Daniel Vach, originally from Hradec Králové, is the co-founder of a company that specializes in the production of sustainable food with cricket protein.
He finished his master’s studies at the IES in 2015 and a year later cofounded the company SENS. He reached both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the IES with honors and was also the holder of a merit scholarship or an award for an outstanding bachelor’s thesis. During his studies at IES, he spent two study exchange semesters abroad (Maastricht University and University of Cyprus). While studying he also gathered work experience such as manager in ecommerce project Rozbityiphone.cz or in the planning department of CEMEX. The first year after school, he worked as a market research analyst at IDC before fully committing to SENS, in which he cofounded also the largest cricket farm in the world located in Thailand.
Dan enjoys riding a bicycle, painting, and relaxing with his friends.
Dan, which practical skill or knowledge you got from the IES? Is there something else that you have learned here that you use in your work?
I chose to study at IES because I wanted to understand the world around me better through the lenses of economics and finance. Checked.
I also really appreciate the way of thinking from the first principles which IES taught me. There were many situations in which this helped me to solve otherwise very complicated problems. Although I am not able to show proofs from Math or Statistics anymore, the abstract process stayed with me and that is what I find valuable.
Third highly praised skill which I obtained at IES is working with data and interpreting it properly. I consider this basic knowledge in today’s world.
Regarding specific courses from IES which I use in my work today, I value knowledge from courses such as Financial Accounting, Corporate Finance, Corporate Law or for example International Trade and Company Valuation.
Thanks to IES I was able to study abroad not just once, but even twice. I consider this a life-changing experience from the personal point of view but it also helped me to shape my curriculum into what I was interested in the most. For example, I use practical knowledge from courses such as Managing Operations, Product Development, Strategic Management or Information Design and Business Intelligence Systems.
Do you have experience from several companies as a regular employee, was this experience so painful and you did not want to stay in a corporation or was it more about the fact that you were in the right place at the right time, that you chose a different career path? You've done market research or reporting, these skills are probably pretty good now, aren't they?
I have gathered work experience already during my studies with a ‘try everything’ attitude. From manual work and tutoring math to improve my student’s budget, to an internship in the planning of larger multinational corporation. Then I joined a small ecommerce project of my current cofounder Radek. That was where I learned how to build a small business.
I admit that I did not know exactly what I wanted to do even at the end of my Master’s studies. Since I am interested in so many various things, I could not identify the area in which I should spend the next thousands of hours. I spent the following year or so juggling doctoral studies on the microstructure of financial markets, full-time analyst work in IT market research & trends company while I was trying to launch a startup at the same time. The attempt to make it all work at the same time was brave, but not really working well and I was not satisfied with the output of my work. I also recognized that the day has (unfortunately) only 24 hours and I cut everything else except what I was driven by the most at that time - launching of startup Sens.
Market research is an important step at the beginning of every business project. Reporting is needed so you know what is happening in the company from the top view. The planning of production is the heartbeat of our company. All has to also fit into financial planning while there is an extreme uncertainty in the case of a startup. The annual view is often too long, while at the same time you need to calculate the economics of the production facility in Thailand (with the use of technologies yet to be fully developed) in a way that the unit economics makes sense in the end.
You have decided to start a company specializing in the production of cricket flour products, how does it happen that you choose this area?
I never intended to work in food or agritech fields, but I had the right mindset at the right time. As a human being, I truly care about the environment. I would like to experience the transition to a sustainable economy respecting the limits of nature within my lifetime. It just makes sense to be a part of this process.
I became fascinated by cricket protein when I encountered the publication Edible Insects (2013) made by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. This paper summarizes the fact that humankind will not have enough protein already this century if we do not change the way of producing the protein from 10 000 years old animal husbandry model which is becoming too large to fit the planet. The only solution is to introduce alternative ways to produce protein and cricket protein could be one of the answers to this problem. Crickets need 12x less feed, 2000x less water, and produce 100x fewer greenhouse gasses compared to the same amount of protein from beef. All this while cricket protein has the same quality as the highest quality meat and contains some key micronutrients for human nourishment.
To catch the interest of the customer to buy controversial novelty based on powdered cricket protein is a proper challenge. We face it through the quality of the product and emphasis on the communication of the reason why the product exists. It is exciting to be a part of such a practical experiment on spreading and adoption of innovation.
What would you recommend to our students who are considering starting a start-up?
I will paraphrase my former doctoral studies supervisor RNDr. Martin Šmíd Ph.D. who said, that one needs to get truly fascinated by a research topic to stay excited enough to overcome the hardest challenges to come in the years to finish it. I think this is the case for every field of interest requiring the investment of thousands of hours before it starts to bear fruits. This works for a startup, too.
I suggest validating the business opportunity thoroughly before investing too much capital or time into something. I think of building the right business model as a neverending validation of hypotheses. I would like to recommend searching for as many consultations and real feedback as possible. That can save a lot of time.
Your cricket farm is located in Thailand, how do you manage it now? The situation is probably logistically difficult …..etc. it must be demanding….
I have one cofounder living in Chiang Mai and the second one in Berlin while I am based in Prague, so we have our internal processes covered without the need to travel. Personal travel is quite complicated. Goods move relatively okay except for a bit higher fares.
Anti-covid measures complicated mainly sales of our products in less-visited retail shops and closed sports centers. We have refocused fully on online sales to cover at least partially the drop in other sales channels. It is also difficult to open new partnerships with our innovation in current highly uncertain times. It is tough.
We hope that current pandemics will increase the awareness of the complex interconnection of human activities in food production (and in general) and the environment.
Dan, what are your next plans with Sens, can you reveal?
Sens is still in a very volatile phase emphasized by the current market situation. Usually, I cannot predict whether our company survives the following 3 months. In extreme cases, I do not see further than the very next 14 days.
I’d like to develop the project further though. Considering brand, it is the expansion of the Sens portfolio of tasty and high-quality products. I still consider a cricket burger as a real meat analog a holy grail of product development to achieve.
I’d like also to pursue improvements in cricket farming. We have managed to cut the cost of output per gram of protein to a third of its initial cost but there is still a lot of work to be done. We think about using insects in other applications apart from food to gain the needed scale. We also think about farming in the CEE region. Our long-term goal is to offer the most affordable animal protein on the planet. Only then our solution can have a global impact.
And do you have some free time?
That is a tough one. I spend much more time at work since I started the entrepreneurial path. With that, the pressure on choosing the right activities in my free time got much stronger. I have defined five simplified goals for living a good life for myself. I always try to reach this ideal, but I am not always successful. My five goals are: good sleep, good food, good exercise, good people around, and good sources of information.