INFOFISH: Investment in seafood-related start-ups appears to be gathering steam with increased awareness of the huge market possibilities. What would you estimate to be the level of investment in seafood-related start-ups last year? Do you expect a steeper growth curve this year?
MONICA JAIN: While I have not seen investment numbers of seafood related start-ups broken out, our experience with Fish 2.0 demonstrates that seafood investment interest is rising. In just four deals we tracked in the first half of last year, over US$75 million in capital flowed to growing seafood companies at various stages of development. There are several areas of seafood where investment interest is currently strong, including consumer packaged goods, new fish feeds and algae products. In our experience with Fish 2.0, we have seen investor interest rise each year, and we expect the upcoming years to continue that trend.
INFOFISH: You’ve mentioned five global trends which are driving technological change in the global seafood industry: (i) climate change; (ii) highly exploited wild stocks; (iii) product globalisation and the rise of online sales; (iv) a growing health-conscious middle class; and (v) expansion in aquaculture. Clearly, these categories present huge financial opportunities for investors, but have sustainability and traceability simply become part of doing business?
MONICA JAIN: We hope that sustainability and traceability will simply become a part of doing business in the seafood industry globally. We’re not there yet, but the trend and regulatory changes are leading us in that direction, and getting there will be great news for our oceans, fisheries and food on our plates. As innovative technologies that allow traceability and other elements of sustainability are developed and expanded to the point where it’s feasible and cost effective to implement them globally, we hope that all seafood will be sustainable and traceable.
INFOFISH: FAO predicts that by 2030, aquaculture will be responsible for nearly two-thirds of the fish humans consume. ‘Smart’ farms and biological therapeutics are just some of the new technologies we’re seeing in this sector. However in Asia, the biggest producer of aquacultured seafood, technological innovation tends to be limited to the higher income nations. What would attract investors and venture capitalists to fund start-ups in less developed areas of the world?
MONICA JAIN: Investors of all sorts are interested in start-ups that can grow rapidly and have a large potential market and impact. They’re also interested in working with partners that have strong knowledge of the regions and markets where they are investing. We are excited to see several new investment funds emerging in some of the less developed Asian markets. These funds will likely be great partners for investors from other parts of the world. Also, many of the technologies that are being developed must be coupled with a financing mechanism that makes them affordable for the smaller-scale farms that dominate many parts of the world. For example, one of our 2017 finalists, EnerGaia, has developed a financing model that allows their equipment to be paid for over time by small-scale aquaculture farmers, making it an attractive solution. Before this financing was available, the farmers were interested in the technology, but simply could not afford it. Aquaculture investors want to see a company with both a product and a strong strategy to grow into these markets.
INFOFISH: The biannual Fish 2.0 competition, held last November for the third time, has been described as the industry’s largest competition for start-ups in innovative technologies related to sustainability throughout food fish and feed supply chains. Could you give readers some background on the businesses which made it to the final round, in terms of category (aquaculture, wild fisheries, sustainability, traceability, etc), and the technology that they presented? Who were some of the top investors at Fish 2.0 2017?
MONICA JAIN: We had 39 finalists present at Fish 2.0 2017 and over 150 investors attended the event, along with a global range of industry experts, foundations and government leaders. We offer a complete list of the finalist ventures on our website. They include ventures innovating in new fish feeds such as Novo Nutrients (USA), Nutrition Technologies (Vietnam), Pat Bio and F4F (Chile), and Ynsect (France); ventures innovating in traceability technologies such as BitCliq (Portugal), This Fish (Canada), ColomboSky (Italy) and Seafood IQ (Iceland); and small-scale ventures with the potential to create large-scale change such as Didd’s Fishing (Solomon Islands), Sustainable Fisheries Trade (Peru), and Real Oyster Cult (USA), among many others. The range of investors participating was equally diverse in terms of their investment priorities, strategies and global interests, including folks from Rabobank International, Aqua-Spark, the Salmon Innovation Fund, and Obvious Ventures.
INFOFISH: Reportedly, there was increased participation in the 2017 competition by Southeast Asian businesses, a direct result of Fish 2.0’s region by region focus. Were there any particularly memorable Asian stories that stood out for you, and would you consider organising a similar Fish 2.0 competition in Asia to encourage more entrants from the region?
MONICA JAIN: We are hoping to organise regional Fish 2.0 events in 2018 and 2019 as we build relationships with sponsors interested in supporting these. We saw strong interest in Fish 2.0 from innovative entrepreneurs throughout the region as well as from the Southeast Asian investment community. We were particularly excited to see innovation happening in Indonesia both at the production level, with Fishery Micro Finance emerging to help small-scale fishermen acquire sustainable gear, and at the consumer awareness and demand level, with Natura Seafood offering sustainable seafood to the growing middle class of health conscious Indonesian consumers.
INFOFISH: For budding start-ups who wish to participate in the next Fish 2.0 competition in 2019, where and how could they obtain advice which would help them to be ready to compete for investment funds against what would surely be an impressive array of innovative companies from all over the world? We know for instance, that there are several feedback stages that companies need to clear before even appearing on stage and facing questions from a tough panel.
MONICA JAIN: We will be offering a series of regional workshops in 2018 and 2019 that will help prepare companies for the competition and for investor conversations in the interim. We held six of these regional workshops in 2017, and entrepreneurs and our partners found them to be very effective in building regional networks and preparing entrepreneurs for growth challenges. The workshops were very popular, so we are planning to expand them in the coming years. Additionally, we offer a broad range of resources through webinars and our website, which are available to all ventures involved in the competition. Our best advice for ventures that wish to grow is to take advantage of all that we can offer—there are lots of opportunities to learn from our resources and the broader Fish 2.0 network.
INFOFISH: According to Allied Market Research, the market for food traceability products and technologies is expected to grow to US$14.1 billion by 2019. Would you expect to see further growth in traceability-related technology (vessel tracking, supply chains, new software, etc) in 2018, perhaps more so than in the other sectors?
MONICA JAIN: The supply chain for seafood is complex, so we expect to see market growth for many kinds of traceability technologies. It’s a dynamic marketplace that is ripe for innovation. It’s hard to say which area will grow the fastest or most, or how growth will compare with other sectors, but we believe there is room for multiple winners in this sector.
INFOFISH: In contrast to your previous role as a Consultant with Manta Consulting, Fish 2.0 offers you a wider platform to work with investors, technology experts, marketers, and all the other vital components of the seafood industry. What would you say have been the highlights during the years since making that leap from Manta Consulting to Fish 2.0?
MONICA JAIN: It’s been great to see the Fish 2.0 competition and network grow since we started in 2013. We have tripled in size since then in terms of investor and venture involvement, as well as in terms of the number of sponsors who participate. Most exciting for us is the global interest and expansion of Fish 2.0. We have worked with enterprises from over 65 countries and really feel that momentum is growing strong. We’re especially happy to hear about new deals and partnerships being made among ventures and investors that meet at Fish 2.0. Over US$60 million has moved into participating ventures as a direct result of Fish 2.0, and several dozen new partnerships have been created among the ventures involved, industry leaders, and ventures and investors working with one another. This kind of dynamic, interactive and creative network is what is needed to grow the sustainable seafood industry to meet our food and economic growth needs while keeping our oceans healthy.