There’s a global divide at the heart of the seafood industry: the businesses that most need new technologies are often continents away from the businesses creating them.
Small-scale seafood operations in Asia, Latin America, and Africa catch and farm most of the seafood we eat. Startups in the U.S., Canada, and Europe are developing most of the technologies that promise to improve logistics, traceability, fish feeds, and aquaculture production. But distance and limited resources mean these businesses rarely meet. Bridging this divide is an essential step toward both healthy oceans and a healthy, equitable food supply.
That’s one reason we open Fish 2.0 to a diverse range of seafood enterprises from around the world. The Fish 2.0 competition process not only helps ventures improve individually but builds trust and gives technology and product innovators the chance to find and connect with investors as well as other fishing businesses, seafood farmers, and technology creators. Finalists gain insights into parts of the supply chain previously hidden from them and are able to form relationships with like-minded entrepreneurs they otherwise would not have met. The result is new business partnerships that offer unique growth opportunities for investors, as well as solutions to the seafood industry’s most difficult problems.
Aquaculture innovators click
My favorite recent example is the new joint venture between 2015 Canadian finalist and track winner SabrTech and Thailand based runner-up Green Innovative Biotechnology (GIB). SabrTech’s RiverBox system reduces pollution from farm runoff and grows an algae-based feed from the captured wastewater. Bangkok-based GIB has developed a feed supplement that boosts the immune systems of farm-raised fish and shrimp, leading to higher growth rates, greater resistance to diseases such as early mortality syndrome, and lower feed costs. Both technologies solve aquaculture production and cost issues using naturally derived solutions.
Mather Carscallen, president and CEO of SabrTech, and Karsidete Teeranitayatarn, chief innovation officer of GIB, met during the pitch practice session for the Fish 2.0 finals at Stanford University last fall. Mather helped Karsidete polish his delivery, and the two learned enough about each other to want to stay in touch.
SabrTech faced a dilemma after the competition. The company’s success at Fish 2.0 attracted an unprecedented flood of orders for the RiverBox system. However, SabrTech was not completely ready to sell it. Mather needed to complete field tests in Southeast Asia, before putting the product on the market in that region. He found himself turning down orders and wishing he had a market-ready product he could use to build relationships with the prospective customers he was meeting.
GIB, meanwhile, was building a growing reputation for R&D excellence in the center of Southeast Asia’s booming aquaculture industry. Karsidete had improved his strategy during Fish 2.0 and had learned through his experience that he preferred to focus on technology development and strategy, rather than on sales and marketing. In conversations following Fish 2.0, the two began to see that their businesses and personal skill sets were complementary.
A cross-cultural trust exercise
But despite a seemingly natural fit, language and cultural differences created barriers to moving forward. That’s where the personal connection Mather and Karsidete established at Fish 2.0 came into play. “The biggest challenge was that North American business etiquette is very different from Southeast Asian etiquette,” says Mather, who spent four months in Thailand over the past year strengthening the relationship. “Here it is all about the money and there they only want to work together if they consider you family.”
The effort has now resulted in a joint venture, called Morena Solutions (Morena), that allows the two companies to share intellectual property and stagger product deployment. Morena will first take the GIB feed supplement to market, establishing relationships with customers. When SabrTech has fully tested the RiverBox system in Southeast Asia, the customers Morena has cultivated should form a ready market.
The vision: fully sustainable, highly productive aquaculture
Morena’s long-term vision is to bring together top researchers in Canada and Thailand to develop a series of technologies allowing fish farmers to achieve completely sustainable aquaculture using only naturally derived inputs. That capability in turn will increase aquaculture production and thereby reduce the need for wild-caught fish.
Karsidete believes the joint venture could be the Red Bull of the seafood industry. The world’s best-selling energy drink was a local Thai product until the manufacturer made friends with an Austrian entrepreneur who took over marketing and made Red Bull a global phenomenon. Karsidete thinks he and Mather could similarly combine their Eastern and Western strengths to create an aquaculture powerhouse.
I hope they do. More than that, I hope their joint venture serves as a model for a whole raft of international partnerships that unify different parts of the world in a single sustainable seafood vision.
Fish 2.0 will have a specific Southeast Asia track in the 2017 competition allowing more of these relationships to form and grow. Business leaders from the region can apply now to attend a three-day Fish 2.0 investment readiness workshop in Bangkok. Participants will get free training on pitching to investors, advice on integrating social and environmental sustainability into their business strategy, and a head start on applying to the 2017 Fish 2.0 global business competition. The workshop takes place Feb. 28–March 2, 2017—and applications are due by Jan. 11. Details and the one-page workshop application can be found and shared here.