2013 Competition News

Dane Chauvel - Organic OceanAs we gear up for the January launch of the Fish 2.0 business competition – an initiative that connects seafood entrepreneurs and investors – our team spoke with finalists from our 2013 competition to hear their news.

One of the goals of Fish 2.0 is to create the conditions and connections that will help sustainable seafood companies grow and succeed. We think the stories we heard are worth sharing.

As last year’s competition winner, Martin Reed, says, “It’s an exciting time to be in the seafood industry and working to make it more sustainable.”  Here is some of the exciting news we heard from the 2013 finalists and semi-finalists.

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Jeanine Stewart, Undercurrent News.  Oct 1, 2014

The investment community is growing more and more interested in seafood business opportunities at Fish 2.0, an event put on last November and planned for its second debut sometime next year.

Since then, investor interest has picked up, and the list of investors to attend next year is decidedly longer.

“We expect to have more investors engaged next year because they’ve been signing up to our mailing list and our website — they’re interested,” Fish 2.0 founder Monica Jain told Undercurrent News on Tuesday.

Jain’s first Fish 2.0 competition and networking event last November kicked off in hopes of increasing visibility for startup sustainable seafood companies through a cash-prize funding competition. Investors, in turn, gained more knowledge about seafood, as some sat on the competition judge panel while others simply got to know the opportunities in the industry.

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As sustainable seafood markets grow, philanthropists, nonprofit leaders, and entrepreneurs see opportunities for impact-minded investors to make profits while creating positive change in the oceans. But what makes the conditions right for impact-minded investors to enter a relatively new field such as this one?

We have been wrestling with this question in relation to sustainable seafood and learning from other social impact sectors like sustainable agriculture and microfinance.  As discussed in Priming the Pump by the Omidyar Network, impact investors helped these fields grow, and we can learn from their patterns of success and failure over time.

Building on these lessons, our Manta Consulting team developed a model of how four market conditions – the state of business development, policy, market infrastructure, and investment – are linked and must evolve together to drive positive change.

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As someone who works with both seafood entrepreneurs and investors, this is a question I get often. There are many exciting technological advancements that would allow us to track seafood through the supply chain. Fishery managers, retailers, and restaurants want detailed information about where, when, and how fish were caught.  So why is so little capital investment going into the sector by either industry insiders or investors?

Some might argue that seafood supply chains are too complex and the technology to monitor every step isn’t there yet. But sitting at the recent Ocean Agenda@ Google meeting, it was clear this isn’t the case. We have electronic tags the size of a pencil tip, bar codes that carry pages of information, mapping systems that translate all this complex data into usable images, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As one company owner, Trackwell, explained at the meeting, we have all of the pieces needed to track seafood from fishing boat to consumers’ plates – but most companies are reluctant to do it.  Some businesses have applied tracking to small-scale seafood enterprises or to niche portions of their product lines. Few have brought the pieces together at scale for commodity products, which make up the bulk of seafood trades.  Typically, entrepreneurs developing new ideas in this space struggle to find large-scale investment.

Why is this? As I presented at Google Oceans, I believe the missing piece is policy.  

Typically we think of policy in the oceans as limiting harmful fishing or protecting important animals and places. But policy also plays an important role in creating a more certain future that businesses and investors can plan around – making it worth it for them to invest their time, money, and energy in developing business ideas. 

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And we may conjure up an image of a fisherman on the water, but we rarely think about the full path that fish took on its way to our plates. Similarly, when we hear about environmental innovations in seafood, it is often around specific changes to how we catch or farm fish – use of turtle excluder devices, changes in fishery quotas, or new aquaculture feeds, for example.

But simply improving one element of the supply chain in isolation will not get us to sustainable oceans.  Without businesses throughout the supply chain that value and differentiate sustainable seafood from pirated, illegal, or wastefully processed products, there is no market incentive for fish farmers or fishermen to change their production or capture practices.

>It is also important that businesses that value sustainability demonstrate that they are successfully carving out market share from traditional sources, providing investors with confidence in these businesses’ ability to succeed and grow – and encouraging them to provide the capital needed to scale their operations.

Simply put, all these links together mean that, to see large-scale business growth of fish farms and fishing operations that use sustainable practices, we need more business innovation at every point along the seafood supply chain and in the connections among these pieces.

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Sometimes the best way to inspire innovation is to encourage a little competition. This was the idea behind Fish 2.0, a business competition aimed at connecting fishing and aquaculture businesses to investors eager to support the seafood industry. The competition just announced its winners, thus wrapping up the 2013 season. Awarding over $75,000 in prizes and lasting nearly a year, the competition obviously took some funding. Fortunately, it was backed by a variety of foundations including heavy hitters like Packard, Rockefeller, the Walton Family, and Gordon and Betty Moore. Fish 2.0 was perhaps an obvious choice as it brings together some of these foundations favorite topics – combining economics and conservation, reaching out to various stakeholders, and presenting it all in an exciting new format.

None of the foundations gave truly big to Fish 2.0, but a hundred grand here and there certainly adds up. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (see IP’s profile) gave $111,000 back in 2012 and has since been playing up the competition’s story on its website. The Moore Foundation believes “economic incentives aligned with conservation goals can provide lasting benefits for ocean ecosystems” – a sentiment that is echoed in various phrasing by many of Fish 2.0’s other funders.

The competition was certainly an innovative idea. Aimed at bringing new capital to sustainable fisheries, Fish 2.0 asked competitors to bring new concepts to the table.

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Blue Sea Labs, which uses e-commerce and software to shorten the seafood supply chain and provide transparency, has won first place and $40,000 in the Fish 2.0 Finals, a business competition intended to connect fishing and aquaculture businesses and investors that want to support sustainable seafood companies.

Blue Sea Labs’ (pictured) business enables direct transactions and distribution, which the company says provides higher quality product to customers while enabling fishermen to catch less and earn more.

Cryoocyte, which is developing technology to cryopreserve fish eggs, took home second place and a $25,000 prize. Egg freezing will enable fish farms globally to become less spawning-dependent and produce year-round at full capacity, the firm says.

Ho‘oulu Pacific won third place and $10,000. The company integrates aquaponic technology with distributed agriculture to manage a network of households to commercially grow fish and vegetables in Waimanalo, Hawaii.

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Ariel Schwartz. FastCompany, Dec 2, 2013.   Without new ideas for how to run sustainable seafood businesses, overfishing could cause major stocks to collapse within decades. The Fish 2.0 conversation wants to keep your sushi coming.

In 2006, scientists made a dire prediction: the stock of almost all species of seafood would collapse by 2050. Without a major revamping of the incentives that promote overfishing, no more sushi, no more tuna sandwiches, nothing.

The result has been that, over the past few years, a growing group of companies and activists have actually banded together to change the way the industry works. The winners of the 2013 Fish 2.0 competition, a challenge for sustainable and responsible seafood startups to present profitable business plans, represent some of the best.

BLUE SEA LABS

Blue Sea Labs, the startup behind "I Love Blue Sea," offers an online platform for fishermen to sell seafood directly to consumers.

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