The Pest project aims to make insects a link in the food chain

Be warned if you are trying to work remotely from Baker Street Pret A Manger Sandwich Shop. A good five-minute walk from the London Business School campus, it’s still close enough to attract a UN of graduate management students for a coffee and a fun chat. On a recent visit, an American, noting that he was the son of a war correspondent, enticed a customer at a nearby table to join him, stating that he was an Afghan.

It is this melting pot, even more evident when you reach the LBS campus, that attracted Youssef Hanna. The Egyptian son of an entrepreneur in the construction industry, Hanna is trying to start his own business to develop sustainable alternative food production in his home country.

Hanna hopes that Khepra, her young biotech start-up, will one day help make the food supply chain in the Middle East and Africa more equitable and sustainable. Khepra, which explores the use of insects in animal feed, was conceived shortly before Hanna left Cairo to start her Masters in Management at LBS last year. Hanna used her time on the course not only to improve her financial skills, but also to develop a business plan and raise all of her pre-seed funding with the help of the LBS network.

The idea of ​​starting a social enterprise came to him when he was an undergraduate student in the city of Groningen in the north of the Netherlands. He became a student support worker for Shelter City Groningen, a charity that helps human rights defenders in other countries. Hanna has mentored people from Egypt, Brazil and Nigeria. “I started thinking about how companies could have an impact in these countries,” he says.

Hanna hopes to gain regulatory approval in Egypt for using insects as animal feed © Quetzal Maucci for the FT

Hanna’s father had started his construction business on the Red Sea, specializing in factory buildings. But life has not always been easy for his family. “My father’s business managed to survive two revolutions in Egypt. It was very intense,” he says. “The highs are great but the lows are tough.”

Hanna credits her passion for sustainability to scuba diving trips with her dad near the company’s base, where some of the world’s largest coral beds are located.

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“It was very emotional because you could see the beauty but also how the ecosystem was being destroyed,” he says. “I could see how what we eat now contributes to the destruction of the ecosystem. If the fish dies, the coral dies.

He was also fascinated by the ancient history of his homeland, noting that respect for the land and the Nile meant there was enough good quality food for everyone, which is not the case in the world. modern Egypt.

“80% of Egyptians cannot afford a nutritious diet and that is not acceptable,” he says.

Khepra, named after the ancient Egyptian scarab-faced god of renewal and regeneration, is an attempt to help solve this problem by encouraging alternative food sources. Meanwhile, the khapra beetle is one of the most destructive pests of grain products and seeds. But Hanna saw an opportunity in the growing market for alternative food sources, such as insects that can be used in animal feed, and so began researching insect farming methods. Such a move would require regulatory approval from the Egyptian government, which it does not yet have.

“I came to LBS to learn how to fund, manage and scale disruptive innovation,” he says, adding that the entrepreneurial culture of the school and the UK capital, and the networks it opens up, were a selling point. significant sales of masters. program.

“I just wanted to do this degree in a place that gave me real experience. There’s value in the subjects, but it’s how you’re taught and who teaches you that’s really important,” says Hanna.

It highlights classes on developing new businesses led by Rupert Merson, Adjunct Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, including Saturday sessions on developing a business plan, and lessons on Entrepreneurship in Emerging Markets led by teacher and award-winning author John Mullins, Associate Professor of Management Practices in Marketing and Entrepreneurship. Hanna also praises the Innovation for Impact Crash Course co-taught by Marketing Professor Rajesh Chandy and Marketing Executive Nick Hughes.

“For a week we wondered how we could make an impact with technology and innovative business models. Each day there was a guest speaker for an hour, talking about how they have grown businesses with dozens thousands of people and managing an IPO process,” Hanna recalls.

“After the course, I shared my ideas with Nick and Rajesh and got great feedback from them.”

Hanna sitting by the window with a bowl of dried black fly larvae

Hanna was drawn to the entrepreneurial elements of the LBS masters course © Quetzal Maucci for the FT

Hanna raised $20,000 through grants and competitions at LBS to get Khepra off the ground and plans a seed round later this year. An internship as an analyst at a Dubai-based venture capital firm specializing in the tech industry helped Hanna prepare her presentation skills, but he also benefited from having classmates with previous experience. in this industry.

“I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve met through LBS,” he says, adding that the first friendship he made at LBS was with someone who had been a VC for three years before resuming his duties. full-time studies.

“I knew that by coming to LBS, I would get a quality education in the classroom,” says Hanna. “What I didn’t expect was to come out of this with this level of confidence that I can do as an entrepreneur.”

resume

  • 2022 Founder of Khepra

  • 2021 Starting a Masters in Management program at London Business School

  • 2021 Graduated with a BSc in Social Sciences from University College Groningen, Netherlands

  • 2018-2020 Social mentor for Shelter City Groningen. Human rights support for people from Egypt, Brazil and Nigeria

  • 2018 Sales and Marketing Intern at Leister Egypt in Cairo

  • 2017-2018 Bartender for Bario Bars in London

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