Earlier this year, Cisco announced the man who turned it from a small router company into the world’s dominant network vendor, John Chambers, was exiting his post as executive chairman of the board and it turned the mothership fully over to Chuck Robbins. This raised the question: What has Chambers been up to? Retired?
Hardly. I met with Chambers near the end of his tenure as CEO, and he most emphatically stated he was not retiring. There are many things I admire about Chambers, but two of his more notable attributes are that he has a knack of catching market transitions and he has a burning desire to change the world. In fact, under Chambers, Cisco put together perhaps the best Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program in the industry, and that legacy has carried over in the Chuck Robbins era.
It appears that the skills Chambers developed over the past 20 years are being put to good use, as he is now investing in a number of startups. Chambers has been very outspoken about the U.S. falling behind in the area of startups to countries like China and India, where the governments of those nations are actively involved in fueling the economy through startups. Compare that to our commander-in-chief, who seems more interested in bringing back manufacturing jobs and tweeting about it, and it’s easy to project that U.S. is on the verge of losing its position as the world leader in advanced technology (my opinion, not Chambers’).
Cricket farming and the IoT
Some of the areas in which Chambers is involved in make sense — drones, cybersecurity and customer service improvements. The startup I find the most interesting is Austin-based Aspire Food Group because it appears to be so off the radar of what one might think Chambers would invest in. Aspire deals in crickets. That’s right, those annoying little creatures that chirp all night and are impossible to get out of your house if they happen to get in.
Upon further investigation into Aspire, it becomes clear why it was so compelling for Chambers to be an investor. The company is heavily technology driven and is on a mission to solve one of the planet’s oldest and biggest problems: hunger.
Crickets are an excellent source of protein and can be farmed much faster and with less disruption to the planet. I love a nice marbled ribeye as much as the next guy, but cows generally take three years to be raised before they can be cut up and grilled. Conversely, crickets are insects and can be constantly grown.
I recently saw an interview with Chambers on Bloomberg in which he stated that it’s his belief is that within 15-20 years, the majority of protein that everyone eats will come from insects like crickets. (They have already become somewhat of a delicacy at some high-end restaurants.) The fast yield time does have an opportunity to feed many more people, perhaps everyone on earth, where we can’t do that with chickens and cows.
How tech lowers the cost of cricket farming
Currently cricket products are a fairly expensive source of protein, but technology has the promise to lower the costs to the point where massive cricket farms can be created.
Without technology, the Aspire staff had to travel around the farm and manually feed crickets on different shelves numerous times per day. Now, though, with its new facility, an-IoT connected robot moves around the facility and deposits an optimized amount of food. The system is built using IoT sensors and machine learning to monitor how the crickets eat and when it’s time to feed them again. This has the obvious benefit of being less people-intensive (labor can be as high as 80 percent in insect farming,) and it reduces waste because the amount of food deposited is exact. The faster the costs can be lowered, the quicker crickets can become a main source of protein in our diets.
One day in the near future, you will be dining out and will see crickets on the menu. When you do, think about how IoT, machine learning and analytics made that possible. There’s one important question I have. What kind of wine pairs nicely with grilled crickets?