A born entrepreneur, Unlocking Ambition Ambassador Douglas Martin always knew he wanted to start his own business. As he grew up however he developed a strong desire to ensure that, at its core, the business would do something good for the planet.
Whilst studying Biotechnology at the University of Edinburgh, Douglas became aware of the impact the reliance on wild caught fish as a source of Omega-3 had on the planet and the pollution from large algae blooms at sea. Furthermore there are major supply and demand issues relating to fishmeal use, which left the livestock feed industry searching for an alternative. It was then, in 2016, Douglas came up with the idea to cultivate algae on industrial co-products to produce top quality supplements, and MiAlgae was created.
MiAlgae aims to revolutionise the animal and fish feed industries with microalgae made from the co-products of whisky. The company’s product is rich in Omega-3 and other nutrients that are required for livestock feeds, especially aquaculture.
Douglas said: “MiAlgae applies the leading advances in science and technology to improve food security and reduce humanity's impact on our planet. Our zero-waste solution recycles co-products from food and drink production to grow Omega-3 rich micro-algae, returning clean water in the process.
Sharing experiences with like-minded people and making connections in the investment community has been invaluable for me.
“It offers an economically attractive alternative to the omegas found in fish oil by producing microalgae using circular economy. This reduces our operating costs and offers a sustainable way for fish farmers to feed their salmon, which in turn feeds our growing population.”
The algae strain used occurs naturally in the world’s oceans where it feeds on up-welling nutrients. MiAlgae researched and replicated this early stage of the food-chain, working hand in hand with nature.
Through MiAlgae, Douglas’s mission is to give humans and their animal companions access to safe and nutritious food in ways the planet can sustain into the future, and to move the world towards a more ecologically oriented economy – a world without waste.
The algae can be used to sustainably feed fish and create animal food, with pet food producers MiAlgae’s main customers so far. Douglas estimates that one tonne of its algae saves up to 30 tonnes of wild fish.
In the few years since starting the business, Douglas has used funds raised to grow the team from two to twelve and to enable production. Starting from a small laboratory to show initial investors, he has scaled up the process by creating a pilot and demonstrator in a massive 30,000 litre capacity container. This has been done alongside ongoing research and development, constantly improving the process and undertaking market research on his target customers.
There is no doubt we will see a rapidly growing market for our product so it is an extremely exciting time for us and we are looking forward to seeing what the future holds.
In 2018, Douglas was accepted onto the Scottish Government’s £4m Unlocking Ambition programme, which offers intensive wraparound support to help high potential entrepreneurs in Scotland scale-up their businesses and develop their leadership skills.
“Being part of the Unlocking Ambition cohort has been extremely useful. Sharing experiences with like-minded people and making connections in the investment community has been invaluable for me. That coupled with the practical and financial support has genuinely helped to accelerate the business and I’ve been overwhelmed with how good the ecosystem in Scotland is for entrepreneurs.”
In November 2019 MiAlgae received an investment of £1million from Equity Gap, Scottish Investment Bank, Old College Capital and Hillhouse Group. It will be used to focus on the commercialisation of its revolutionary microalgae product, targeting the rapidly growing global aquaculture and pet food industries. Douglas will also use the funding to double the size of the business premises, commission a demonstrator plant in East Lothian and make five new appointments in the next 12 months.
“The business now turns its focus to commercialisation and scaling up. We plan to supply customers in both the pet food market and the aquacultural industry in the next 12 months.”
The global aquaculture market is valued at $70 billion and set to increase by 100% by 2030.
Aquaculture is worth £1.8 billion a year to the Scottish economy, according to latest Scottish Government figures, but Douglas’s ambition does not stop with aquaculture or Scotland.
“We’re looking at multiple industries in the supply side, multiple industries at the product side, then diversification into multiple products beyond feeds. There are lots of things we can do with our products. I am also looking at expanding globally by exporting the intellectual property, potentially starting with the States.”
Douglas concluded: “There is no doubt we will see a rapidly growing market for our product so it is an extremely exciting time for us and we are looking forward to seeing what the future holds.”