We're constantly amazed by how many of our businesses are forging ahead in industries few know even exist (for now!). One such business is Seaweed & Co., harvesting seaweed from the beautiful Outer Hebrides, and transforming it into a superfood that has numerous benefits. Already an important part of Asian diets, founder Dr Craig Rose is on a mission to educate those in the UK about seaweed's unique nutritional properties and flavours. We caught up with him over a cuppa.
1. Explain your business in the time it would take the kettle to boil.
Basically, we sell seaweed…
Seaweed is the most exciting superfood around, and for us life is all about seaweed. Our seaweeds are harvested and processed using specialist techniques and our unique equipment to provide the best quality seaweed ingredients we can for food, health and nutrition markets.
Seaweed & Co. has world-renowned expertise on everything seaweed. We don't simply just produce and sell seaweed, though. We advise on, supply and accredit seaweed - from Sea to StoreTM. More and more people are discovering the benefits of seaweed, which is THE food of the future. It provides an immense amount of nutrition, can replace salt, and addresses health issues such as obesity.
2. Where are you based and why is it a good location for your business?
We are based in North Shields, just near the river Tyne and the stunning Northumberland coastline. We work closely with Newcastle University and Durham University on a variety of things, from growing seaweeds to how seaweeds can help you manage your weight.
Whilst we are based in the North East of England, we don't get our seaweed there. Our primary production site is based in the spectacular and pristine Scottish Outer Hebrides, where we have our own equipment for processing the seaweed that is harvested around the islands.
3. How did you come up with the idea?
Having trained as a marine biologist, after my PhD I set up a business consulting on various marine environmental and sustainability issues. This was sold after three years to a larger consultancy firm where I was part of the team that conducted a management buyout. One of our key projects was the management of a £3.7million commercial R&D project looking at seaweeds for bioenergy. This got me back into marine work and specifically seaweeds. I saw a food and nutrition opportunity in seaweed, and started working with other companies in this space until I set up Seaweed & Co.
4. What’s the business model?
We aim to become the best seaweed supplier in the world. We will remain a business-to-business ingredient supplier, and expand out the range of products we can supply by sourcing and producing different species of seaweed to give distinct products with specific benefits, and addressing market opportunities.
In addition to the primary seaweeds we supply, we are researching with university collaborators new and exciting benefits of various seaweeds and extracts to address multiple health concerns (e.g. blood sugar management for diabetes, and weight management to tackle obesity).
The business has intellectual property in its production processes and equipment, and is developing this further in our product offerings. We work through a network of distributors globally.
5. Who are your competitors?
This is still a small industry in the West, but there are competitors. There is always competition also from cheap imports of different types of seaweeds from countries like China, but our seaweed ingredients are distinct, and sold on quality, safety, traceability and sustainability to a level we believe no-one else can match.
However we mostly work well with others in the industry as, even where there may be elements of competition, most recognise that working together to grow an overall market is better than competing too much and risking seeing a small but rapidly-emerging market implode for everyone.
6. What’s unique about your business?
Our expertise and passion for seaweed and its benefits makes us unique, along with our specialist techniques and equipment.
We aim to do two simple things very well:
1) Educate consumers about what seaweed is, why its so great for you, and how to best use it to take advantage of its many benefits.
2) Supply the best-quality seaweed we can.
We have an incredible source of seaweed, from a truly unique factory in a spectacular location. Within this factory we have our own equipment that processes the seaweed in a way we don't believe anyone else in the world is doing currently.
7. What stage was your business at when you applied for the Start Up Loan?
We had made some small initial sales and had agreements in place, but needed the loan to get the technologies developed properly.
8. How have you used it to grow your business?
We used the loan to invest in the technologies and develop our product, thus supply our customers, and expand out our customer base with a high-quality, scalable and sustainable product.
9. Who is your mentor and how have they helped you?
My mentor is Uri Mizrahi of Bagel Nash and he has been incredibly helpful acting as a sounding board for ideas, challenging my mindset, and listening when needed. He has experience in the food industry, and a story that is analogous in some ways to what I am trying to achieve.
10. Who is your regional delivery partner and how did they help you get a Virgin StartUp loan?
Tedco is my regional delivery partner. They were very supportive in helping get the Virgin StartUp loan, guiding me through the process, and always been available to talk things through. They continue to stay fully engaged and supportive even since the loan has come through (and is long since spent!)
11. Biggest achievement so far?
The biggest achievement so far is getting our equipment running and processes in place. This was technically challenging, especially working in a remote location and in a way no one else has really done before. Anything new requires an open mind, an acceptance of risk and some incredible people around to support you technically, and emotionally.
Of course, getting in the sales is always an achievement, and we’re very pleased with where we are already. Growing the business is the next big challenge and achievement we look forward to.
12. What’s next for your business?
Next is growth. We have everything in place now to see this happen. We will continue to invest in and improve our products, and key to this is furthering the innovative research on the many health and nutrition benefits seaweed has to offer.