Annie Zeimis & Geert Boelen - Alumni Spotlight
Annie Zeimis, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Marketing Officer of One Hop Shop, took a rather untraditional path on her journey to becoming a Cyclone. Upon high school graduation, Zeimis started attending the University of Iowa for dental school, but was forced to transfer out due to the lack of available scholarships. Her next stop was Hawkeye Community College, where she began studying a two-year dental hygiene program. However, she was determined to obtain her 4-year degree.
Zeimis followed her then-boyfriend to Iowa State where she discovered her knack for business. The overwhelming amount of financial aid that was offered allowed her to obtain her bachelor's degree in business management from the Ivy College of Business. Zeimis made good use of her time at Iowa State, working for a leasing company, serving as a gymnastics coach, playing intramural volleyball, attending 1 Million Cups meetings, and joining Delta Sigma Pi - Mu Psi Chapter. "Take advantage of being a student while you are there" she shares.
Although entrepreneurship wasn't exactly on Zeimis's radar during most of her undergraduate degree, she quickly became involved with a start-up, One Hop Shop, when she met her significant other, Geert Boelen. One Hop Shop raises dry-roasted, seasoned crickets for human consumption. Boelen explains, "I listened to a podcast called, "Is Cricket Farming the Future of Food?" and thought it was an interesting idea. I then took Econ 334: Entrepreneurship in Agriculture, where I formed the initial concept for One Hop Shop." In July of 2018, One Hop Shop, LLC was officially formed. Their ultimate goal is to end childhood hunger at a global scale through farming with alternative protein sources.
The biggest challenge the two entrepreneurs have faced is the lack of adequate space that raising insects requires along with an inconsistent supply of crickets. Although there have been setbacks, advancements have also been made. "We've made a lot of connections within the industry and learned a lot from different individuals, mostly within the Ames and ISU entrepreneurship community. We've definitely made progress on our knowledge of how to start a business, from running it smoothly to finding customers and receiving feedback on our product," shares Boelen.
"Take advantage of being a student while you are there! College is the perfect time to start a business since there is very little risk involved if you fail and there are many mentors and people who want you to succeed," continues Zeimis.
Learning didn't stop for Zeimis when she graduated this past May. She and Boelen joined CYstarters this past summer to further One Hop Shop. CYstarters, hosted by the ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship, is an 11-week summer accelerator for Iowa State students or recent graduates to focus on their startup or business idea. Zeimis also joined the Start Something College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Rural Entrepreneurship Academy, a part-time summer program geared towards students who are interested in opening a business or farm in a rural setting. "I saw the Rural Entrepreneurship Academy application come through my emails, and I thought it was worth a shot and could be a nice supplement to CYstarters. Plus I just assumed that anything led by Kevin Kimle would be amazing," relates Zeimis.
"My favorite part about the Rural Entrepreneurship Academy was the weekly phone calls. I only knew Kevin and Natalie Eick, a fellow Academy student, prior to the program so everyone else's ideas were new to me," she explains. Learning about other industries in the start-up world was eye-opening for Zeimis. "It helped me understand new concepts and business ideas that could benefit One Hop Shop. Asking questions about our own business wasn't something we had thought too much about, but it was helpful to envision potential answers for investors and supporters," continues Zeimis.
A requirement for the Rural Entrepreneurship Academy was participating in a short-term job shadow experience that aligned with each student's interest and enhanced their ability to start and succeed in their business or farm. For Zeimis and Boelen, this job shadow turned into a trip around the world - quite literally! "The job shadow experience was an opportunity of a lifetime," gushes Zeimis. "While we were abroad, we were able to make decisions to pivot our business and learn about the insect eating culture in each country we visited."
During their first stop in Kauai, Hawaii, they met with Lourdes Torres of Sustainable Boost. Although Lourdes had been through multiple hardships, her positivity was enlightening for both Zeimis and Boelen. "Meeting Lourdes was an experience we never saw coming. It's a breath of fresh air to meet someone with the same values and passion for their company. We hope to go see our new friend and mentor again soon," Zeimis affirms.
Zeimis and Boelen found themselves in Australia for their second stop. While there, they traveled to Canberra to visit Goterra, a company that manages food waste using insects. The owner and operator, Olympia Goterra, showed the two travelers around. "She grows black soldier fly larva, which are fed restaurant food scraps and in turn, digest the scraps into rich nutrients for livestock feed." elaborates Zeimis.
Their third stop took them to Bangkok, Thailand, where the two Cyclones had the opportunity to taste-test fried insects and other sustainably farmed snacks like scorpion frogs, coconut worms, different species of crickets, and more. "While scoping out these treats, we had the opportunity to chat with vendors and farmers while learning more about their operations," Zeimis explains. They were also able to visit Insects in the Backyard, Thailand's first edible insect fine dining location. "It was fantastic. We had their tasting menu, and we both agreed it was the best meal of the trip. We got to try everything from silkworm ice cream to cricket nachos!" exclaims Zeimis.
The next stop was Amsterdam, Netherlands, where they met with George Brandenburg, one of the founders of De Krekerij, a restaurant that offers tasty and nutritious cricket and grasshopper products. "George has visited numerous farms and was able to share with us some strategies that worked and some that flopped. He even let us try a delicious cricket burger! We hope to meet up with George next time we visit the Netherlands," relates Zeimis.
The dynamic duo stopped in London, England on their final leg of the trip, where they met with Ross Bell of the Ento Podcast. "Bell bought us a great insect cookbook. It will be helpful to actually use a recipe when we add cricket powder to our food," laughed Zeimis. Their final stop was with Daniela and Marko at Chirp Nation, which offers a sustainable and nutritious Superfood - cricket powder. "Both Daniela and Marko were able to share their personal experiences and knowledge about the industry," explains Zeimis.
Reflecting on their journey, Zeimis notes that, "Everyone we visited welcomed us with open arms. This mentality can be hard to find in the insect industry. Everyone seems to have "the" set-up and they don't want to share their secrets, when really, the secret to getting this industry going is helping each other." "I would recommend the Rural Entrepreneurship Academy, Student Incubator program, and anything else offered by Start Something CALS and the ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship. If you have an idea, run with it! Use all the resources Iowa State offers. The amount of support, both financial and mentorship, is unreal," elaborates Boelen.
Looking to the future, Zeimis and Boelen plan to open a facility on the Boelen family dairy farm. They recently expanded into edible mealworms, in addition to crickets, and plan to start selling products to insect food retailers. "We want to be the growers of insects first and foremost. We plan to work with international organizations in the future to establish a foothold in developing nations where food is scarce. We ultimately want to end child hunger on a global scale," shares Zeimis.
(Left: Annie trying a scorpion in Bangkok & Right: Meeting with Olympia Goterra in Australia)