Lyon McCandless, founder of geedunk, a sustainability-based packaged food company, and Good Crickets, a cricket farming operation, first discovered the tastiness of insects after a trip where she had the opportunity to try some.
“I took a trip to Southeast Asia and found insects were a common food there,” Lyon recalls. “They were perfectly delicious, and I became a lot more receptive to eating them. When I came back to the US, I started hearing more and more about the US insect industry. They’re healthy, they’re sustainable, and have been slowly gaining traction here.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has suggested that “insects offer a significant opportunity to merge traditional knowledge and modern science in both developed and developing countries” in a 2013 report. That same report estimated that the global population will reach 9 billion people by 2050, and worldwide food production will need to almost double to sustain that population growth. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)
Besides the attention insects have received from the FAO, insects are also generating interest among the general populace. Major news networks have been increasing their coverage of the growing insect production and consumption market. For example, last year, NBC News expounded on the benefits of eating insects, citing the fact that “[insects are] a good source of [...] protein, lipids, […] vitamins, and minerals including calcium, iron, and zinc.”
The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition also weighed in on the benefits of consuming insects, stating in a 2016 study that was published on the National Institute of Health website which concluded insects have comparable nutritional benefits to commonly consumed meats such as beef and chicken. (C.L.R. Payne, P. Scarborough, M. Rayner, K. Nonaka)
Lyon wants to become a part of the growing insect industry in the United States, despite its current size. “The market is very, very small -- the insect industry has only really started to grow a little in the past couple of years,” she comments.
Lyon says she had one of those “totally cliché moments that entrepreneurs tell you never actually happen,” as she puts it. “It sounds super corny, but I definitely had a eureka moment where that metaphorical light bulb went off.”
Lyon has two dual goals with geedunk and Good Crickets: increasing employment for military spouses and producing sustainable food.
“Right here in Virginia is the world’s largest naval base,” Lyon remarks. The Norfolk Naval Base and the surrounding areas are home to over one million people, according to the Norfolk Naval Base website, and “is home to one of the world’s largest populations of military personnel, with approximately 83,000 active duty military personnel,” as well as 112,000 military family members.
“But the military spouses in Norfolk, including myself on several occasions, experience a staggering rate of unemployment,” Lyon states. The US Chamber of Commerce’s survey in 2017 put the national military spouse unemployment rate at about 16 percent. However, independent sources have estimated higher numbers, with groups such as the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) who have conducted their own surveys with an unemployment rate as high as a 30 percent or above for military spouses.
“I’m a military spouse and have had to sacrifice my career a couple times now because of it,” Lyon says. “The unemployment is only one part of it. The loneliness of being a military spouse is another thing – you find yourself alone in a new city and potentially a single parent while your spouse is deployed. We need emotional support and a job to give us a sense of independence and pride. The company I am building will employ and support military spouses through a unique culture that fits their lifestyles.”
And as for her ambition of creating a sustainable food supply? “I’m hoping to have Americans reduce their consumption of traditional meat in the long run through my products,” Lyon says seriously. “I love a hamburger as much as anyone else, but the fact is that meat takes a ton of resources to produce. By replacing some meat with crickets or other sustainably produced food sources, we can have a profound effect on natural resources and the future availability of them,” she concludes.
As of now, Lyon is still the sole founder and operator of her two ventures. On her experience going at it alone, Lyon notes that “as a single founder, you have to be hyper diligent and resourceful, so my ‘co-founders’ are my planner and Google,” she says, laughing.
“Not moving fast enough also freaks me out,” Lyon adds. “Things can’t just happen overnight, and farming can be a lengthy process. I want to make sure that the industry is able to supply the growing demand at an affordable price in order to get insects into everyone’s daily diet.”
That said, Lyon says the iLab and her fellow iLab teams are keeping her grounded.
“A few years after school, I was doing work that was ultimately unfulfilling for me and I had begun to feel like I was losing the fire that had kindled when I was at school at UVA,” she recalls. “Now, coming back to UVA and being here at the iLab, everything ignited again. I feel inspired and I have that passion back now.”
“Being here in the iLab and being surrounded by people who are just as motivated and enthusiastic as I am… everything here is always so interesting and relevant,” she continues. “I wish it could go on forever!” Lyon says, laughing.
About The Founder
Lyon McCandless received her B.S. in Commerce from the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce in 2012. She has done work across marketing, sales, and business development in her professional career.
About the Author
Christopher Nelson is a rising second year at New York University in Shanghai, China. He has experience in business operations as well as legal research and contract work. Christopher is currently interning at the UVA Darden School of Business Innovation Lab this summer as an interviewer and journalist.
Note: All photos in this article are provided by geedunk and Good Crickets.