“If you had the opportunity to generate income for a whole island, what would you do?”
That’s how Lili Kawaguchi opened her pitch during the closing session of Fish 2.0’s Pacific Islands business development workshop. The question grabbed the audience’s attention, as did the rest of the Tongan entrepreneur’s pitch for her seaweed products startup. But it’s a pitch she wouldn’t have made two days earlier, at the start of the workshop.
Lili was one of 25 entrepreneurs from across the Pacific—Fiji, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tonga, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Cook Islands, Niue, and Kiribati—who attended the Nov. 8–10 workshop in Suva, Fiji.
They showed that there is plenty of entrepreneurial energy around the seafood sector in the Pacific Islands, along with a growing sense of possibility. A number of workshop participants already operate successful businesses in other fields, and see compelling new opportunities in the seafood sector. These people have business knowledge—what they need is coaching on how and what to communicate to investors.
Learning to Speak Investor
None of the participants, even those who already had developed other successful ventures , had ever pitched to investors. That’s typical of seafood entrepreneurs around the world. Unless their business has been incubated in an accelerator (a rarity in the seafood industry), people don’t learn how to communicate effectively with investors. The free three-day Fish 2.0 workshop, which we will adapt for each region and hold four times early next year in New England, Southeast Asia, Chile, and on the US West Coast, provides that crucial training, as well as guidance on succeeding in the 2017 Fish 2.0 business competition.
The Pacific Islanders were quick learners.
Lili’s business, South Pacific Mozuku, harvests “a unique, naturally sourced seaweed that is used in high-end cosmetics that slow down the aging process,” her pitch continued. Islanders have been selling it for $3 a pound, but when it reaches the end of the supply chain it costs $3,000 a pound. “We want to ensure that the real value of the commodity flows back to the resource owner,” she said. “South Pacific Mozuku wants to bring value back to the community and start producing our own nutraceutical, health and cosmetic products.”
Lili’s business creates a cycle of positive impact. Growing the seaweed off the Tonga coast allows Mozuku to develop local stewardship of the coastal and marine habitats, so as the business grows, both the people and the reefs of Tonga benefit.
David Main pitched his peers on South Pacific Sustainable Seafood, an
aquaculture startup in Samoa whose ocean-raised sea cucumbers could meet a huge demand for this product in China. Samoa banned wild sea cucumber fishing because the island’s reefs were declining along with the sea cucumber population, which plays an important role in reef health. David’s business could increase the population of this globally diminishing marine mammal species, as well as provide replacement income for islanders who depended on the fishery.
“We’re working with local village communities to repopulate our oceans with sea cucumbers and improve our ocean ecosystem while allowing them to earn regular income using sustainable harvesting of a 100 percent locally produced export product … with a premium size, texture, and taste,” David explained in his pitch.
Fijian Filipe Rogers pitched his business processing and packaging cold-smoked tuna, a novel high-value product that tastes like sashimi. FIRUS Marina Investment pays local tuna fishers a premium price and operates the only cold-smoked fish processing plant in the South Pacific. Cold – smoking is rare because it’s much harder to do than hot -smoking: FIRUS starts the process as soon as fresh tuna comes off the boat. The result is a delicious preserved fish that’s in demand from export and local buyers. The workshop helped Felipe figure out how to negotiate contracts with buyers and develop a viable growth strategy for his business.
Seeing the Business Value of Impact
As these pitches demonstrate, many of the workshop participants are making positive social and environmental impact — they just hadn’t thought about it, or weren’t aware how much investors and partners might value that impact.
The workshop taught them that by thinking about impact, they can go deeper and be more specific about the challenges they want to address. And they can integrate social and environmental impacts into their pitches and strategies. Once they started doing so, they quickly saw how important it is to presenting a compelling business proposition.
Workshop participants gained clarity about their strategies and goals generally. They also connected with each other and with supporters from workshop partners, including the U.S. State Department, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, Pacific Islands Trade & Invest, and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. New connections like those are an important part of Fish 2.0’s mission—everyone that participates in Fish 2.0 gets business help and can build a network that can open up new opportunities for collaboration and growth.
Seafood entrepreneurs who want to attend one of the 2017 regional workshops or take advantage of Fish 2.0’s online training events should sign up on the Fish 2.0 website to receive application materials.