They’re throwing their money into the ocean, for good reason. Here’s where it’s washing up.
Four seafood companies landed sizeable investments in the past few months. New funds are being formed. More than 100 investors are volunteering their time to help businesses in the Fish 2.0 competition leap forward. A movie star just took a seat on the board of a seafood startup.
It all makes sense. Investing in seafood is a bet on continued rising demand for a healthy, sustainable protein that a rapidly growing world population wants to eat.
And now a new generation of seafood entrepreneurs is breaking open the industry.
Well-connected industry insiders have long seen the strength in seafood (and invested accordingly), but doors have been closed to the broader investment community. Traditional businesses in the sector are family or privately owned, and public information about deals and business fundamentals has been scant. But today’s seafood innovators are seeking capital from a range of investors, and they offer ample exit options. Many will get snapped up by larger public or private food companies, and some have the potential go public themselves.
A few years into Kentucky, US-based Alltech’s expansion into aquaculture feed company ownership, the producer of algae and other nutritional technologies for animal feeds is continuing to find ways to increase its direct access to aquaculture companies.
Through its acquisition of Dutch aquatic feed supplier Coppens International a year ago, Alltech gained direct ownership—for the first time—in a feed company. This added Coppens' 60 feed production operations around the world to Alltech's slate of assets, a major benefit for a company aiming to popularize the use of algae by feed companies.
80 ventures move into Phase 3
Fish 2.0 just welcomed our largest-ever Phase 3 pool of seafood innovators: 80 ventures (out of 110 that completed Phase 2) are moving forward in the business competition to work on their impacts, risks, and investment opportunities.
This is an exceptionally strong group—we were thrilled to see investors’ positive comments about so many of these ventures across all eight tracks. We’re glad to have 40 spots available at this year’s finals, which means Phase 3 competitors have a 50-50 chance of making it to the end.
Seafood industry supply chains are notorious for being long and opaque. Not for oyster growers, said Monica Jain, founder of the sustainable seafood investment competition Fish 2.0, who sees oysters as one of the most promising sectors represented in this year’s applicant pool.
“Most people [growers] are selling them direct,” Jain told Undercurrent News. She connects with oyster companies regularly through her biennial competition. This year, 161 entered for the chance to become one of the 40 finalists to present their sustainable seafood business ideas to a room of 300 attendees, including investors, at the finals in November.
At this point, "of the 80 contestants moving on to this year’s competition’s final rounds, more than a dozen are oyster companies", Jain said.
Media stories often cite Sandbar Oyster Company as an unlikely partnership between a scientist and a fisherman — a successful duo not only in the half-shell market, but also in ecological restoration.
“He’s not my normal consideration of what a scientist would be like.” That’s how fisherman David Cessna, better known simply as Clammerhead, describes Niels Lindquist in a WRAL-TV story.
A closer look reveals the collaboration is not so surprising. A few years back, they were part of an applied research team studying N.C. fisheries and habitats. Administered by North Carolina Sea Grant, those research projects required one or more partners from the fishing industry.
There was a big fillet of king salmon on my cutting board, a shimmering, deep orange, magnificent in its heft. It resembled the farmed salmon you see at the supermarket all year long in the same way a perfect, just-picked peach from the orchard resembles the one in syrup you’re served on an airplane. It was glistening with hard-earned fat, a product of thousands of miles of migration and eating, from birth in the snow-fed headwaters of Alaskan rivers to a life lived in the sea beneath. Wild salmon takes its bright color and derives its rich flavor from the forage it hunts on its journey away from and back to home, not from the pellets a farmer selects for hue and feeds the fish as they swim lazily in a pen.
I pan-roasted mine in foaming butter backed up by the instant zip and high heat of jalapeño peppers. When I had consumed it in a rush of pleasure, I got to thinking about where such salmon come from, who catches them and how they make their way across the United States.
We’ve been told time and time again that the most sustainable, healthiest seafood choice is wild-caught fish, but times are changing: as the world’s wild fish populations deplete at an ever-growing pace, strides are being made in the world of fish farming, and today, sustainable aquaculture is the way to go.
Don’t believe us? Here are five great reasons to choose (sustainable!) farmed fish instead of wild.
When you browse the fish counter or order off a seafood menu, can you be sure the species label is accurate and the fish was caught or farmed ethically? In many cases, the answer is no. A 2014 report in Marine Policy estimates that over 20 percent of wild-captured seafood imported into the U.S. comes from illegal fisheries, and a 2016 report from Oceana estimates that, on average, 20 percent of seafood worldwide is mislabeled. The opaque supply chain of many seafood products can hide a host of problems, including human rights abuses in the labor force, fishing in protected areas or of protected species and environmental degradation.
You know what there’s really plenty of in the sea? Algae. And I am in love with them. Most people envision algae as slimy, possibly toxic, green scum. But this diverse group of fast-growing aquatic plants is about to undergo an image makeover, and may soon seem flat-out glamorous.
Algae got a lot of excited press a few years ago as a potential biofuel, but they’re turning out to be a sustainable super-ingredient with transformative potential in several massive industries: fish and other animal feeds, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, nutritional supplements, bioplastics and fertilizers.
They’re also gaining favor as a vegetarian seafood. In all, the market for algae products could reach nearly $45 billion by 2023, according to a 2016 Credence Research market analysis.
