market and Ocado. Now Fix8 is arriving in Waitrose stores – that’s a pretty good outcome from an under-the-desk experiment by anyone’s lights.

Freya Twigden is not resting on her laurels. She has more delicious and healthy products planned next year. Her advice to other would-be entrepreneurs is that there is no formula for success. She does say you need to believe in your product and have a combination of: “passion and persistence”.

Thomas Constant, an alumnus of Hurst College, is another food entrepreneur to watch – although The Bug Factory products are currently for the pet market. His exploration of insect food sources started out as a project at Loughborough University, where he was studying Industrial Design & Technology. He was thinking about protein insecurity and sustainability and wanted to work up ideas for empowering individuals to grow their own insect protein at home.  

Food entrepreneurs
Hurst alumnus Thomas Constant has developed The Bug Factory to satisfy people’s demand for the finest produce for pets and wild birds

After he graduated and returned from travelling Thomas says he applied for lots and lots of jobs. By coincidence, on the very day he was offered a great role at a design agency in Surrey, an opportunity came up to return to Loughborough’s Business Incubator, be paid a grant and pursue his ideas. He headed to Loughborough.  

Like Freya Twigden, Thomas’s concept went through different stages. Initially, he thought about bugs for human consumption, but soon concluded we aren’t yet ready (although mealworms are, apparently, delicious grilled or fried). He decided instead to tap into pet lovers’ quest for the very best – his bugs are fresh, nutritious, sustainable and loved by wild birds, poultry, reptiles and fish.

“The Bug Factory taps into pet lovers’ quest for the very best – fresh, nutritious, sustainable and loved by wild birds, poultry, reptiles and fish”

The prototype trays were made by him – 3D printed in a small room, an exercise he describes as very hot and very hard work – and Kickstarter funding helped test them. Now he and his small team are bringing The Bug Factory products to a much bigger market. Every aspect of the products has been designed to be sustainable in a closed loop system. The mealworm growing pods are made and distributed in Britain using plastics recycled from old fridges and freezers. The mealworms grow in abundance, their frass (excrement) makes a superb plant food, and the units are small enough to stow just about anywhere and be topped up with your vegetable and fruit waste.

Food entrepreneurs
It’s a bugs’ life, with grow your own mealworm kits

Like Freya Twigden, Thomas Constant recalls watching others climb on the solid career ladder with a twinge or two – he says it caused a certain amount of “self-pressure”. He counts himself lucky to have had such support from family and university to keep on trying. He does point to one clear advantage of embarking on the bold entrepreneur’s life fresh from school and university. “There are very few other times in your life when you can take these risks.”

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Further reading: Forward College on studying abroad