AMID continued debate about the adequacy of the support banks provide for small firms the experience of a biotechnology entrepreneur suggests it could be worth start ups investigating a range of alternative funding sources.

Name:

Douglas Martin.

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Age:

26.

What is your business called?

MiAlgae.

Where is it based?

Edinburgh.

What does it produce?

Omega 3-rich microalgal products. We catch nutrients from various sources - such as water that is a by-product of the whisky making process - and use them to grow microalgae high in phosphates and nitrates. These are used as a supplement in livestock feed.

To whom does it sell?

MiAlgae produces algal supplements which can be used in both livestock and aquaculture feeds, as well as in pet food. At this stage, we are very focused on the aquaculture feed industry in which there is most interest in omega-3 oil rich algae products.

What is its turnover?

The company is pre-revenue but has secured grants and investment worth around £190,000 in total.

How many employees?

Just two at the moment, although we hope to be able to expand in the near future.

When was it formed?

We started out in September of 2016.

Why did you take the plunge?

I love the idea of the circular economy and making something of value out of nothing.

The idea for working with algae came from seeing a massive algae bloom while I was working offshore on a wind farm in the German Bight. That experience combined with my biotechnology background and the desire to start a company led to the inception of MiAlgae. It all came together at three one morning and has occupied my mind ever since.

Turning the idea into a business involved finding people who were able to help get the ball rolling. I approached the University of Edinburgh (where I was studying at the time) and was guided to their commercialization team. The initial meeting with our advisor ended with a rather long list of questions we needed to answer. The first thing was to figure out exactly who would want to buy meaningful amounts of algae. We spent a good few months trying to establish exactly where our market was before settling on the livestock feed sector, with an emphasis on the aquaculture feed market. Once we had our market – and had a better idea of what the product would have to look like – we set about figuring out how we were going to produce the algae. We have been through a number of iterations of our production process. Our advisor from the university has pointed me in the right direction from day one, and continues to do so.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

Completing my MSc in Synthetic Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Edinburgh. Before that I completed a degree in biotechnology at the University of Pretoria, in South Africa.

Over the span of about three years, I lived and worked in Germany and Australia, and travelled the UK, America, and central Europe. I applied for the masters programme in Edinburgh while I was in Australia. There is something about Edinburgh that draws me to it; it just feels like home.

I’m both South African, and Scottish; I like to think I have the best of two worlds. I was born and raised in South Africa but with Scottish parents, so I was brought up eating tattie scones and frequenting the highland gatherings. Although I miss the sun and the amazing wildlife in South Africa, I love Scotland and feel completely at home here.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

We have managed to win a few competitions, most notably the Shell LiveWIRE award, for which we were awarded £5,000 of equity-free funding alongside further business support. We also had some help from the University of Edinburgh to begin with.

What was your biggest break?

The big breakthrough was being awarded a grant from Scottish Enterprise and raising a seed round of investment, which allowed me to work on the company full-time. It was particularly difficult trying to dedicate myself to the business whilst having to juggle multiple jobs.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

Being the driving force behind something I think has great potential.

What do you least enjoy?

Mundane paperwork – one of the downsides of being such a small business is that I have to do all the things I don’t enjoy.

What are your top priorities?

Optimising the process so that our products are economically valuable; building our board of directors; raising funding for our next round; scaling up our production process; ensuring we are environmentally beneficial.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Talk to people about your idea. We have been able to generate a lot of help and support by explaining what we are looking to do, in a broad sense. Everyone we’ve talked to has contributed something to our business, whether it was a confidence boost by letting us know we were headed in the right direction or a new perspective on how to do things..