Carolyn McMaster | November 19, 2015
Alaskans eat six times more seafood than the average American—it’s breakfast, lunch and dinner. Eight million tons of plastic enter our waterways every year. In New England alone, 12,000 tons of edible fish go to waste each year. Fish like to eat maggots. Venture capital is like rocket fuel—if you put it in a rocket, it flies; if you put in a Volvo, you have no more Volvo.
Those are just a few of the things we learned last week at the Fish 2.0 Business Competition Finals & Sustainable Seafood Innovation Forum. It was a terrific event that could end up having a real impact on making seafood more sustainable (and I say that not just because Fish 2.0 is our client).
We met all kinds of people involved in solving the seafood sector’s problems. But best of all, we got to hear pitches from the 37 sustainable seafood entrepreneurs whose ventures made it into the finals. It’s not often we get to see so many businesses telling their stories, live, to a packed house of investors, philanthropists, industry executives and journalists (in fact, it was a first). Investor-judges scored the finalists and chose six winners (two in each of three business-stage categories); the runners-up winners were selected by audience vote.
The pitches were as varied as the businesses themselves. One thing the winners had in common: a memorable story supporting their potential business growth and impact. The stories were often personal and, in time-honored tradition, related a challenge, how the business is meeting the challenge and a vision of the future.
Alfred Kalontas, whose Alfa Fishing sea-to-table tuna business is based in Vanuatu, spoke modestly but with great conviction about how his business is helping his community. Being onstage was a foreign experience for Kalontas, and his English was not fluent, but he created a vivid picture.
Kelly Harrell of Alaska Community Seafood Hub talked about knowing that Alaskans were hungry for fish with a story—and that they would buy enough of it to fill up the chest freezer everyone there has on hand. She convinced the judges that she knows her market and is well positioned to expand the impact of the community-supported fishery and wholesale business.
Similarly, Mather Carscallen talked about how geeky obsessions combining math and biology led to the eureka moment that revealed his RiverBox technology for growing algae for fish feed from aquaculture waste streams.
David Stover talked about ditching a Big 4 consulting career to start Bureo, a social enterprise that’s keeping plastic waste out of out oceans by collecting used fishing nets and upcycling them into cool products—skateboards and sunglasses.
For Norah Eddy, co-founder of a prepackaged sustainable seafood startup, story is everything. Through a branded product that tells a story by tracing the fish back to its source, she hopes to eliminate consumer confusion about what is safe and healthful, as well as how to cook fish. Eddy’s company name, Salty Girl Seafood, is a story in itself.
The runners-up, to my mind, had a tougher time. Instead of 5 minutes to pitch they had only 90 seconds to sell their ideas. The four winners (one in each business-stage category, with one tie) were able to tell memorable stories that short span: Love the Wild, Pelagic Data Systems, GrowUp Urban Farms and Geomar.
I’m looking forward to seeing how all these stories unfold as the businesses grow.