Entrepreneurs Pitch Sustainable Seafood Ideas. Investors Take The Bait

NPR
  • Clare Leschin-Hoar
  • November 17, 2015

When you're trying to persuade investors to pour money into your new seafood startup, maybe don't use the term maggots.

That's the advice that Hoyt Peckham, president of SmartFish, Inc., offered to one of his fellow competitors last week at the Fish 2.0 competition at Stanford University in California.

Think of it as a version of television's Shark Tank – for the seafood industry: Competitors pitch a roomful of highly connected investors and venture capitalists. These are folks looking to put their money into projects that will modernize the decidedly stodgy and murky fish business – while also pushing sustainability.

Peckham, based in La Paz, Mexico, was one of 18 finalists (winnowed from 170 applicants) from around the world who spent a year preparing for the competition. And he offered the maggot advice to a rival, Frederic Viala, president of ENTOFOOD in Malaysia.

"During practice, I told him to avoid the term maggots — he didn't realize that it was repelling to Americans," Peckham said. And at first, Viala followed the advice, instead using the term "larvae" to describe his company's plan to use black soldier flies to produce a protein feed for fish. The feed has the potential to reduce the aquaculture industry's reliance on the world's dwindling — and increasingly expensive — supply of anchovy and sardines needed to make fishmeal.

The actual prize money at stake is modest: $5,000 for each of six overall winners in three different categories. For competitors, the greater prize is the chance to build relationships with deep-pocketed investors. Viala was hoping to score a total of $6.9 million for his fledgling business.

But pitching some 250 investors and industry peers in person can be intimidating for anyone. And a few minutes into his presentation, Viala reverted back to "maggot." In the end, his pitch was nudged out of the winners' circle in his category. Instead, the judges gave the nod to an ambitious project for a fish farm far off the shore of Mexico, and to a low-cost technology that uses algae to filter wastewater from fish farms.

It was the second time around for Fish 2.0 (the first contest was held in 2013). The competition is the brainchild of Monica Jain, executive director of Manta Consulting — which advises companies and nonprofits on social and environmental issues. The idea is that the prize money — and the chance to meet investors — will spur innovative approaches to some of the toughest environmental and social problems facing the seafood industry. It's similar in concept to the XPrize, but with a focus solely on the sea. [Tweet This]

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