Monica Jain of Fish 2.0 writes in National Geographic about how the algae brand is about to undergo an image makeover, and may soon seem flat-out glamorous — once again. Algae got a lot of excited press a few years ago as a potential biofuel, but they’re turning out to be a sustainable super-ingredient with transformative potential in several massive industries: fish and other animal feeds, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, nutritional supplements, bioplastics and fertilizers. They’re also gaining favor as a vegetarian seafood. In all, the market for algae products could reach nearly $45 billion by 2023, according to a 2016 Credence Research market analysis.
Fish 2.0, an information provider for investors in the sustainable seafood sector, is tracking ventures growing microalgae as feed for shellfish or an ingredient in fish feeds, as well as growing algae to create needed jobs, especially for women in coastal communities. Some sell the algae they harvest to pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies; others sell to food companies.
MOREHEAD CITY – A new design of artificial oyster reef-maker could buck the trend on where living shorelines best work.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Institute of Marine Sciences, or IMS, are introducing a type of reef that may withstand high-energy wave action areas typically deemed unsuitable for natural shoreline stabilization.
Living shoreline projects are built with various structural and organic materials such as plants, submerged aquatic vegetation, oyster shells and stone. They generally work best along sheltered coasts such as estuaries, bays, lagoons and coastal deltas, where wave energy is low to moderate.
This month, researchers will put to the test a series of reef platforms that are going to be installed as part of what is, to date, the longest state-permitted living shoreline project in North Carolina.
Just a few years ago, it was taboo to buy farmed fish, but now, experts are saying aquaculture might actually be the only way to ensure sustainable seafood consumption. The key to this apparent paradox is in finding something sustainable to feed all those farmed fish.
This year's Fish 2.0 competition has attracted 161 competitors who demonstrate significant growth in wild fisheries and supply chain innovation, Fish 2.0 organizers said in a release.
This year’s competition criteria is focused heavily on wild fisheries and supply chain innovation in most geographies, with aquaculture innovations highlighted mainly in Southeast Asia and on the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts of the US.
Sustainable seafood business competition attracts outstanding ventures, with strong representation from Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Pacific Islands
The 161 competitors in the third Fish 2.0 business competition for sustainable seafood are a diverse group of global, innovative businesses, and they demonstrate significant growth in wild fisheries and supply chain innovation.
This year’s competition criteria is focused heavily on wild fisheries and supply chain innovation in most geographies, with aquaculture innovations highlighted mainly in Southeast Asia and on the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts of the U.S. The businesses promise a range of solutions to challenges throughout the sustainable seafood sector, with business models adapted to different contexts and seafood species, and experienced management teams.
Imagine a fish robot that mimics the movements of real fish while monitoring the pH level of an aquaculture farm and warding off predators.
That’s the type of machine that Aquaai, a Delaware-registered C corporation, is commercializing. The company has developed five prototypes for its new bio-inspired vehicles and is in the process of pitching its idea to major investors and potential customers in preparation for a round of seed funding, or potentially a series A funding round, this fall.
“Everyone’s amazed that you can make a system that looks and swims like a real fish,” Liane Thompson, co-CEO of Aquaai, told Undercurrent News.
Entrepreneurial interest in sustainable seafood is rising globally, as are the opportunities to succeed with new products and business models. The trend is clear in applications to the Fish 2.0 competition for sustainable seafood businesses: In 2013, 70 percent of Fish 2.0 applicants were from North America—and we wondered if we could persuade a significant number of entrepreneurs from areas such as the South Pacific Islands and Thailand to enter a North American business competition held in English on the Internet. We had our answer in 2015: only about half the entries were from North America, with about one-third coming from Asia and the Pacific Islands.
The business competition Fish 2.0, now in its third installment, is evolving into a nexus of communication that is helping fight fragmentation in the seafood industry, according to its founding director Monica Jain.
Held every two years after an inaugural 2013 edition, Fish 2.0 is an open call for entrepreneurs and business owners in the seafood industry to propose their projects and get feedback from investors and industry professionals, as well as possible financial backing.
The four-phase competition pares the proposals it receives down to a group of finalists that present at Stanford University to a room full of investors, consultants and other businesses owners.
It’s getting competitive to hob-nob with seafood startups and industry innovators.
They're increasingly stealing the spotlight from the day-to-day quota and price concerns as big seafood production questions loom. Perhaps most pressing: an added 27 million metric tons of aquaculture production is needed to maintain the present level of per capita fish consumption in 2030, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Enter Fish 2.0 founder Monica Jain, who began her international seafood business innovation competition Fish 2.0 in 2013. Since then, participation and interest has exploded.
Consumers who would never buy something generically labeled meat or cheese are often stuck at almost that level of information when it comes to seafood. The opaque origins and processing of many seafood products can hide a host of problems, including species fraud, illegal fishing, human rights abuses in the labor force, and pollution—as well as the resource depletion that accompanies these issues. A 2014 report in Marine Policy estimates that over 20 percent of wild-captured seafood imported into the U.S. comes from illegal fisheries.
But this is quickly changing, as an increasing number of innovators in the seafood industry create new ways of making the system more transparent and seafood products and processes more traceable.
Pensacola Bay Oyster Co. won the top prize winner at this year's Innovation Awards.
"It feels fantastic," said Donnie McMahon, president and co-founder of the company. "It really does. It was an honor to be selected and a great honor to move the company ahead in what we're trying to do in Northwest Florida."
The Innovation Awards, held this week at the Hilton Pensacola Beach hotel, are a competition that serves as a funding opportunity similar to the TV show "Shark Tank." Divided into four business categories — post-revenue, pre-revenue, veteran and student — 61 startup companies applied to this year’s competition. Judges whittled down the applicants to the best three in each category, and those companies presented their business plans Thursday.