Scots microalgae firm has plans to revolutionise the global food industry

[UK] The company grows algae rich in omega-3 and other nutrients for fish using co-products from the whisky distillation process. Aquaculture is worth £1.8 billion a year to the Scottish economy, according to the latest Scottish Government figures, but Martin’s ambition does not stop with aquaculture or Scotland.

He has plans to expand into other industries in the supply and production side, and of diversification into multiple products beyond feed.

Why did you set up the business?

I WANTED to start up a business that was sustainable and had the ability to make a profit. I came up with the idea when I was working on a wind farm that was hit by an algal bloom and I tried to clean it up sustainably. I have a biotech background in growing microbes through my MSc in Synthetic Biology and Biotechnology from Edinburgh University. I worked in the offshore wind industry before so I have commercial and biotech experience which is useful for what I do now. Investment came about off the back of a Smart [Small firms’ Merit Award for Research and Technology] grant. To get the investment I had to take my idea and make it into something that worked. It’s a 70/30 split so you need to match them.

We also received investment from LAUNCH.ed, Edinburgh University’s service for student entrepreneurs, in January 2016 when I was studying there. This helped me to launch the business and pitch for grants as well as connecting with mentors and investors.

How does it work?

The microalgae produced can be used as a raw material for agricultural food products – we are initially targeting the aquaculture industry. We want to revolutionize the £340bn global livestock feed industry by producing microalgal products as nutrient supplements for fishmeal in livestock feeds.

Our microalgal products are high in omegas and proteins, both of which are required for the production of many livestock feeds, especially in the aquaculture sector.

How is it different from competing businesses?

The interesting bit is that we use industrial by-products rather than chemicals, that’s the main difference. It’s all part of the circular economy. I think people are becoming more aware of sustainability but I live in an echo chamber of the circular economy. People are more aware of what’s happening and how things could be done more sustainably but there is still more work to do on that. Our production methodology uses the circular economy to reduce the operating costs involved in the production of microalgae and as a result allows us to compete with other supplements currently on the market.

What is your target market?

We work with distilleries and the aqua agriculture industry. Before we got the grant we had discussions with people in the industry about the problems they were facing so we could come up with a solution. We need to produce large amounts of produce before it is viable for them.

We’re a B2B company so we advertised by going out and talking to people in the industry to let them know what we were doing. Luckily we didn’t have to do a huge amount of advertising to get the word out there.

What do you enjoy most about running the business?

My favourite part is the strategy and business development side, where I can plan how to do things and how to manage my team. I love everything about running the business apart from the admin, so I can’t wait to find someone to tackle that side.

We’re a start-up company so if we had a large number of employees we would run out of money very quickly. We currently have three full-time staff as well as part-time interns and students who are looking for experience in the industry. However, we are planning to build the team and investment will do that for us.

Where do you hope the business will be in 10 years’ time?

We are hoping to make the business absolutely huge and expand to multiple countries. Obviously we will focus on Scotland first, then we will expand to Europe and more Western partners – but it depends on what the markets do between now and then.

We would also like to look at other industries in the supply and production side and look into other by-products.

 

Photo: The firm wants to produce microalgal products as nutrient supplements for fishmeal in livestock feeds

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