Entoview with Woven Network

Not many of us can say that we played a significant part in the start of an idea or concept that shapes the way the world works. Even for those in the right place at the right time, such as for the web innovators of Silicon Valley in the 90s, the next leap forward is often an unexpected one. As many are now beginning to realise, global population growth and food security issues have forced us to the cusp of a new agricultural revolution – only this time, everyone sees it coming.

Woven Network CIC (Community Interest Company) is the brainchild of Nick Rousseau, has just launched and functions as a hub for the Insects as Food & Feed sector in the UK. Nick joins us to explain a bit more about what they aim to do.

Nick Rousseau
Nick Rousseau | Woven Network CIC

EBF: Why are you passionate about entomophagy?

Nick: I have been involved in projects engaged with where food comes from for a while now – 5 years ago I started Hillside Harvest, a local organic food growing group, and more recently I have supported the Real Junk Food Project which aims to reduce food waste by setting up a cafe serving meals cooked from ingredients that were going to be thrown away.

I am very conscious that food is a big thing and presents humanity with lots of challenges – and where small scale can be as important as large scale.  So we need to look creatively for solutions and be open to eating things that might feel odd.  For all sorts of reasons insects seem to be a potential part of the picture and we should definitely explore that as thoroughly as we can.

Why did you decide to start Woven Network?

Having seen a TV programme about insects as potentially important I found that those involved in this in the UK were not supported or connected and the legislation made no sense.  Those I spoke to agreed that some form of network seemed a good idea as it could then provide a voice for those working in the area.

Woven Network Logo

What is the main purpose of Woven Network?

1) To support our members by connecting them and offering information and resources to help them succeed, and 2) to support the UK generally by lobbying for the conditions that will make research and business flourish in this area and create a hub for activity.

What is the motivation for businesses to join Woven Network?

Members will get support, find others in a similar position to learn from and partner with and will be able to influence the research that goes on in this area. They will also have a body that acts on their behalf. They may be able to pool resources to get key research carried out, for example, into safety issues.

Woven Network Management Committee
A few members of the Woven Network Management Committee (L-R: Shami Radia, Christine Spliid, Matt Anderson, Harold Stone, Adam Routledge, Nick Rousseau)

What other groups do you see becoming members?

Researchers should also join so they can be put in touch with people with a common interest and with research questions that they can answer.  This will help them get funding and give them a purpose and focus for their research.  Researchers also need to network just as much as entrepreneurs.

How do you see the interaction between these groups developing within the community?

Hopefully the researchers will be interested in the questions the businesses need answers to and the businesses will see the researchers as allies in helping them develop. There will be tensions inevitably where the desire to carry out more and more research is at odds with the desire to just get out there and start selling, but this is where Woven comes in.

Do you envisage any challenges in the next year or so?

The most pressing challenge will be helping businesses navigate the new Novel Food regulations and approval process, and getting the research evidence needed for products to be approved. Getting more research funding and support for innovation in this area will also be key, as will getting continuation of research into insects as feed once the PROteINSECT project ends.

What are your hopes for the launch conference in April?

We hope to see a good number of people coming together and networking, having a lively debate about interactions between researchers and industry.  Our first conference will not necessarily attempt to be a formal research conference where people present publishable findings, but will put more emphasis on everyone sharing what is being learnt as a community and getting stimulated by each other.

RES Woven Network Conference April 2016

How will Woven Network interact with insect eating communities outside of the UK?

The relationships will hopefully be mutually supportive, but we are still working on that. There is lots to learn from each other. We want our UK businesses to have global reach so international connections will be very important.

How many entrepreneurs, researchers, etc. do you hope to attract to the network?

Lots! So far, there are at least 60 of what we call free members, so hopefully at least half will sign up as full members over the next few weeks.

You offer a Concessionary Membership for students. Why do you believe that student membership is important?

Many researchers are PhD students and we also want to encourage future researchers to see this as a good area to go into.

When will people actually be able to get their memberships?

Is there anything else exciting in the pipeline for Woven this year?

Yes, we hope to organise an event focused on developing industry standards, and also to publish findings from our surveys of businesses and researchers. We have organised a ten minute questionnaire for researchers and another for entrepreneurs to get a baseline of data about their activities and the scale of the finance flowing through:

Find out more about Woven Network here, read their blog, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.